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Disability

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My Vagina is The Star – Kiruna’s First Smear Test

By | Disability, Undressing Disability

A guest blog by Kiruna Stamell.

I am a dwarf woman, a little person, person of restricted growth, person of short stature. That is my ‘thing’. Or the ‘thing’ people focus on.

As a result, I had this long-held belief that I had received my ‘lot’ in life. You know, I had my ‘thing’. I been served my life’s challenge. Somehow this made me arrogantly believe I was superior to getting cancer, herpes, murdered by a serial killer or being struck by lightning. I was simply too unique to be touched by common problems.

I am not alone as a disabled person in this thinking. It seems to be a common idea amongst us disabled folk and reinforced by non-disabled people that we already ‘carry our burden’. We are externally defined by our impairments so often, we too subconsciously internalise the belief, that our impairments are our [winces] ‘thing’.

So, a vaginal or cervical cancer thing was not on the list of things to worry about.

The ‘woman’ part of my identity felt flimsy, secondary to the desexualised label of ‘dwarf’, but she’s always been there. And one day, I woke up to the reality that my health isn’t just about my impairment.

I don’t know what happened, but I think it was a desire to feel like every other woman. All my average height and non-disabled friends were having their vaginas looked at and I wanted someone to look at mine.

Also, I had had a period refuse to stop and thought this was weird. So did my doctor.

My First Smear Test

The first challenge was that I was a virgin, and the doctors were funny about putting a speculum inside a virgin. I think, this is why I got sent to a proper gynaecologist straight away.

I was not so precious. I liked that my vagina was getting a lot of attention and being taken seriously. It took the medical focus off my height. All eyes were on my foof, and my foof was equalising!

At my first smear, lubricant was liberally applied. This was really helpful.

There were a couple of challenges:

  • The building was an old hospital, so door handles were too high for me to open, so I had to be escorted through the building.
  • Getting onto the bed was a challenge. Doing it gracefully and with no knickers on more so, as for me it was a literal climb. They made a step up onto it out of a chair and a smaller step stool.

I discovered that my cervix sits very high up and to the front. I’ve remembered this detail for all subsequent smears, telling the nurse saves so much time!

I find the weirdest bit is when the speculum parts. It feels a bit like when the dentist pulls your cheeks apart. Sometimes, my vagina creaks. Not audibly but like a sound you feel in your body. On a good cervical smear day, it just opens up and if to say ‘wow’. These occasions are rarer, and I only really remember that happening with the lube.

I find it reassuring getting a smear. I find it a really good reminder that being a ‘dwarf’ isn’t my only ‘thing’. I feel connected to humanity knowing I need to look after my sexual health as much as anyone else does.

When I am on that bed getting a smear, my vagina is the star. In that moment it is the most unique thing about me.

Cervical Screening Campaign

Learn more about our Cervical Cancer Red Tape campaign. which aims to remove the barriers that many disabled women face when accessing cervical screening and sexual health services. Search hashtag #CervicalScreeningRedTape to join the conversation and follow us on Instagram and Twitter.

We hope our tips for improving access to cervical screening make a difference. If you work in the healthcare sector please feel free to share them with your network.

 

Cervical Screening and Deaf Awareness

By | Disability, Undressing Disability

Cervical screening saves lives and its so important that women have regular check-ups. So why did a survey by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust highlight that 88% of disabled women found accessing a smear test more difficult because of their impairment? Claire, our Deputy CEO shares her experience of cervical screening as a deaf woman.

6 Monthly Check Ups

A few years ago, I had to go for cervical screening tests every 6 months. It definitely wasn’t my favourite way to pass the time, but I know first-hand how essential it is. You see a smear test showed that I had moderate to severe abnormal cells caused by the HPV virus. Luckily for me it was picked up and I had laser therapy to destroy the abnormal cells. Now that’s resolved I go for a smear test every 3 years and hope for a positive experience. Unfortunately, a lack of deaf awareness frequently creates problems. As a result, I battle with feelings of anxiety before, during and after the test takes place. And I’m not alone. A study by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that 88% of disabled women found cervical screening tests difficult because of their impairments. Something needs to change!

