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A brown haired woman presses her hands over her eyes exhausted with her glasses resting on her head. Her shoulders are visible and she wears a multicoloured top

Sex, Chronic Pain and Fatigue

By Disability, The Love Lounge

The Question

Dear Love Lounge,

I want to ask about sex, chronic pain and fatigue. I really want sex with my partner, but I might need antibiotics and a few days in bed to recover. I get so frustrated that I have to wonder if the price of doing it is worth it? I feel like I should always be able to offer sex, but I know that it will cause me pain for days. I worry about how this impacts my relationship with the man I love. I’m writing in to ask for any tips you may have!

Thanks,
Belle

 

Our Answer

Hi Belle,

Thanks for writing to us, we get a lot of questions about sex, chronic pain and fatigue.

You’ll have discovered that advice is often targeted towards erectile dysfunction, inability to reach orgasm, or fertility problems which won’t answer your question. On our Undressing Disability Hub, we have a more detailed resource on sex, chronic pain and fatigue (it’s free) for anyone who might want more insight. Here I’m going to focus on what you’ve asked for… some practical tips.

A brown haired woman presses her hands over her eyes exhausted with her glasses resting on her head. Her shoulders are visible and she wears a multicoloured top

Honesty

Find a way to effectively communicate with your partner, letting them know how much energy you have in the tank right now. What you are capable of doing, and whether you’re willing to go ahead and have a great time even if it means you pay for it the day after.  Don’t be too proud, you don’t have to power through all the time.  Revealing your vulnerabilities can often be very bonding for you and your partner.

Positions

If your body has changed because of a chronic condition or disability, then using toys or props might help. It may be easier for you to strategically position pillows for support or comfort. Try new positions that take pressure off certain joints or require less flexibility. Don’t feel you have to over perform to impress if it causes you pain. When you’re not relaxed and enjoying it, your partner will sense your pain and therefore not benefit from your gymnastics anyway!

If dexterity and pain is an issue, using toys on yourself or your partner may take the strain from you doing so much. Let the toy do some of the work! (This article on sex toys for those with dexterity issues may help.)

Preparation

Taking painkillers 30—60 minutes before you’re going to get down to it, may relieve some stiffness and pain.  The next day, take painkillers to manage the potential flare up after your activity.  Keep on top of it so your mind doesn’t always associate sex with pain.  This may help keep you relaxed for the future too. Pain might be inevitable but if you pre-empt it, or fear it, the tension will only make it worse.

Warm/hot showers

Shower solo or together to soothe the body’s aches and pains. Massage can relax those muscles, ease joint pain, enliven nerve endings and be bonding for both of you.  Even if you don’t take it any further.

a shower with water coming out - Sex, Chronic Pain and Fatigue

Timings

When are you most fatigued and most in pain? Try and plan your sexy time to optimise your experience, based on when is best for you.

Reassurance

Either from a clinician or yourself to your partner that they won’t make you worse (let’s say a heart condition where they fear sexual activity might be too much for you).

Don’t just focus on intercourse!

Find other ways to be intimate. Dance together, shower or bath together. Cuddle up, stroke each other or massage. Take time out for romance – candles, putting down your phones and actually looking at each other, sharing feelings and talking. This can all build intimacy and connection, without you paying the price for a having a bit of nookie and enduring pain for a few days.  If penetration is likely to cause horrid UTI’s, then these options are great for avoiding that, when you just can’t tolerate another course of antibiotics!

I hope that helps. Access the free resource on Sex, Chronic Pain and Fatigue via our Undressing Disability Hub. It’s free to join and free to download a wide range of valuable resources.

All the best,

Zoe x

Stay Connected

Join the online conversation by following us on twitter @ETUKUndressing and on Instagram @UndressingDisability 

 

 

 

 

CBD oil a plant and dropper

A Beginner’s Guide to CBD

By Disability, Undressing Disability

Could CBD help when it comes to disability, pain or mental health issues?

It seems like CBD is everywhere and in everything at the moment. But what is it, and what does it actually do? We’ve prepared your ultimate guide to all things CBD.

