When the lovely Julia asked me if I’d write an article on disability and sexuality, my first thought was “Oh no, not again”. Throughout my twelve-year career as a TV, radio and print journalist I have been asked to cover the topic many times. I have even written manuals on the subject. I am constantly contacted by TV companies making documentaries on how disabled people deal with sex and I no longer have anything to do with them. The programs are invariably made by middle class, able-bodied, media graduates that believe that by making a series on how tough it is to cope with sexuality if you’re disabled they are helping us with some problem they perceive us to have.
The fact of the matter is WE DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH SEX!!!!!!!!!!!! Our main problem regarding sex is the able bodied fascination with our sex lives. I mean do you see whole series looking deeply into the mechanics of heterosexual able-bodied sexual activity…? No. Disabled sex is put in the same category as kinky sex, strippers, queers and transsexuals… all great TV freak fodder. Great ratings grabbers. Just with us the TV companies feel they are helping us poor cripples in some way.
Now before you think I’m going to spend pages ranting about discrimination, I’m not. As I thought about this article I saw away of putting down in words the truth. Of course a disability can cause problems with sexuality, whether it be physiological or psychological. Whether it be the mechanics of paraplegia and the level of spinal injury in relation to the level of sexual function that can be achieved or the image we may have of ourselves as sexual beings living in a world that is becoming more and more preoccupied with the body beautiful.
Another thing to consider is… what is disabled? Never forget that a person with a visual disability is going to have a totally different experience to some one like me, a wheelchair user. I myself have always wondered if a blind lover would be more tactile and sensual. Once, while very drunk at a BBC Christmas party, I annoyed one of my colleagues by asking if her deafness caused her to orgasm loudly. To me not having any true idea of how much noise she might be making during sex would obviously mean she would be a screamer (I know, SOOOO politically incorrect). But see, even us crips are intrigued by how other crips “do it”. Also, every individual wheelchair user will be different in his injury and how it affects them physically, so any serious look at disability and sex can never really capture everyone’s experience of sex, just the common experiences. Experiences shared by everyone, whether or not you’re disabled
So as I can’t speak for all the world’s cripples, I’ll speak for myself. I am a lifetime member of the crip club. I was born with cancer and was one of the fist children in the world to be cured of my type of childhood neuroblastoma. It was a miracle sir, came along and cured they did without a by your leave. The slight nerve damage caused by the cancer left me with a right leg that wasn’t as strong as it should be and so to walk (which took me until the age of five to learn how to do) I needed to wear a caliper (leg brace). Luckily my Mother and Father fought to send me to a normal start school and not a special school. This meant I was educated to the same standard as the rest of the world and was integrated with able-bodied kids from day one of my schooling. I have always been the first disabled pupil in any school I went to, even right up to Sixth Form and Art College. I was always the pioneer that had to assist the school with adaptations. I also had to deal with teachers that had no idea how to react to disabled pupils. I remember once entering a school cross-country run. Now I obviously came in last (that caliper weighed a ton) but my headmaster still made the school applaud me for “bravely” taking part. I felt stupid as everyone was cheering me on for losing. This is where any problems of self-image I have began. Not only was I useless at sport in a school system where sporty kids are looked up to, but I was being praised for being so crap. No one ever praised me this highly for being the school hockey team captain years later. It was my failure that made me stand out. I wasn’t expected to win, I didn’t have to win. Only the disabled live in a world where failure is expected, any success considered a miracle.
So just as I was about to leave school, at the age of fifteen, complications from by my cancer treatment all those years ago caused my spine to collapse and, et viola, I became the wheelie I am today. Now most people, when they hear I was fifteen, say how terrible it must have been. But becoming so much more disabled at this age has always seemed a great thing to me. Before I went in the chair I was the kid that was nearly normal, but not normal enough. OK, it was during the punk thing, so being a freak was kinda cool. Then when Gary Numan hit the charts I was like a pig in shit. Numanoids were always dressed in black, wore make up and, most importantly, didn’t talk. So when I was going through the shy stage I was considered dead cool and thoughtful by the girls in my school. I didn’t know this because I already was unsure that the girls I fancied would want to go out with “the kid with a limp” so I was always just their “Friends”
When I went into the hospital to be treated for my spinal collapse I had the experience of being told I had cancer again and was going to die. For twenty-four hours I thought I’d die a virgin, who had never done any of the things I dreamed of doing. I spent one whole day lying there in the terminal ward, surrounded by people dying, listing all things I’d never do. When I was told my death sentence was a mistake, I viewed the rest of my stay as a means to an end, and tried to make the best of a bad job. I mean I even lost my virginity in hospital to a stunning student nurse! When I got out of hospital it was going to be the beginning of a new me. So I came out of hospital, sat my parents down and told them that the studious, good boy with a great future in conforming was dead. From now on I was going to do what made me happy. I was going to live each day as if it may be my last. I still do!