My First Smear Test

The first time I had a smear test I didn’t really understand what was going on. I’m sure that’s common for many women but when you’re deaf there’s extra things to feel anxious about. For example, at my doctor’s surgery the examination room is right next to the busy waiting room. Before my smear test the nurse left the room for me to get undressed. She said she’d knock to make sure I was behind the cubicle curtain before coming back in. As I can’t hear the knock on the door, I felt panicked that I’d be exposed.

I explained that I was deaf, but unfortunately the nurse didn’t adapt her behaviour to ensure I was properly briefed. When preparing for the test she kept turning her head away to organise the equipment. This made it impossible to lipread, so I lay there with my anxiety growing by the second.

Once my knees were up and a sheet covering me, I couldn’t see what was about to happen. I knew she was talking to me, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I said “I can’t hear you” and instead of moving her head so I could lipread, she just stopped talking.

When she inserted the speculum there was no warning, so I tensed my body, and it was really painful. (I’m told by hearing friends that the nurse tells you when it’s about to be inserted and whilst it may be uncomfortable it usually doesn’t hurt.)

I also left the test with no idea of when to expect the results and went home upset and worried.

Deaf Awareness

My next experience of cervical screening was much more positive. The nurse told me her cousin was deaf, so she had great deaf awareness. Here’s what she did to make the smear test a much easier experience for me.

1. She explained the procedure from start to finish before asking me to get ready and lie on the bed.
2. Whilst explaining she maintained eye contact, used gestures, and demonstrated with the speculum what would happen. When I didn’t understand one part, she got a pen and paper and wrote it down.
3. When leaving the room for me to get undressed she said she’d be back in 5 minutes, rather than saying ‘she’d knock’. I looked at the time on my phone, got ready and waited.
4. We agreed that she would tap my leg as a sign that she was about to insert the speculum, giving me a moment to relax and prepare.
5. She understood that I was very anxious because of my previous experience and reassured me.

Make Appointments, Not Assumptions

If you are deaf and have never had a smear test, then please don’t be put off by my initial experience. Cervical Screening saves lives. My aim of sharing such a personal insight is that it will help bring about change, and help the disabled community have equal access to the services others access easily.

For medical professionals reading this hopefully my tips will be useful and improve deaf awareness within your surgery or clinic. Find more insight on our campaign page. 

#CervicalScreeningRedTape

Follow Our Campaign

Read more about our #CervicalScreeningRedTape campaign and follow us on twitter @ETUKUndressing and Instagram @UndressingDisability.

 

Worried about Cervical Screening?

Visit the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website where you’ll find lots of practical information, advice and a forum where you can pose questions and share experiences.

#CervicalScreeningRedTape campaign

By | Disability, Undressing Disability | No Comments

Our #CervicalScreeningRedTape campaign aims to highlight the fact that many disabled women are finding it difficult to access cervical screening.

The Issues

Common barriers to accessing cervical screening are:

  • Disabled women not being offered a smear test as it is often assumed that they are not sexually active and are less likely to need a test.
  • Physical barriers such as a lack of non-adjustable beds in GP surgeries.
  • Fear. Due to a previously negative experience. Or a self-consciousness as their body may differ to what they believe medical staff are used to seeing.
  • Expense. Often disabled women have to travel further than their local surgery to attend an accessible clinic.

Potential Solutions

What can be done to improve access to smear tests for disabled women? Below are four potential solutions.

  1. Recognise that disabled adults can enjoy an active sex life and offer as standard cervical screening and sexual health tests.
  2. Ask what an individual’s needs are. If your surgery does not have accessible facilities that meet the needs of a disabled patient, then have a procedure in place where you can offer an alternative location. This saves both you and the disabled woman a lot of time and effort phoning around. Read Emily’s blog for a real-life example. 
  3. Realise that standard procedures won’t work for everyone. For example, due to physicality it may be easier for a woman to have a smear lying on her side rather than on her back. We are all different, and often know our bodies well. So if it’s feasible to do things differently, be willing to give it a try.
  4. Most women are apprehensive about having a smear test but for many disabled women there is an extra layer of nervousness. Reassurance prior to the test being booked can help alleviate this fear.