WHAT IS CBD?

CBD stands for cannabidiol. CBD is an active compound found in the cannabis plant. It can be extracted from the plant and made into oils, topicals, vape e-liquids or added to food or drink. It is non-intoxicating and it is thought to have potential health and wellness benefits.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The endocannabinoid system is a biological system in our body. It impacts several major processes which include appetite, sleep, mood, and memory. It is thought that CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system and binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are found in the brain and body. CB2 are located mainly in the immune and gastrointestinal systems.

A jar of CBD oil with a plant leaf sitting on a wooden worktop

HOW COULD CBD HELP ME?

Inflammation

Inflammation is caused by your body’s white blood cells responding to infection, leading to redness, pain, and swelling. CBD could potentially function as an anti-inflammatory which would help to reduce swelling and inflammation. One of the ways that CBD is thought to reduce inflammation is by inhibiting an eicosanoid enzyme called COX2. One study in 2013 which explored the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD found that cannabinoid may protect against the harmful effects of inflammation in a mouse model of Multiple Sclerosis.

(Link to study : https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969996113001939)
(Link to Mind statistic: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#:~:text=1%20in%204%20people%20will,week%20in%20England%20%5B2%5D. )

Anxiety

Anxiety - a dark haired beared man holds his fingers to his temple and closes his eyes with scribbles to represent noise coming from his head

Struggling with your physical or mental health can lead to added anxiety. Mind.org estimated that 1 in 5 people have a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression. CBD may help to reduce anxiety. In a study, positive interaction between CBD and a crucial neuro-receptor linked to anxiety was noted. An evidence review published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that full-spectrum CBD could have therapeutic benefits for both anxiety and pain.

(Link to study: https://bpspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x/)

Sleep

It can be difficult to get to sleep if you are suffering from physical discomfort or your mental health is causing you distress. A case study from 2019 revealed that CBD could potentially help while tackling anxiety.
It involved 72 participants with 47 of those experiencing anxiety and 25 suffering from poor sleep. They were given 25mg of CBD daily then recorded their feelings. The researchers noted that 79.2% recorded their anxiety felt lower and 66.7% said their sleep had improved after just the first month.

(Link to study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6326553/)

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEDICAL CANNIBAS AND CBD?

CBD stands for cannabidiol and THC is tetrahydrocannabinol. Both could offer therapeutic benefits for a number of different conditions. In the UK, CBD is available over the counter legally but THC is not. You need a prescription for medical cannabis in the UK from a licensed clinic.

CBD could potentially help with nausea, migraines, sleep, anxiety, inflammation (skin conditions, arthritis), pain, epilepsy and seizures. THC is often associated with the treatment of glaucoma, insomnia, nausea caused by cancer treatments, appetite problems, pain and muscle spasticity, anxiety and multiple sclerosis.

Speaking to your doctor and doing research when it comes to starting CBD is important.

HOW DO I TAKE CBD?

There are a lot of different ways to take CBD. You may find that you prefer some more to others or some methods may suit different needs. It’s best to try different products and keep a journal so you can chart the benefits or differences you feel.

Here is a brief guide to the four most common ways to take CBD

Oils or Tinctures:

Tinctures or oils are an easier way to take CBD by simply popping a small amount under the tongue and allowing them to absorb before swallowing.
The molecules are absorbed through the lining of the wall of the mouth, which is particularly sensitive, and beneath the tongue. It is worth noting that there is alcohol in a tincture if you are trying to avoid it.

Edibles:

Edibles are foods and drinks that have been infused with CBD. Edibles range from gummy bears to brownies to bars of chocolate and bottles of water.
CBD is extracted from a plant using a solvent before forming a concentrated substance. This is then added to the food or drink. The big difference with edibles is that they take longer to work and some of the CBD is ultimately lost due to the metabolic process. This varies from person-to-person with variables such as height or weight.

