Nov 142017
 

Last week I had the privilege of being on a panel about stigma, sexuality, and disability with Andrew Gurza and the cohosts of The Pulse.

We managed to squish a lively discussion of flirting, dating, stigma, self-disclosure, and loads more juicy stuff into a 35-minute radio segment.

The best part is that the show was recorded, and turned into a Podcast – and it’s up there on their Web site, right next to shows they’ve done on adaptive tech, travel, TV and movies – and more serious topics like the underemployment of disabled people, and the lack of services for Indigenous people with disabilities.

I really appreciate that the staff of The Pulse included a show on sexuality, acknowledging that it’s as big a part of life as all these other pieces.

You can listen to this conversation about stigma, sexuality, and disability at the following links:

Jun 272017
 

Graphic of a hand making a thumbs-up gesture.A week ago I snuck into the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals Webinar on supporting people with intellectual disability who are lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, or something else under the label of LGBTQ+. It felt like sneaking because I don’t work with folks with intellectual or developmental disability, directly or otherwise, but, actually, I signed up like everyone else. I’d heard about the Webinar on Dave Hingsburger‘s blog and I wanted to hear what he and the other panelists had to say.

I didn’t want to take a spot from someone who needed to be there for their work, so I signed up five minutes before the talk was scheduled to start, figuring that would make everything fair! :-)

Why did I go if I’m not a direct support professional? Promoting healthy sexuality for everyone is what I do. These conversations we’re having online are just the tiniest, tiniest part of what’s happening with disabled people’s sexualities in the world. If I can be a voice, no matter how small, to bring some of that into the light, I will.

I’m not going to go through all the facts and statistics they covered in this talk. They’re all in this article (this is a PDF file) from the International Journal For Direct Support Professionals.

Don’t be put off by the word journal. This one’s easy to read – not full of scholarly words and long rambly sentences. Basically, it looks like this journal is written for busy people who need the facts as quickly as possible!

But, there were a few interesting tidbits from the Webinar I’d like to share.

***

It shouldn’t still need saying, but people with developmental disabilities are entitled to the same rights as all people; including (from the journal article linked above):

  • Sexuality and sexual expression
  • Dignity and respect
  • Privacy, confidentiality and freedom of association
  • Access sexual education reflective of their cultural, religious and moral values

That people with intellectual disabilities haven’t been respected in these ways has lead to tremendous harm. Dave told the story of a client who had grown up in an institution, but was living in the community when Dave met him. The client was deeply depressed, though most of his care team decided he was just unmotivated. Dave and other supportive staff eventually learned that this man had had a long-term relationship with another man with intellectual disability when he lived in the institution. This man was grieving the loss of his lover. Once understanding staff members new what was going on, the lovers were reunited.

That story had a happy ending, but it just as well could not have – and the ending might not have been any happier if the couple in question was heterosexual.

The denial that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities even have a sexuality runs so deep that just asserting their desire and right to date someone can be like them “coming out” – no matter what their sexual orientation is. For a person with an intellectual disability, just announcing that they have a crush, or are in love, or have sexual feelings and desires is met with disbelief, ridicule, rejection, punishment – no matter the gender of their crush object or lover.

***

This panel worked on answering: How do people with intellectual disabilities know it’s safe to talk about their sexual orientation and sex and sexuality in general?

A few quotes that jumped out at me related to how folks work with their clients:

“If you haven’t made yourself a clear ally, you’re not an ally.”

“People in your care need to feel safe from you.”

“It’s my job to earn their trust not their job to give me their trust.”

“When you push someone to have a conversation, that just becomes another kind of abusive act.”

Allow people (applies just as well to friends or family as to clients) to come forward when they feel most comfortable.

Show acceptance and willingness to listen by being nonjudgmental in other areas of their lives.

For example: Avoid judgmental comments on their preferences, such as that they shouldn’t put jam on their peanut butter and toast because it has too many calories. (Support professionals are their to support adults with intellectual disabilities with living their lives to the fullest. That means not micromanaging or taking autonomy away – making sure these adults have choices, and access to whichever choice they choose. )

People will not trust you with the bigger stuff if you’re always harping at them about the smaller things.

