In our series on disability, sex and relationships, expert and resident agony aunt Tuppy (who runs Outsiders – a private club for disabled people looking for a relationship) answers your questions. This month, confidence. . .
Dear Aunty Tuppy,
I am a successful disabled career girl in my 30’s, but have zero confidence when it comes to finding a boyfriend, I just crumble at the thought of trying! I can’t imagine anyone being interested in my body and the whole idea of getting physically close to someone I fancy really scares me. That does not mean I think sex is dirty or in any way horrible, or that I don’t feel horny most of the time, but I can’t help myself move forward. Can you advise me please?
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This is not unusual. Sex workers say they have lots of highly successful men come to them as virgins in their 40’s, and they are not even be disabled! Most disabled people have never had any help to gain a positive body image.
Nor have many had a decent sex education – and what you did receive, may have been information you did not relate to because it was aimed at non-disabled people. In fact, some think the best sex teachers would be the sex workers who see a range of disabled clients, and know what they are talking about! But sadly, this would never be allowed in schools.
Some disabled people’s bodies have only ever been poked and operated on by the medical profession, stared at by the public, and felt only pain and discomfort, so they need to reclaim their bodies. Indeed, once you start to enjoy sexual pleasure, you might find that you are actually at an advantage over non-disabled people because you’re more in touch with your body, having to deal with catheters and stuff.
Outsiders has collected together a group of people who specialise in supporting disabled people to improve their sexual self-confidence. They are described on our website under the title “Our Partners”, and are a wide range of professionals, from photographer to artist, costumier to hairdresser! The photographer allows the disabled subject to decide how they want to look sexy and then he takes striking shots of them which they can keep. Mat Fraser was one of his first subjects and you can see the photos on SavageSkin. Some subjects have said it was like the camera was making love to their body.
D. Fisher, the costumier, dresses people as a very dignified and sexy version of themselves so they can go clubbing or whatever feeling amazing. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Massage and body work might help. There is a new profession called Sexological Bodywork where a practitioner works on your body while talking to you, to unblock the fears you have with sex and help you become relaxed with your sexuality. Their international website is SexologicalBodywork and the British HQ is based in Devon.
Celia, I wonder if you are also afraid of being raped, or perhaps left immediately after sex because he was just using your body? Well, if you learn how to walk or wheel tall, and ensure you can say “no” clearly. Don’t get too pissed or stoned in social situations. You will lower the likelihood of rape – see “going out safely” in the resources on the Outsiders website. Also see SpikeyHand.
And learn to be in charge of your own destiny. Women need to be proactive in the dating game. A young lady with brittle bones joined Outsiders saying she’d only ever had sex with drunk men coming out of the pub at closing time. She soon learned to value herself and enjoyed wonderful affairs with other members.
Another way to gain confidence is to ask your friends, old and new, what they think makes you attractive, and what turns people off. Then you’ll know!
Communication is very important in sex. You need to become comfortable about stating clearly what you want, and asking your partner what they’d like to do. Have fun chatting and discussing.
One of the things I love so much about spending the night with a new person is that, between shags, we chat and may tell each other things we’ve never admitted to anyone before! A stranger with new smells, styles, values and humour, acts like a breath of fresh air which inspires us and brings new realisations, and this can be quite magical.
By Tuppy Owens