Vape:

Vaping is a fast way to absorb cannabinoids into your bloodstream.
E-liquid vaporises at approximately 200°C, producing a vapour which is then inhaled. The CBD then enters the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth, throat and lungs, allowing for rapid uptake. Legal CBD e-liquids come in a variety of flavours but will not get you high as they do not contain Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is a Class B controlled drug in the UK and is illegal.

Topicals:

Topicals are great for relief from aching muscles and for treating skin conditions. The healing compounds are absorbed directly through the skin, allowing them to target a specific sore area for faster and more focused relief. Apply a balm, lotion or oil to the affected area of the skin after a hot shower and allow it to sink in.
Read more: https://cannavistmag.com/cbd101/ways-to-take-cbd/

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

The Cannavist Magazine is your essential guide to all things CBD and medical cannabis. It is available in-store at WHSmith, McColls and Easons. It can be found online at cannavistmag.com and Readly.com

Keep up to date with all of our latest podcasts, news and insights by connecting with @ETUKUndressing on twitter or follow @UndressingDisability on Instagram.

Sign up for free to our Undressing Disability Hub to access free resources on a host of topics relating to sex and disability.

A graphic of a dark haired man and woman in bed together sleeping

Virginity, Sex, Disability and Safety.

By Disability, The Love Lounge

The Question

Hello,

I tripped upon your organization while looking up sex and cerebral palsy on YouTube. I’m writing to you about losing my virginity, sex, disability and safety.

I am 51 years old, spastic quadriplegic born with cerebral palsy and use a power wheelchair for mobility. I’ve had a couple crushes when I was a teenager and in college but that was it. My parents never talked to me about sex other than the most basic education of how one becomes pregnant and the high school sex Ed.

I would like to experience sex before I die, but I also don’t believe in sex unless I am in a long-term relationship. I have been struggling for many years with several health challenges that have made my cerebral palsy worse and left me with unmanaged chronic pain. Due to my multiple health challenges and many family issues I do not have the ability or interest to go out to bars. I am also scared about my safety in dating a man. For example what do I do if I want to have a little privacy to be intimate but due to disability you can’t get away if it becomes more than you want and the other person doesn’t respect that. What do you do?

I’m really embarrassed to email you this but thankful that there is this platform. I feel like a freak!

G x

 

Our Answer

Hi G,

It took great courage for you to write into us and I’m so glad you reached out. I can feel your predicament here in being caught up in a bit of a moral dilemma. Also, you have some big practical issues which are making it more difficult for you.

It would be useful to know more about your family issues which you say are urgent and making it less likely for you to go out. Understanding this, I may be able to see how you could overcome this. Also, if you have any carer that works with you. As they may be able to facilitate you getting out socially and also make you feel safer if meeting someone.

Hearing your concerns, it seems to me that it comes down to a choice of what is your biggest priority now. Is it about losing your virginity? Or is it doing the act within a long-term relationship or marriage?

Currently, with the situation as you describe, it sounds like it will be difficult for you to be getting out and meeting someone. This can take a lot of  effort at the best of times, so with your family difficulties, meeting the right person could take even longer.  Are you willing to wait quite a while longer to lose your virginity within a loving relationship?

If you don’t want to wait, there’s the option of seeking out a sexual encounter, perhaps not in a relationship. This is where it would completely depend on how you feel going against your current beliefs about the parameters within which a sexual relationship should be conducted.  And if you feel you would be comfortable undertaking such an experience.

a graphic of a mobile phone with a person and lovehearts in white and the background is pink

In the UK a charity called TLC have sex workers who work with disabled clients. Exactly for the reasons you say. They guarantee safety and can offer a ‘boyfriend/girlfriend experience’ too. Here is the link to their website. https://tlc-trust.org.uk/

It may be that you could take it slow and steady rather than going full steam ahead on the first time.  There is a cost to this service and it’s quite expensive but the workers are trustworthy and experienced in working with disabled clients.