We fully appreciate the challenges our NHS is facing during the pandemic and know that wait times may be longer than usual, however we hope our solutions can become best practice.

Useful Resources

Undressing Disability Podcast

Dr Larisa Corda OBGYN and presenter Sam Renke are guests on Episode 2 of our Undressing Disability podcast. Joined by our CEO Jennie Williams they share personal experiences of the issues around accessing cervical screening raised in this #CervicalScreeningRedTape campaign.

 

Blog

Emily wrote about her experience as a wheelchair user of trying to access her first ever smear test in this blog article.

The Undressing Disability Hub

Last year we launched our Undressing Disability Hub which is free to join. It is full of free resources on topics relating to sex and disability. Members include professionals working in the fields of medicine, psychology, and care homes. As well as sex educators and those searching for a safe network to learn and share information on the topic of sex and disability.

Sign up for free today.

Worried about Cervical Screening?

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is a charity which provides information and support on the topic of cervical cancer. Their website https://www.jostrust.org.uk/ is full of valuable insight and they do an incredible job raising awareness and saving lives with their work.

#CervicalScreeningRedTape 

Stay Up To Date

Follow our campaign on social media on twitter @ETUKUndressing and Instagram @UndressingDisability. #CervicalScreeningRedTape

 

Bedroom Adventures Logo is a black lacy eye mask with the brand name in curvy black writing below

Win A Decor Heart Wedge From Bedroom Adventures

By | Disability, Undressing Disability

This competition is now closed. Congratulations to winner Rosie Glen.

A graphic of a crown with the word WINNER written on it and the name Rosie Glen below. The background is bright blue

It’s competition time!

Thanks to Bedroom Adventures we have a Décor Heart Wedge to give away to one lucky winner. Perfectly contoured for the derriere, the Décor Heart Wedge provides a sweet incline for deeper penetration and G-spot positioning during lovemaking. This compact version of the Wedge combines passion with fashion as a positioning aid that doubles as a decorative pillow.

A merlot red coloured heart shaped cushion

Prize:

1 x The Décor Wedge, gifted by Bedroom Adventures.

How to Enter:

Simply sign up to the Undressing Disability hub, complete your profile and a profile photo and you’ll automatically be entered.

Competition Ends:

Thursday 26th November at 12 noon

Winner Announced:

Tuesday 1st December at 12 noon.

Terms & Conditions: All new and existing hub members who have completed a profile, including uploading an image as a profile picture, will be entered into the competition. The winner will be contacted by email and also messaged on the hub. The winner must respond within 24 hours to confirm they wish to receive the prize, if not a new winner will be selected. Your prize will then be posted directly to you.

A lady in black basque and knickers poses on a bed holding the heart wedge

More Product Details

  • Compact version of the Wedge provides lift and angles for deeper penetration.
  • Perfectly contoured for the derriere.
  • Ultra soft velvish material in designer colours to match your bedding.
  • Removable, machine-washable cover.
  • Moisture-proof liner prevents moisture from penetrating the foam interior.
  • Measurement in inches: 18L x 14W x 7H

Bedroom Adventures

Thank you to Bedroom Adventures for the generous gift of this prize. Damian, owner of Bedroom Adventures is one of our Love Lounge sexperts, offering practical advice on getting the most from your sexual relationships. If we can help solve a dating dilemma or relationship question contact us in confidence.

Follow our Undressing Disability campaign on social media. Find us on Instagram and twitter, or search hashtag #UndressingDisability.

 

hanging rack with shirts on hangers

Styling It Out and Sweaty Pits

By | Disability, The Love Lounge

The Question

Hi,

Two things I need your advice on, styling it out and sweaty pits! One is fashion, the second is  less sexy. I’ve been single for ages, focusing on my studies and getting a job following a time of ill health. In the last eighteen months I’ve managed to lose the extra weight I had piled on after surgery.

I’m feeling confident about myself but have zero clue when it comes to clothes. I’ve either got work shirts or hoodies and want to look trendier than that. I see blokes with a bit of style and think they look cool but I’ve no idea how to put clothes together.

The more personal issue is that sometimes I get wet patches on my shirt when I’m having a sweaty day. I think it’s a side effect of medication I’m taking. I’m embarrassed by it. I prefer to layer clothes on my top half to avoid people noticing. And I’m going to see if there’s a stronger deodorant I can use as I don’t want sweaty pits when I’m dating.

