Sexuality & the Disabled
Sex; Did I get your attention? Sex; a subject of interest to all though I strongly suspect men more than women place it high on their scale of life’s pleasurable necessities.
I confess --- the title lies. There are many different disabilities some of which are deafness, blindness, strokes, amputations, ALS and paraplegia or quadriplegia to name a very few. I am not qualified to speak about most so I’ll keep to generalities --- and perhaps my own paraplegia.
All of you sociologists, psychologists and other expert-gists out there, don’t jump all over me for what follows as they are just my personal mental meanderings in this complex topic.
Just where does sex fit in on the list of life’s necessities --- or does it even belong in a list which includes air to breath, water to drink, food to eat, clothing and shelter for warmth and protection. Most would add love to that list but would they add sex?
Men and women see the act of sex differently. It has been expressed that women need a reason to have sex while men only need a place. Stated differently, the male of the species can engage in sex without being in love however most women need to be in love before offering sex --- perhaps with the exception of workers in the sex trade industry, which after all exists to satisfy the male libido. The perfect situation presents itself as two loving people engaging in adequate, fulfilling and mutually pleasurable sexual activity throughout the life which they share.
I can assure you that it wasn't a conspiracy from millennia past, Neanderthal males dressed in loin-cloths, did not crawl out of their caves, dragging their clubs and knuckles, to sit around fires and conspire with others about how to annoy women with their sexual needs. Yet that disproportionate God/Nature given sexual drive, for the reasons already stated, no doubt began at the dawn of evolution. And that biologic imperative transcends species as researchers have found that male monkeys given bananas would save the fruit to trade with females for sex. In the male, the drive for sex was greater than that for food! (I’ve also heard that most women would choose chocolate over sex if offered the choice.)
This drive may be so intense that it is often improperly expressed. One need only to read the daily papers to find stories of men’s inappropriate sexual advances, forcible aggression and even the horrors of rape. Hormones, power, superiority, domination, hate, frustration, lack of self-esteem, lack of attention or love or perhaps childhood abuse is offered as the motivation behind sexual abuse. The reasons, though diverse, never justify the act. Sexual aggression transcends race, socio-economic status, education and profession. Powerful politicians have fallen from sexual scandal; priests have been defrocked for buggering little boys. Lawyers, doctors, and professors have all been accused and some convicted. Sexual misconduct is almost exclusively associated with the male of our species --- I would venture to guess upwards of ninety-five percent. However, females have also misbehaved --- most frequently reported are teachers who have seduced a male student or mothers hitting on their daughter’s male friends.
While I applaud the “Me Too” movement, I hope it will be used judiciously. False accusations should never be used as a weapon. Also I fear that politely-persistent and well-intentioned desires to meet that special someone may be misinterpreted. I have to wonder if flirting is even appropriate anymore.
I don’t pretend to speak for all paraplegics, male or female, who may or may not be in a relationship. However, I do believe we all wish to experience some degree of spontaneous and unsolicited intimacy with another human being. We need another’s touch beyond that of a therapist or surrogate. A simple touch, a cuddle, or an embrace may be sufficient. The sexual act is simply the most intimate sharing of ourselves which we can offer to the one we love. Depending on the degree of disability, adjustments will most likely be necessary. Love and creativity will find a way.
I cannot imagine being born with a disability and living life wondering if you will ever find a partner to share yourself with intimately and yes, sexually. The sexual tension, the frustration would be intense. Without a loving partner --- without intimacy and without experiencing the pleasures of sex, you may be doubly crippled --- physically and emotionally.
So where is all this rambling going? I am married yet have found myself living a celibate life even before having received my injury some twelve years ago. I used the word ‘spontaneous’ in a previous paragraph meaning that intimacy, whether sexual or a simple hug, should occur without asking or prodding. What recourse do you have when your partner shows no interest in intimacy? Does leaning in to give a peck on the cheek count when leaving or returning from a trip? Does it satisfy? If you have to ask for intimacy, much, if not all of the satisfaction I believe is lost. Counselling I feel would be even worse. Do you learn to live without? I believe it was Henry David Thoreau who quipped that “most men live their lives in quiet desperation.” I suspect that Thoreau ‘wasn’t getting any’.
After my injury, I was not able to climb the stairs to our second-floor bedroom so necessity had me sleeping on a single ‘hospital bed’ in my living room. Having moved to a single-floor home, my wife and I made the decision to have separate bedrooms. Sadly for me, this was the only practical solution primarily due to my paralytic spasms. For whatever physiological reason, spasms occur with greater frequency and intensity at night. Spasms may last for an hour or two but have lasted for eight hours in a single session. It simply is not possible to share a bed with someone when one leg or the other is jumping up and down for hours on end. Kicks can bruise and trimmed toe-nails can still cut --- let alone trying to sleep with the continuous motion churning beneath the sheets. Ongoing rhythmic spasms have frequently forced me to spend my night sitting on the edge of my bed cursing my own existence; something I don’t wish to share with my wife.
So, while I am a paraplegic, I can still wiggle some toes, I can walk short to moderate distances with a walker, however I simply cannot walk away from my wheelchair. Short of walking unassisted, I am otherwise fully functional from my waist down. I do however suspect that for me, intimacy, beyond a peck on the cheek is a thing of the past. I do hope others who are disabled find someone with whom to share their intimacy and sexual pleasures.
*A recent study from the University of Kentucky disputes the claim that women lose interest in sexual relations before men.
A simple survey amongst my male friends strongly disputes the study’s premise. Not one admits to having grown tired of sex or that requests from their partner to perform are too numerous to fulfill.