Direct support professionals were encouraged to figure out who will be the carrier of sexuality information at their agency. Talking about sex and sexuality is something most people are pretty bad at, and giving the right information to clients with intellectual disabilities means being able to talk comfortably about sex and comunicate details in ways clients will understand and remember.

I really appreciated how honest and down-to-earth the speakers were – acknowledging that sexuality is messy to talk about in general,. We’re dealing with all sorts of social taboos, as well as the wrong-headed thinking that has governed the way the sexuality of people with intellectual disabilities has been “managed” for centuries. That’s not something anyone can reverse overnight, or through a journal article and an hour long panel discussion. I also appreciated that they acknowledged that many agencies serving adults with intellectual disabilities still have restrictive policies around acknowledging sexuality, and that staff at those agencies probably weren’t being given access to educational seminars like this one.

Postscript

As I was putting this post together, I came across this piece published in Slate last week. Really impressed with how the writer and editor chose to put this together, with the voices of folks with intellectual disability front and center.

Postscript the Second

The overall theme of this Webinar and the accompanying journal article was pride, and the article has one of the best, most direct, answer to the question: “Why isn’t there a straight pride day?” I’ve ever seen:

Because heterosexuality has never been outlawed, punished, or considered a mental illness and being heterosexual has never been cause for a child to be thrown out of a family, or for someone to lose their job or their home.

Sep 132016
 

A graphic of a projection screen with a pie chart.

Projection Screen With Pie Chart

We’re all normal.

let me repeat that, we’re all normal.

Our bodies are normal.

Our relationships are normal.

Our sexual desires are normal.

Our sex lives are normal.

Note: This only applies if you don’t use sex as a weapon. If you do,stop…just stop.

*

Emily Nagoski is the Wellness Education Director at Smith College. During her keynote at this year’s Guelph Sexuality Conference, she shared one of her most life-changing moments teaching college students about sexuality. When she asked her students, on the end-of-year exam, so, you know, they had to answer – what one thing they learned from the course, the answers were, overwhelmingly, some flavour of “I learned that I’m normal.”

When we (and I mean we of any age, not just young people) talk to our friends, or read sexy novels, or watch movies, we see and hear conversations about sex that often just don’t resonate. We get the message, from those books and movies, that there’s one kind of sexy, and we’re not it. We worry, when we talk to friends, or see their bodies, if our desires aren’t like theirs, or our bodies don’t look like theirs. This reminds me of when I went to Cara Liebowitz’s workshop on asexuality at the Breaking silences conference and she shared how strange and isolating it felt to hear college friends talk about feeling horny, to hear the trope that all young people want sex, and to not know, on a gut level, what horny even felt like.

Another example: Most of us aren’t too interested in sex when we’re stressed, right?

Right – but most isn’t all. Apparently, studies have shown that 80% to 90% of participants reported trouble getting aroused when they were stressed out. That leaves 10%-20% of participants who got more revved up sexually when the stress piled on. Neither way is “right,” it just is – though I’m guessing it makes for lots of misunderstandings in relationships.

*

Emily wants to help people understand their own sexualities, and figure out what kind of sex (if any) they want by looking at what the science has to say.

If you’re a sex nerd like me – or, just a nerd – this is super exciting. I was on the edge of my seat, frantically taking notes, the whole time Emily was talking.

That said: Relying on the science does have limitations. As Emily pointed out, science still classifies people as either male or female, depending mostly on what they have between their legs. Yeah, there are other ways to measure that, but most of us haven’t had our chromosomes tested. And, even if we did, maleness and femaleness aren’t so clear-cut as all that. Sex and gender are way, way more complicated.

What Emily didn’t mention in her lecture was that there are other unknowns when we’re looking to science to tell us just what the heck’s going on with our sexualities and sex lives.

We’re limited by who gets researched: Is it mostly college students? Mostly nondisabled folks? Mostly people from one cultural background or another? Mostly people who are evaluated as being in “good health?”

How we experience life affects how our sexualities develop. it affects how we relate to our bodies, to other people, to the world around us. Our personal histories can affect how our bodies react, and how we react to our bodies

My biggest take-away from all the scientific research is that the results give us new ways of looking at the world, new ways of thinking about sexuality, and new ways of -possibly – understanding our own bodies.