If this isn’t a consideration for you, maybe try internet dating to try and engage with someone, building a rapport before taking it further. Again, if you have a friend or a carer you can trust, they could go out with you the first time you meet your date. You mention your fear around someone wanting to go further than you want, and how do you stay safe. You’re right, we are more vulnerable as disabled daters and have to think of more options to keep safe.  I would suggest a friend or carer being in the same location as you, but not sitting near you to allow you some privacy and normality for you and your date. If you needed help,  your friend can keep an eye on things and it would be easy to catch their attention. They can then ‘rescue’ you from any awkward situation.

With internet dating there’s another dilemma we all face. Do we declare our disability openly and attract those who are open to dating someone disabled? Or don’t declare it, attract more people, get talking to some people first, then drop the disabled bomb?!

The world of dating and disability can be a minefield. But it can also be fun. Losing your virginity is an important human right and feeling stopped from doing so is deeply frustrating.  Ultimately, it’s your choice with how you wish to go about it.  I just hope your current living situation allows you to make a free choice. It is your body and your life after all. Do what feels right for you.

Best regards,

Zoe

Keep up to date with all Love Lounge chat and our campaigns by connecting with us on twitter @ETUKUndressing or on Instagram @UndressingDisability  

If you’d like to get our experts advice with your own dilemma feel free to get in touch. 

Stress Impacts Your Libido - a face covered with hands and another two hands pressing down on the side of the head

How Stress Impacts Your Libido and General Health

By Disability, Undressing Disability

This article is about how stress impacts your libido and general health.

What is stress?

When we’re feeling stressed, our body has a physical reaction which triggers the release of cortisol and adrenalin. These stress hormones send us into what is known as ‘fight or flight’ mode. Instead of being relaxed we are on edge, worried or overwhelmed. Everyone has different things that trigger stress but for the majority of people stress impacts your libido, your mental health, and your physical wellbeing.

Physical Symptoms of Stress

Stress is exhausting and lowers our tolerance for many things. Some symptoms of stress are:
• Sweaty palms
• Foggy mind and/or irrational thinking
• Irritability and/or low mood
• Rapid heartbeat
• Shallow breathing
• Insomnia

When stressed, we just don’t have the capacity to be thinking about others, only focussing on ourselves. A lack of tolerance for others, irrational thinking and even aggression can impact our relationships by pushing your partner away. In turn, the lack of closeness can lead to more worry about your relationship and perhaps lead to low self-esteem.

Stress and Libido

Stress can affect both men’s and women’s libido. The stress hormone cortisol disrupts your testosterone levels, which is responsible for men and women’s sex drives. It can also:

• Narrow your arteries, meaning men may experience erectile dysfunction
• Take you longer to become aroused and reach orgasm

When you’re stressed and have worries and thoughts running through your head it’s not surprising that your libido might decrease.
If stress is impacting your libido, trust that this can change. It doesn’t mean your sex drive will be low forever. It can fluctuate at any time and for many reasons. Intimacy may help reduce your stress too. So kisses, a loving cuddle or massage can alleviate your tension and stress. And with time, this may help your libido increase.
Masturbation can be a big stress reliever too, so it’s not just a partner that can make you feel good!

What can we do to manage stress?

When you feel stressed and are aware of the physiological changes, try and take control back by refocusing your thoughts. Ask yourself:

1. What is really going on in this moment?
2. How can I reasonably respond to the situation?

This isn’t easy and will take much practice to regain control of your thoughts.

Here are some tips:
• Slow down your breathing and breathe through your nose, deep into your belly, expanding your diaphragm. Release the breath slowly and forcefully, emptying the lungs.
• You can use mindfulness with your breathing too. Notice the air flowing through your nostrils and how your chest and belly rises. How does it feel? This exercise of thought focus will divert the panic response of fight or flight.

Managing relationships whilst stressed

If you recognise that you’re being snappy and impatient with your loved ones, don’t be too proud to admit it’s happening.
When you’ve got time to collect your thoughts, be honest with them. Say

‘I’m stressed at the moment and know I’m being irritable. Bear with me’.