Any tips on where I can look for style advice. My mates are as clueless as me.

Cheers.

Our Answer

Hi! Thanks so much for writing in to the Love Lounge.

It’s great that you’re feeling confident. That’s more than half the battle when it comes to fashion! I’d recommend going into a department store, like Topshop or River Island and taking advantage of their Personal Styling Service. It’s usually free and involves a staff member who specialises in styling going around the store with you. They’ll pick out clothes that suit your new body type, complement your skin tone and make you feel great. It’s a brilliant thing to experience as it’ll then provide you with tips to use when you go out shopping on your own. If that’s not for you then search YouTube for videos with titles like ‘BooHoo Try On Haul’ where the fashionistas suggest how to put outfits together.

A bit of advice. Don’t worry too much about what’s in fashion and what others are wearing. Instead, use that energy to focus on what makes you feel amazing inside. Good clothes have the ability to boost your mood internally, too.

Styling It Out and Sweaty Pits - a trendy young guy wears a burgundy velvet suit jacket with a patterned T-shirt underneath. He has a hipster beard, a man bun and sunglasses

Sweaty Pits

Regarding the wet patches, I’d recommend discussing this with your doctor. They may be able to change your medication to minimise this side effect. Layering clothes, experimenting with deodorants and even doing a bit of research on what colours and materials work best with sweat patches will all go some way in helping you feel comfortable. However hopefully there is a more permanent solution!

Wishing you all the best – you’ll be as stylish as can be in no time!
Em x

 

Send Us Your Questions

Can our team help with a dating dilemma, sex or relationship question? Get in touch and we’ll do our utmost to find the answers you need. Follow us on Instagram @UndressingDisability and twitter @ETUKUndressing.
Worried About My Boyfriend's Behaviour - a woman sits leaning against the back of the sofa looking sad, her boyfriend wears a blue and white checked shirt, has dark hair and a beard and stares into the distance looking grumpy

Worried About My Boyfriend’s Behaviour

By | Disability, The Love Lounge

The Question

Dear Love Lounge,

I’m worried about my boyfriend’s behaviour. We met about 4 months ago and things have moved fast. We are crazy about each other and he has moved in. At first it was all very romantic, and he made me feel great. He complimented my appearance and was kind and generous and loving. My family are happy that I’ve met someone but wanted me to wait a while longer before he moved in, worrying I might get hurt as this is my first relationship. I dismissed their concerns as I’m 27 and wish they’d stop babying me. My mum was my carer until I got a PA and my own flat a few years ago, and she can forget I’m not a kid anymore.

In the last few weeks, my boyfriend has been short tempered and a lot less affectionate. Little things about me seem to annoy him. When we’re with friends and family he is fine but when we’re alone he frequently makes comments about my weight and has told me that I’m ‘stupid’ and ‘dense.’ I think he might also have used my bank card as it went missing from my wallet then reappeared. I have cried about this which made him more annoyed so I’m nervous of talking to him about his mood in case I make it worse. I know that couples can ‘have their moments’ as my sister so it may just be the norm?

Advice welcome.

 

Our Answer

Hi there, and thanks so much for writing in to us.

First things first, anything that makes you feel this upset and unhappy isn’t the norm.  Couples absolutely ‘have their moments’ but you are right to be worried about your boyfriend’s behaviour change. He is being neither kind nor respectful to you by the sounds of it, and this behaviour should not be accepted.

It’s good to hear that everything was great at the beginning. Has anything changed dramatically for your partner since then? Big changes at work, with money or even with family and friends can have a major impact on how we behave. And whilst it doesn’t make what he’s doing right, it might explain the reasoning behind his behaviour.

It is worrying that your boyfriend is only acting this way when you’re alone. This suggests to me that he knows the way he is acting is not acceptable.

Communication is key here. You must let him know plainly and simply (without getting too emotional if you can) that you won’t stand for comments from him that are demeaning or degrading. You won’t accept comments that make you feel bad about yourself – no-one deserves that in a relationship.