*

The research also clears up, once and for all, a misconception that’s been around far too long!

When you’re having sex with someone, listen to what they’re telling you, not whether they’re hard, or wet, or panting, or flushed, or….

The way someone’s body reacts, doesn’t tell you whether they want to be having this sex. It’s called arousal nonconcordance and while the studies show that it happens more to participants who were categorized as women – in other words, people with vulvas and vaginas – this can happen with any person, at any time, for any reason. Yes, even people in long-term relationships can have their bodies act like they want sex, when they couldn’t be less into it. Wanting sex one day doesn’t mean wanting it the next, even if all the physical arousal signs are there.

It doesn’t help that wanting sex is usually talked about in terms of how fast someone got wet, or the fact that their penis was hard. I don’t know about you, but most novels I read take us from casual flirting to full-on arousal (and, implied, full on interest) in less than thirty seconds.

Emily read us a passage from Fifty Shades of Grey (first time i’d read any of it, and I doubt I’ll be reding more). Christian is spanking Ana, and remarks on how much he “knows” she likes it because he sees her wetness. Meanwhile, Ana’s thoughts are all about how much she doesn’t like it, and wondering why she’s doing this, and justifying to herself why this is okay.

Nope, Ana is not aroused, or having fun!

The worst part of judging whether someone wants sex by what their body is doing, rather than on what they’re telling you is when that person’s “no” or “slow down” or “I don’t want this” isn’t listened to. A friend told me recently about a mutual acquaintance who was trying to make out with her. He stopped when she asked him to, but he couldn’t resist observing that her nipple had gotten hard, as if that was some kind of hard evidence (no pun intended – really!) that she enjoyed the contact even if she said she didn’t want it.

Then there are the people who don’t stop. It’s way too common (and makes my stomach turn! – No, scratch that: Fills me with rage!) that sexual abusers will insist that their victims must have liked it, because they got wet, or had an orgasm, or moved their hips, or whatever lie seems to fit best and work to manipulate or discredit the “I didn’t ask for or agree to that.” Little do they know: Science is not on their side.

If the mind is saying no, we listen to that, however someone communicates that to us. period.

Here’s a Youtube video on arousal nonconcordance (fully captioned).

*

The second most pivotal thing I learnd was this:
Scientifically, sex is not a drive; we don’t need sex to survive, the way we need food, or water, or sleep, or enough sodium (salt).

No one ever died or got injured for lack of sex.

So, what we call a “sex drive,” that feeling that makes us want to get our sexy on? That’s actually called a sexual incentive motivation system. That doesn’t roll off the tongue so well, but there you have it. It’s totally fine if we want to keep calling it a drive, as long as we understand the differences.

A drive is for something we need to have to survive – like I said above: water, sleep, food, certain minerals from food.

An incentive motivation system is an external thing, external attraction, that pulls you into it and compels you to explore. Think of it like being intensely curious about something where you start reading everything you can on it, talking about it all the time, living it day in and day out, versus being dry-throated, fuzzy-mouthed “dying of thirst” thirsty.

According to Emily, when we say we have a high sex drive, we’re basically saying that we have a high curiosity for sex, a strong pull to explore sex or feel sexual sensations.

I have this in my notes, which I really love: Your partner, or a sexual act, is a source of wonder, exploration, curiosity – hot curiosity.

Takeaways:

  • We do not need sex to survive.
  • Sexual frustration will not kill you.

Sexual frustration will not kill you.

I repeat: sexual frustration, lack of sex, unsatisfying sex, not having a sexual partner – won’t kill you. It won’t even make you sick.

*

The title of this presentation was “Pleasure is the Measure.”

when we shed the things we think we’re supposed to do, or feel, or think, about sexuality, we’re left with what we want.

It doesn’t matter who you have sex with, or how, or why, or where (as long as you’re obeying local laws), or even if you’re having sex at all.

What matters is that it’s what you want to be doing.

It’s not just sexytimes and orgasms that make the plesure happen; it’s feeling safe, happy, secure, not doing things you don’t want to do, knowing what you do want to do.

