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 week, she gives her tips on gaining confidence, having a great date and knowing when and how to talk about sex for the first time.
Dear Aunty Tuppy,
I am a terribly shy 33-year-old guy and I live in North London. I was born with scoliosis (a curve in my spine), which makes me very unconfident socially. I have started online dating and put ‘curvature of the spine’ on my profile in any ‘What I look like’ sections, as I want to be upfront about it.
I have very little experience of talking to people outside my family and old school friends. They all tell me I can be difficult to socialise with. When I meet women I fancy I start stammering, which obviously puts them off. All of this has made me totally lose my confidence and become even more introverted.
I need to prepare myself for meeting a woman for the first time and having a coherent conversation with her. What kind of things can I say to someone I have just met? Do you have any ideas to help me?
I’d also like to get some more advice on when I can mention sex in the conversation, as the thought of getting to that stage and needing to talk about it makes me very nervous.
Don’t worry Tom, I do have some ideas. First of all, it’s important to think about what you want from a relationship and to build your confidence.
Write down everything positive about yourself – looks, personality, the lot. Don’t be critical of yourself, but instead hone in on your attributes. Then think about the sort of person you would like to meet and what sort of relationship you would like to have.
Write it all down, and even practice saying it out loud as well. This will start to build your confidence, and knowing what you want will also help you to find the right person for you.
Online dating is a great way to ensure conversations are a lot easier when you meet up. It gives you a chance to get to know more about them. From your chats, think about what they like and are interested in, and prepare some questions in advance. That way you will have something on hand to help the conversations flow.
It might be worth having a phone chat before you meet, to make the face-to-face meeting less intimidating for you. Again, you can use this opportunity to learn even more about them and to practice speaking, without having to think about your body language.
I also recommend you join the Outsiders Club (this could be as well as using other dating sites) where you can chat to other members online, as well as meet them in person at a lunch. Our lunches are very warm and friendly, and there is often a great mix of men and women. This will give you practice at communicating with strangers and experience of making new friendships.
Lastly, do you have a friend that is also online dating so you can support each other? That will help with any disappointments, something that happens to all of us. There are usually many more men than women on dating sites, so the women are inundated with men taking an interest. Remember, it doesn’t mean you’re not a great person, it just means you’re not the right person in that instance, and that’s okay.
Being confident on your date
You mentioned having friends and family around you. I would suggest practising talking to one of them, keeping the conversations going, as if on a date. Practice asking questions and even telling her that she is wonderful. You may feel awkward at first, but it will get easier the more you try.
Also, think about your appearance. Don’t worry about things you can’t change, but make sure you think about your hairstyle, clothing and posture. If your scoliosis makes you stoop, try to stand straight but, if you cannot, stoop elegantly. Don’t forget to ensure you have clean teeth and a freshly washed body. It’s amazing how many disabled men I have seen who fail on one of these counts.
Now, let’s deal with the stammer. Most people find chatting with a new potential partner terrifying, disabled or not. So firstly, I would suggest being open – there is no harm in telling someone that you might be shy and possibly even stammer. That way they’re not surprised if you do.
Then, if you do start stammering, you can take a break without feeling concerned, as she’ll understand why. Tell her you need to calm down and go for a quick breath of fresh air or have a moment on your own. You can buy the girl a drink first and tell her you will be back in a few minutes, or even just excuse yourself to the bathroom. Take a few big, deep breaths, and then, once you feel settled, get seated together with her again.
Another idea is to ask them questions and then while you are listening to them answer, you have time to collect yourself.
Talking about sex
When it comes to broaching the subject of sex, first wait until you know you are attracted to each other. You can tell by the way you look deeply into each other’s eyes. Holding hands and sitting close together is another sign. Then, helped by your previous practice of talking to a woman and thinking about what you want, you can ask her what she would like to do next. Always asking a girl what she wants is the best tip I can give.
If you feel comfortable and feel you might benefit from the experience, why not consider having some sex therapy for support. You can find a local sex therapist by looking on the College of Sex and Relationship Therapists website – www.cosrt.org.uk. Another idea is to hire a sex worker to help you gain sexual confidence and teach you how to pleasure a woman.
I hope all of this helps Tom, and that you fall in love with a girl who loves you dearly too.
By Tuppy Owens
Outsiders is a FREE social, peer support and dating club, run by and for socially and physically disabled people. Its members have a wide range of impairments, including visual and hearing impairment.