At the same time, let him know that if there is anything going on for him that you can help with, you’d be more than happy to. And if you can’t help, you’ll support him to sort it out himself. Remind him that you love him and of how great everything was at the beginning. But to get back to that, he must change his ways and how he treats you.

Tread carefully regarding the bank card – he might have genuinely picked yours up by mistake – and if no money has left your account, it seems unnecessary to accuse him of stealing. Have a chat with him about everything. How he reacts will probably tell you all you need to know about the future of your relationship.

Good luck!
Em x

 

Send Us Your Questions

Can our team help with a dating dilemma, sex or relationship question? Get in touch and we’ll do our utmost to find the answers you need. Follow us on Instagram @UndressingDisability and twitter @ETUKUndressing.

 

Grip Issues - How To Spice Up Your Sex Life - A dark haired woman leans forward to touch her male partner, he kisses her forehead. She is laughing and there is a window in the background

Grip Issues – How To Spice Up Your Sex Life

By | Disability

I’m hoping to spice up my sex life with my boyfriend.  We’ve been together for 3 years and things have started to become a bit same-y in the bedroom. Have you got any recommendations of toys or equipment we could use? We’re open to anything, but my cerebral palsy means I struggle with grip, and going on top takes a fair bit of time and effort!

Read More
Turning Pain into Pleasure -A long haired bearded man in an open shirt bares his hairy chest whilst kissing a fair skinned dark haired woman

Turning Pain Into Pleasure

By | Disability, The Love Lounge

The Question

Hi,

My question is about turning pain into pleasure. I really want to go further with a girl I met recently. I experience a lot of pain on a daily basis due to my condition, and wanted to know if there’s anything you recommend to help me turn that pain into pleasure? It’s scaring me a bit and I’m avoiding those intimate conversations.

Thanks

S

Our Answer

Hi S,

Thank you for reaching out about turning pain into pleasure. You are not alone. Pain can be a problem for lots of people and it is understandably daunting having these conversations. The most important thing is to take everything at your own pace and take the time to explore what you do and do not enjoy.

My first piece of advice is to follow any pain management techniques provided by your doctor. This could be medication, a hot bath or knowing what time of day you may be at your worst level of pain. This will hopefully set you up to succeed in your bedroom adventures before you have even begun.

When people talk about turning pain into pleasure it is often assumed they are talking about inflicting pain and for many people this may be true. However there are many ways to turn existing pain into a pleasurable experience. This can be especially effective as the hormones released during sexual experiences have been shown to increase our pain tolerance levels. I have outlined some suggestions below and all of these can be enjoyed either alone or with a partner.

Whilst all these suggestions can be used in a sexual context it can also be used outside of the bedroom. Spending some time increasing your awareness of your own body may help reduce some of the anxieties around engaging in intimate conversations. It is also important you are aware of any reduced sensitivity or vulnerable parts of your body to avoid accidental injury.

1. Pressure

Applying pressure can often distract the neural pathways conveying the pain, this could be applied to the area of pain or to any part of the body. Ways of doing this may be through a massage, being gripped or held tightly or being bound firmly with a restraint, rope, or clothing.

2. Sensory deprivation

Using a blindfold or headphones to block out some sensory input can often make it easier to concentrate on other things. This can be used to help get past the distraction of pain and focus on the more pleasurable sensations created by whatever it is you or your partner is doing.

3. Hot/cold

It’s common practice to apply heat or cooling to painful areas to relieve pain. This can also be applied to other parts of the body including erogenous zones to draw your attentions away from your painful sensations. It can also be used to induce a different type of pain than the one you experience daily if that is something you find enjoyable.

4. Pain

An important thing to remember is there are different types of pain and there is no set way to work out what each person will like as everyone is different. Some people may even experience sensations such as tickling as painful so these could also be tried. A rough outline is to create a dull pain you would be looking at large flat objects such as paddles, the longer and thinner the object the more it will be a stinging sensation. Scratching or prickling pains can be created by things as simple as fingernails, teeth or a device called a Wartenberg wheel or pinwheel. Finally things such as pegs or clamps can be used to create a pinching sensation.

I hope this has helped guide your exploration.

Kat

Have you got a question for our Love Lounge sexperts? Get in touch and we’ll do our best to help.