Further Reading

Come As You Are

The dirty Normal

A sexually accurate romance novel “How Not To Fall”

Feb 052016
 

Of the five sex toy stores I’ve personally visited over the past 15 years, only one had a flat entrance.

Of those five, only three had employees who didn’t respond to me as a visibly disabled person with obvious anxiety, and, in one case, hostility.

Sex toys – It’s one of the first things people think about when they think sex and disability – if, of course, they’ve managed to get past the “OMG disabled people? Sex? I think I have the vapours!”

For people who follow online media, anyway, the idea of people with disabbilities being sexual creatures is getting more familiar, and sex toys tend to feature in those narratives.

For example:

There’s a great reason for this. Toys can make sex play more physically pleasurable for people who have spinal cord injuries or other reasons for genital nerve damage. Or, they can help a person who has chronic pain, or limited mobility (or both) reach their butt. Or, they can help partners do the sexual thinggs they desire but that their bodies won’t allow. Or…the list has no end.

How do folks with disabilities get their hands on sex toys in the first place? Generally, the way anyone else does: stores, online, or cobbling something together from the kitchen drawer or bathroom cabinet. ON the surface, it’s easy-peasy. Another But, a lot of stores still aren’t physically accessible to folks with mobility impairments, with steps at the entrance or inside, no automatic doors, narrow aisles, and more. Some stores don’t keep sample versions of each product on the shelf for people to handle. At the stores where they do have all sample products out for customers, you can literally glance at, or hold, or sniff dozens of dildos (or anything else you’re looking at) to get an up-close-and-personal sense for which one is most likely to work for you.

As with anything, you’ll really need to try the thing before you know for sure if you’ll like it, and you’re not allowed to do that until you pay up!

Having this large display of products right there can improve everyone’s shopping experience, but it’s virtually vital for folks who can’t see to get a sense of the depth and breadth (no puns intended here) of what’s out there. It’s also pretty crucial for folks who need to be able to tell if their hands, let alone any other body parts, can use the toys.

Shopping at sex toy stores is unlike most other shopping experiences.

It’s fun. It’s sexy. It can be scary as hell or as normal as going to the drugstore to buy toothpaste. A trip to a sex toy store, for some, is the ultimate “OMG that changed my life” experience,; for others it can be a “Bletch! never again!” story their best friends tease them about forever.

But shopping for anything can be a big deal for people with disabilities – whether it’s being able to get to the store (or use the store’s Web site without cursing technology and punching the computer), or physically accessing all aisles and shelves, or receiving customer service that’s respectful and helpful, receiving customer service at all (I.E. not being passed over in favour of the person in line behind you), or even being able, with a significantly lower likelihood of being employed and having disposable income, to afford what’s being offered.

The rest of this post will look at how beliefs about and attitudes towards disability can make or break a shopping experience, and why that’s even more of a big deal when we’re talking sex toy shopping.

My own first sex toy shopping experience went something like this:

Me: “I’m looking for a G-spot vibrator.”

Shop Owner: Opens clear plastic box and places toy in my hands. “here’s one. It’s only $34.99. Here’s the button to turn it on. How are you going to be able to put the batteries in?”

Me: Touching the slender hard-plastic cyllinder with a curved end that looked better for fishing (minus the sharp edges) than for rubbing delicate tissue: “Does this actually feel good?” (What I wanted to say: It feels too hard.)

Store-Owner: “Here, let me show you how to put the batteries in. You unscrew this part–”

Me: “I’m not sure it’ll feel…?” (Silently: “Yes, I think I can figure out how to put the batteries in. Not really worried about that right now.”)

Store-owner: “Oh. You just have to experiment and find what feels good for your body.”

Me:”Umm, sure. I’ll guess I’ll try it… That’s all you have for G-spotting?”

store-Owner: “This one will be the easiest for you to put the batteries in.”

Me: “Okay, I guess I’ll try it.”

A minute later I’d payed my money and left, plastic bag full of toy in hand.

Was this just one of those store-owners who wasn’t interested in spending time with customers?

No. When we weren’t talking about batteries, she mentioned that she’d just spent an hour helping a guy pick out a toy for his wife. I’m guessing the guy didn’t have a physical disability. He sure didn’t use a wheelchair; that was one of the stores with steps.