This will help dissipate their bad feelings towards you, rather than you not admitting it, feeling guilty yet still displaying the unhelpful behaviours! Also just being open and chatting the problem over with them may help you. The old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is so true.
• Always remember – talk, reach out, use techniques, seek support! It’s out there.
• Speak to your doctor if stress is impacting your day to day life.

Useful Resources

The Stress Management Society – 30 Day Challenge

Mental Health Foundation – How to Manage Stress

NHS – 10 Stress Busters

 

Keep up to date with all our Undressing Disability chat by joining us on twitter @ETUKUndressing or on Instagram @UndressingDisability.

A woman with a disabled partner - she has brown curly hair leans down and puts her arms around a blonde man in a black top, they look lovingly at each other and smile

Family Reaction To My Relationship with a Disabled Guy

By Disability, The Love Lounge

The Question

Dear Love Lounge,

I need your advice on my family’s reaction to my relationship with a disabled guy. My parents have met my partner numerous times over the past year, and we all get along well. Last month we moved in together and plan to get married. My Dad has suddenly gone a bit weird about it all, asking questions like “Who will put up shelves for you, and who will cut the grass? I’ve pointed out that its not 1950 and that I can put up shelves and cut the grass but he’s still going on about it.

My partner knows there’s something upsetting me but I haven’t told him about my Dad’s comments yet. I’m not quite sure how to handle that conversation as he loves my folks. It’s really upsetting that my Dad is being off when it should be a happy time for us. Help please!

Ellen x

Our Answer

Hi Ellen,

Thanks for opening up about this scenario. I think it is more common than you may think, although that doesn’t make it feel any easier for you!
Being in a relationship with a disabled partner can indeed bring practical problems. But there are invariably solutions to most of them. Your parents naturally want their daughter to be looked after well but your Dad is focussing on what your partner can’t do!

The generations before us had their jobs clearly divided into ‘blue and pink’ jobs. Many of us now subscribe to that notion less and less. Perhaps your Dad’s perception is that to be the ‘man of the house’ you have to put up shelves and mow the lawn. This is how he felt he supported the family and looked after his girls. Doing these blue jobs validated him as a husband and father.

I wonder if it might be worth a chat with him about this way of thinking – as this isn’t necessarily dependent on your partners disability. You could have a non-disabled partner who is useless at putting up shelves!

I would also consider mentioning this to your Dad – what would happen if you married a non-disabled person and then they became a wheelchair user? You would naturally have to adapt to a new way of life as he may no longer be able to do these tasks. I doubt your Dad would encourage you to leave them because they can no longer mow a lawn.

It sounds like your Dad is a little fearful of the future and has gone into fatherly protective mode.
A simple, adult to adult chat to reassure him may be all he needs.

I think not getting angry or defensive will help you. It appears this is really coming from a place of concern from your Dad rather than a place of mean prejudice. A gentle talk, with confidence and assertion from yourself about how you will manage the household and the relationship as a whole, will allay his fears. It’s encouraging that he gets on well with your partner and has known him for a year. Your Dad will have seen the lovely attributes of your boyfriend; those you’ve fallen in love with. Hence why being in a relationship with a disabled partner doesn’t bother you, as it is about much more than practicalities of a disability.

It’s great that your partner really likes your parents, and I can understand why you may not want to disclose your Dad’s comments.  It could hurt your partner and emasculate him perhaps.  Or conversely, he may totally empathise with your Dad and be willing to talk to him to reassure him.  He may express how he contributes to the partnership and what that looks like to him.  His dedication, emotional support, commitment, love – all more important than him making Wimbledon-quality lawns!

And hey, if it’s such an issue, or your partner fancies mowing – he could always get hoisted up on to a ride-on one 😉

Good luck with the chats.  I have every confidence this can be easily sorted with a bit of empathy and compassion from both sides!

Zoe x

 

Stay Connected

Got a question for our Love Lounge team? Please contact us and we’ll do our best to help. Follow us on twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with all our goings on. Join our Undressing Disability Hub to learn more about sex and disability and to access free resources. #UndressingDisability #LoveLoungeUK

A starry sky

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

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.
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