Now while the wheelchair had made me much more grown up in one way, it had given me loads of other shit to get used to. Not only was I in a wheelchair but I had a body covered in scars (this is long before scarification was considered cool) and had (thanks to a doctor trapping some nerves in scar tissue) lost the motor function to my sex organs. As a young man living in a word were erections and penetration was what sex was about, I truly thought I would never be able to make a woman happy sexually. I toyed with being gay (you can receive then, can’t you), but found that stubble and, well, just not fancying blokes made that a non-starter. So I set out to read everything about pleasing a woman. I read so many sex manuals, “How to make love to a woman by a woman” was my favourite. I read up on how to make yourself orgasm without touching yourself at all (a very neat trick in the “E” fueled rave days-really picked up a rush I can tell you). I even read a World War 2 torture manual, because of its chapters on pushing the body beyond its limits, and of course I already knew there are some sick puppies out there! If I did ever find a woman who would go to bed with me, I was going to make sure she had fun. Now don’t forget I had only lost the motor function. This means no hard on, no ejaculation. I could still feel everything. I could still cum, just not produce any cum… (a much cleaner and safer way to be I would discover later). I didn’t even consider me having any fun in my sexual equation; I was only worried about the poor girl that had saddled herself with a spaz. In the end I lost my wheelchair virginity to a friend, who thought she was a lesbian and didn’t want her parents to find out. We went out as a pretend couple, fell in love and became a real couple. And it was great. All that reading paid off. Of course I may be a disabled man, but I’m still a man. Now I knew I could make a girl happy in bed, I wanted more. So I left her (yes I still feel like a shit, even today) and went out in to the world, full of sexual confidence, tongue a-ready!
But where as she had never made me feel less than a man, or feel guilty for going out with an able bodied girl, others did. Between the mind games that consequent ex-girlfriends played, and the way men think any girl with a cripple is just waiting for a “real” man to take her away from her torment, any confidence I had soon disappeared. And this was how my ex’s wanted it. I couldn’t see how much stronger I was than them, both mentally and physically. The public perceive the disabled to be a sickly bunch but in fact, once I got over my spine problems, the only time I’m ever ill is when the pain gets too much.
My ex’s were always ill and weak and were racked with all the self-image problems that today’s women complain of. “Am I getting fat?” “Are my boobs getting droopy?”
Oh well, at least they’d managed to find a boy friend who wouldn’t leave them, I mean he was so lucky to be going out with them. Bollocks to that! They may have thought that out downs and mind games would keep me around but I left every one of them. If they thought they could get better than me, let them try.
Then I met “The One”. Diane’s Dad is a severe epileptic but lives life to the full, out in the real world. He always told her to live every day like it was your last. She had also burnt herself as a baby, and had scars down her right arm. She’d been in hospital, she’d grown up believing no man would want a deformed girlfriend. She’d had ex-partners that used mind games to keep her around. When we finally got together, after six years of me chasing her and her just thinking what a terrible flirt I was, we just clicked. Not only emotionally, but sexually. Together we have been places you people would not believe. I can now safely say my sex life is a million times better than it ever could have been if I wasn’t disabled. You have no idea how the male sexuality changes once it’s set free of erection and ejaculation. Teehee.
Maybe this is why I get so fed up with always being asked about sexuality and disability. You see the able bodied can never understand. To truly get what I mean you need to have a spinal collapse. You need to have my body, my mind, and my partner (hands off!!). In fact sometimes I feel sorry for able-bodied men, with their worries about penis size, their performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction terrors. In my world Viagra wouldn’t have been invented, it would be a waste of time. But not only can you never understand what it is like to be disabled, nor can we. I only know what it is like to me. If this was an article on social discrimination then I could talk in generalities. I know what it is like to be treated differently due to something beyond your control. I even have an understanding of what it is to be Black or Gay, or Female in this world. Sex however is such an individual thing. All you able-bodied types have different sexualities, different turn ons, different responses. Disabled people are no different. The only thing I do know for sure is…
I’M ALL RIGHT JACK!!!!!
Sorry if this article wasn’t “This is how we do it!” That’s our secret and we’re not sharing it with just anyone! They do say that everyone is a disabled person waiting to happen. Well when it happens to you, then you’ll know. There’s a cheerful thought to leave you with. Now where’s that gorgeous girlfriend of mine? All this talk of sex has got me feeling a wee bit frisky…………….