My experience hardly counts as discrimination, but there’s a reason it’s stuck with me.

I walked into that store expecting to be treated like a customer, shown options, given space and time and information to make my decision. I wouldn’t particularly have minded being shown how the battery compartment worked, but in a more “oh, by the way” manner as part of giving me information about the toy. The store-owner expected that I was a blind person. Whatever a blind person meant to her, it wasn’t someone who comes to buy toys.

My needs as a sex toy customer weren’t any different from any other customer’s needs. The store-owner needed me to not be different from any of the other people she expected to walk into her store and buy stuff so she could pay her bills.

My needs were to have a sex toy shop employee or owner stay calm and professional at a time when, no matter how enlightened I was about sex toys, I needed their help and was feeling nervous, anxious, and like I wasn’t quite supposed to be doing what I was doing or spending my money on “frivolous” things. The store-owner’s needs were – well – to deal with this anxiety-producing situation of being faced with a blind customer as quickly as possible.

I’ve learned from friends and acquaintances who’ve run or worked in sex toy stores that how to support customers is a big part of their work. They want customers to feel welcome, but not crowded, supported, but not intruded on, cared for, but not too much.

They know that people who come into their store could be having any number of sexual insecurities, relationship problems, body image issues, and more. They know that sometimes their potential customers come in looking for answers without even knowing what the questions are.

Your standard retail experience, where you usually expect that a salesperson will greet you, cheerily ask if you need help, and check in with you every 4 minutes, might feel downright terrifying to some folks trying to buy a sex toy, or porn, or a bondage kit, or a bottle of lube. Most of us have been taught to feel such shame around sex in general, and especially our own sexualities, that too much input or friendly chit-chat could feel really invasive or scary. (Note: This doesn’t apply to everyone. For some people, that kind of friendly connection puts them at ease, but they need to be the ones who initiate it.)

but, for a blind person, who may or will need help – depending on how much usable vision they have, E.G. Can they read lube bottles, see the pictures on DvD covers, or see where the rainbow-coloured dildos are kept? – how does a sex toy salesperson maintain as much physical or emotional distance as the customer wants while still giving practical help finding items and reading packaging? Or, what if a person in a wheelchair wants to look at a dildo they can’t reach? Asking a sales associate to reach it and hand it to them isn’t necessarily an invitation to talk.

I think what makes customers with disabilities’ experiences in sex toy shops unique is that many sex toy store customers, regardless of ability, bring their own nervousness, fear, anger, or whatever to their shopping experience. Let’s face it — sex and sexuality carry huge emotions attached to them. Most of us have internalized shame around sex and sexuality in one way or another.

Going into a toy shop, especially in a small town, especially if you look different or distinctive, can carry a whole lot of emotions and fearful thoughts with it.

So, the average toy shop customer could be walking through the store with any one of these emotions, or all of them and more all at once! They’re counting on people working their not to judge them.

Disabled customers, in addition to potentially coming in with this emotional bagage, will also often be carrying around the anxiety of “How will I get treated by these strangers, today?” and for some “Will I even be able to get into the store?” That’s a lot of inner chatter and anxiety to be carrying around all the time.

Based on what we know about general attitudes around and knowledge about disability, it’s pretty reasonable to say that When a visibly disabled customer enters a store, some people working their are going to have big, complicated emotions of their own come up. People have huge fears and uncertainties around disability. Folks will often explain their awkward behaviours around visibly disabled people as “not knowing what to do,” or “not wanting to do the wrong thing.” Disability is, I think, still this really unfamiliar thing, at least when it comes to disabled people being out and about, earning and spending money, making sexual choices, window shopping, and just generally not being off in some special space. I’m still working out ways to help nondisabled folks, or folks with limited experiences around a variety of disabilities, understand some of the basics of giving assistance, without turning it into a list of “do”s and “don’t”s that ends up looking a lot like this guide.

A lot of the negative and nervous responses to disability from nondisabled folks come from a place of “OMG, what if that (being disabled) was me” and also from a place of “This person isn’t anything like me; I can’t relate.” The fear most people have around disability is deep and it’s unlikely that that fear isn’t going to afect the interactions of people who feel it with visibly disabled folks.