For all our updates on topics relating to dating, relationships, sex and disability follow us on Instagram and Twitter. #LoveLoungeUK #UndressingDisability

 

 

 

 

 

 

The word Confidence in a dictionary highlighted in green marker pen

Finding the confidence to date again

By | Disability, The Love Lounge

The Question

Hi there,

My question is about rebuilding confidence. I have a spinal cord injury and am a wheelchair user.  Before lockdown, I was quite used to going out on dates (and it didn’t really matter whether I got a second one or not, I just loved the excitement of meeting people!) But now I’m starting to feel like I’m out of practice after months inside, and that I’m going to run out of time to find someone special.  How can I regain my confidence and stop feeling the pressure?

Thanks

Our Answer

Hi K,

Thanks so much for writing to us. It’s great to hear that you found confidence and comfort in dating as it means you can do it again! Lockdown has been a really strange and difficult time for many of us. I don’t know one person that hasn’t been affected either in some physical way, or mentally, by this.

And when we’re stuck inside, with so much time to think and feel lonely, it’s almost impossible not to feel like life is passing us. But I promise you that time is moving at exactly the same rate as it did before, we’ve sadly just not been able to enjoy it in the same way!

So, I’d recommend using the remainder of this time inside to think positively about what you’d like to achieve over the next 1, 3, 5 or even 10 years. You might want to write things down, or even create a vision board of your wants and needs. There’s not much that we have control over right now, but we can control our thoughts and desires, and what we do with them. If it is a relationship that’s a priority for you, why not ease yourself back in slowly and see if there’s an online dating event that you could get involved with? Funnily enough, we are running one soon… https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/virtual-speed-dating-with-enhance-the-uk-tickets-121709138309

That way, your confidence will start building again, and you’ll feel more in control by taking action, and the pressure will hopefully subside.

Wishing you luck, let us know how you get on!
Em x

 

You may also find these article useful.

Online Dating – Is it worth it? 

Online Dating As A Disabled Person

Keep up to date with all our Love Lounge and Undressing Disability insights by following us on Instagram and Twitter.  You may also wish to sign up to our free forum, the Undressing Disability Hub. 

 

 

A leather jacket unzipped to reveal a yellowy orange background with the words UD events in black

Virtual Speed Dating – Undressing Disability Events

By | Disability, Undressing Disability

Date In A Dash has teamed up with Enhance the UK to host some amazing Undressing Disability virtual events. Join us for an evening of fast, fun & flirty speed dating from the comfort of your own home. Disabled and non-disabled people are welcome. Our aim is to create an accessible event for everyone to enjoy.

Our next event is on the 25th November. This is a lesbian event aged for 25-45 year olds, age not strict but necessary,

Date: 25th November

You can expect to meet around 15-20 people throughout the virtual evening event which will take place on Zoom.

Registration

  • Please ensure you arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled start time to allow for registration.
  • Speed Dating kicks off at 8pm prompt.
  • Any guests arriving late may not be able to take part.

On arrival one of our friendly hosts will be waiting to register you.

When everyone has arrived the host will explain how the evening will unfold and the lucky chosen ones will be placed in your virtual date rooms for the duration of the event , with people visiting you throughout.

Make it Speedy!

The dates will last for 3 -4 minutes each (dependant on numbers)  the hosts will manage who goes where so no need to worry here.

Single Pringle Ready to Mingle

At the end of the event there will be a chance to mingle with everyone in a group networking session. So don’t worry if you forgot an infamous chat up line you can still test it out after the dates.

If you find the love of your life or maybe a few you’d like to meet again please make a note of their name. You can email the host at the end of the session to be linked up afterwards.

The event will aim to finish at around 9:30pm.

Tickets and Questions

Please be aware that tickets for our events are very limited and the majority do get booked up in advance. Please book early to avoid disappointment.

Tickets costs £5.98 and can be booked via this Eventbrite link.

If you have any queries or would like to discuss your access requirements please contact us.

Stay up to date with all our virtual events and news by joining us on Twitter @ETUKUndressing and Instagram @UndressingDisability #UndressingDisability #UDEvents

Discover more about Date In A Dash by visiting their website.

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