So, you’ve got a person looking for sex toys or sexually explicit materials, or condoms, or maybe they don’t even know what they’re looking for, and you’ve got a person feeling undone by the physical reminder of disability in front of them. Remember what I said above about hostility? Yes, that happened. No, it wasn’t fun, but that’s a story for another time.

I think the reason that being greeted with hostility in a sex toy store surprised me so much was that, by and large, people who work in sexuality-related fields have been some of the warmest, most respectful, most creative and disability-aware people I’ve ever met. But these have alsso been the people who recognize that both disability and sexuality are mega-giant issues that can undo people’s sense of security. More happily, these are also the people who realize that sex and sexuality can be fun, creative, and playful, and is something everyone has, and can access, if they want.

Oh, and in case you wanted to know: My instincts were spot-on (pun intended, maybe?) about that toy. It didn’t work for my body.

And, the toy store with no steps? Come As You Are, though, sadly, they had to close their doors in 2016.

Oct 312015
 

Sexuality, Relationships, and Disability

A Love Letter to My Neurotypical Husband, From Your Autistic Wife

People often say marriage (or any long-term romantic relationship) is about compromise. I think it’s about understanding, showing that understanding, growing with a partner. This woman and her husband don’t – can’t – just go through the motions of a conventional romantic partnership.

Before you, I knew in my marrow that I would never be suited for a conventional love relationship. How could a woman who exists mostly in her own inner world, so tightly controlled, ever share a life with another person — until “death do us part,” no less? Every attempt I’d ever made at normal had failed miserably. I am too complicated, too particular, too cerebral.

I am much too much of everything. But you don’t seem to mind at all.

Read the whole article here.

Cocks & Bonds: That Time I Considered Hiring a Sex Worker

Deeply honest read from Andrew of Deliciously Disabled about struggling with his lack of choices for getting his sexual needs met.

If I am to look at the last several months with any sincerity, I am not okay with the way things have gone, by way of my sexual access. I have been really upset that the reality of my life as a man with disabilities; plagued by issues of location, attendant care needs and blissful ignorance or lack of awareness on the part of my community of fellow Queers, means that I have gone almost a year without an affectionately sensual touch from another man.

Within these long nine months, a time longer than many celebrity couples have lasted, I have started to consider the fact that I may have to hire a sex worker in order for my sexual needs (and at this point, it is a need much more than a want) to be met. I have been toying with this idea for some time now.

Read the whole article here.

Let’s Talk about Sex And Depression

JoEllen Notte, also known as the Redhead Bedhead wanted to know more about people’s experiences navigating their sexuality, depression diagnoses, and depression treatments. So, she ran an online survey and conducted interviews. here, she shares her findings, and shows us how sexuality can afect depression, how depression can affect sexuality, and what people can do about it.

Imagine for a moment that I took away your ability to enjoy sex. It’s just gone. Now in order to get it back, you would have to declare that you belong to two categories of people who are regularly stigmatized in pop culture. While you are dealing with this, you may also be experiencing feelings of worthlessness, guilt, hopelessness, lethargy, anxiety, and the inability to concentrate. If you can get past all that and reach out for help, there’s a big chance no one will do anything. They may not even believe you.

Welcome to the world of a woman dealing with the sexual side effects of depression and its treatment.

Read the whole article here.

Focus on autism must broaden to include non-binary genders

The gender binary, thinking of men and women as opposites, can be even more harmful when it comes to autistic people. I especially appreciate The point Emily Brooks makes here about how autistic people can be especially subject to gender role expectations; these expectations can be reinforced, sometimes literally over and over again through life skills (things you need to do to take care of yourself on a daily basis) and social skills training.

As a non-binary queer person, I’m sad that both the LGBTQ and the autism communities don’t offer more inclusive programming. … ’ The pointed focus on the differences between men and women with autism — most of which are socially created — leaves out people like me, who don’t adhere to a binary gender identity. … Queer environments don’t often account for our sensory processing issues or social differences, whereas autism services don’t often recognize that we may identify beyond the gender binary or have queer relationships. Shifting the focus from the tired narratives of delayed diagnosis and sex differences can help the autism community take responsibility for improving our day-to-day quality of life, whatever our age at diagnosis or gender identity.

Read the whole article here.

Disability, sex and relationships: the disabled lesbian scene

Advice and encouragement for a young woman with MS looking for disability-friendly places to meet and date other women in London England.

Read the whole article here.

Respect Sexual Rights of Women with Disabilities

calls for overhauling the nurse training system in Zimbabwe to better educate healthcare providers about the needs and experiences of their disabled patients. Lack of awareness, physically inaccessible clinics, and outright refusal to provide needed treatment all mean that disabled people often don’t get the healthcare, or treatment for illness or injuries from abuse, that they need.

In Zimbabwe, women and girls make the largest number of people who are marginalised and abused in society. The situation becomes a double tragedy when
that women or girl is living with disability, of which girls and women living with disabilities.

Persons living with disabilities – those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers,
may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others – have the same sexual and reproductive health needs as other
people. Yet, they are abused and often face barriers to information and services. Further, the ignorance and attitudes of society and individuals, including
health-care providers, raise most of these barriers – not the disabilities themselves, a fact supported by the National Survey on Disability: Key Findings
Report (2013).

Read the whole article here.

Experiences at Queer Continuum 2015

The questions and discussion with the audience went even better. There was a lot of participation, all of which was positive. A majority of the conversation
focused on the medical and health aspect of sex and disability. There were a lot of helpful questions and comments about how to talk to doctors about sex
related topics, and some of the advice came from medical professionals themselves. The audience was also very helpful in sharing their experiences and
opinions on dating a disabled person vs. just a sexual experience.

Read the whole article here.

Sex and sexuality advice

I’m a Gay Guy, but There’s This Girl….

The good folks at Scarleteen have hit the nail on the head again with some super on-target advice and reassurance about identity and sexual orientation. I love the message here that we’re all always okay, even if we don’t always know who we are or what we want. Scarleteen also doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that figuring out what we want, and negotiating relationships with other people, is hard stuff.

If you do decide that you’re bi or pan or something other than gay? That doesn’t invalidate the conclusion your eleven-year-old self came to. It’s a cliche in the sex ed world to say that sexuality is fluid, but we keep repeating it for the simple reason that, for so many people it is fluid. Eleven-year-old you chose an identity based on the information you had at the time. Your friend is providing the you of now with some new data to add to the equation. If you re-evaluate and decide “nope, still gay?” That’s as okay as deciding you’re something else. There is no right answer here.

Read the whole article here.

9 Sex-Life-Changing Tips From “Girl Sex 101”

Girl Sex 101 (available in paperback and Kindle) is full of sex, sexuality, and relationship info. Autostraddle has boiled it down to 9 key points.

My favourites:

  • “No one is going to read your mind.”
  • “Define your own boundaries.”
  • “You are allowed to want things.”

Read the whole article here.

Disability & Equality

#JustActNormally – A Response to Cerebral Palsy Foundation’s #JustSayHi Campaign

Emily Ladau explains, with simple words and lots of feeling, just exactly why The “Just Say Hi” campaign isn’t going to help disabled people.

“Just Say Hi” implies that if you see someone who appears to have a disability, you should go up to them and say hello. Although this is trying to convey that you should treat disabled people as you would non-disabled people, the opposite message comes through. No one’s ever created a “Just Say Hi to Every Single Person You See” campaign. So, isn’t the whole point of the campaign contradicted by the fact that it exists in the first place?
Also, consider this: if you swapped out disability for any other appearance-related identifier, how would this campaign go over? #JustSayHi to Asian people. #JustSayHi to people with red hair. #JustSayHi to people who look like they weigh more than you do.

Read the whole article here

“What’s wrong with you?” – a critique of the Medical Model of Disability

Here’s an approachable, conversational essay on different ways to look at the experience of being disabled. I particularly like how clearly the author reframes “What’s wrong with you?” (a judgment) into “Why are you in a wheelchair?” (something much more direct). People are afraid to use disability words like wheelchair, blind, etc. They tend more often to ask why someone is “like that,” or, yes, what’s “wrong” with them. The downside of being so easy to understand, is that this author skips over many of the problems with the social model, which doesn’t, at least the way it was originally developed, include everyone. This post icludes a few of the reasons why. https://enabledisability.wordpress.com/2007/02/27/beyond-the-social-model-of-disability/

The medical and social models are at opposite ends of the spectrum of models, ideas, and experiences researchers and activists have explored to try to understand the role of disability in people’s livs> Lern more about other disability models here.

“What’s wrong with you?”

I get asked this question most days, occasionally prefaced with a “if you don’t mind me asking…” or a “no offense, but…”

More often than not, the asker of this question truly means no harm, and would probably be horrified to know the damage caused by their words. People are naturally curious, and etiquette and rudeness aside (it’s not very polite to demand personal information from a stranger) I am always willing to enlighten those who ask. *

However, I do take issue with that question. Not in what it seeks to ask, but the specific choice of words. “What is wrong with you?” To my mind, I’m afraid there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with me. In fact, as you’re asking, I happen to have really quite a nice life. I have loving parents, wonderful friends; I am well educated and well fed. I am proud of what I have achieved so far in life and am very excited about the future. There’s nothing at all wrong with me.

I may direct you to ask another question. “Why do you use a wheelchair?” The answer to that would be because I was born with a disability called Central Core Myopathy, which means I have very weak skeletal muscles and therefore cannot walk. That was a very different question, and probably the one you were intending to ask.

Read the whole article here.

Aug 142015
 

This week’s film gives us a fresh way to look at sex.

A sexual “jam” is for everyone. It’s a way of looking at sex and sexuality that makes room for different bodies and minds, as well as different desires, needs, and preferences.

Karen B.K. Chan proposes that we look at having sex as like going to a musical jam, or improvisation session. If you’ve never been to a music jam, they’re events where musicians, who may or may not know each other, get together to play music. A jam is usually focussed around a specific kind of music (Celtic or jazz, for example) but people there will usually have all diferent musical backgrounds and levels of experience.

B.K. Says: “The point of jamming is to find out what happens and enjoy the process of getting there.”

That’s also the main recipe for having enjoyable sex.

I personally think this video is brilliant

Even better, there are English and French subtitles to make this important work accessible to even more people.

Enjoy, and here are a few favourite quotes to get you started:

  • “When we jam sexually, we’re not on opposite sides. Instead we’re collaborators.”
  • “Musical jamming can only happen when everyone involved is into it; it can’t be forced – and it’s the same with sex.”
  • “Pleasure is a renewable resource. Just like in music, pleasure is not better when it’s rare.”
  • “Our partner’s yes {to sex} isn’t just a technicality.”
  • “Imagine sex as a lifetime of jam sessions – some good, some not so good, all process, all plesurable, all collaborative.”

Aug 122015
 

Honesty, self-awareness, a wicked sense of humour, an unflinching sense of the ridiculous. You generally need all of these to be able to talk as candidly about your sex life as Kaleigh Trace has done in Hot, Wet, and Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex.

These essays are about a lot more than talking about sex, though. They’re about love, and laughter, and what Kaleigh’s Grandma thought about the explicit language on her blog, and how to prepare for an interview at a sex toy shop (hint: you don’t need to be a sexual superstar), and first sexual experiences…

And through all of these stories, there’s pure, playful honesty about being disabled in a world that doesn’t easily accept people who are visibly diferent.

Hot, Wet, and Shaking is full of delicious details that made me feel like I was right there with the author. I feel like I could be right there with her when she’s talking about that time she pulled a sex ed prop out of her purse – in the middle of the grocery store (A Bag Full of Dicks). Reading Looking For Blood,I feel right along with her the fear and frustration of needing reproductive healthcare in a world that wants to make that hard to get, and wants you to keep it a secret. I nod knowingly as she describes her first crush on a woman: “My attraction was so painfully visceral that for a short time I was truly convinced not that I was gay, but that I had the stomach flu.”

Other stories share some of Kaleigh’s sexual misadventures (And The Warmth Spread Over Us), her awesome-sounding bike and it’s wobbly rider (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Tricycle), a delicious (in my humble opinion) piece of erotica written in a fit of frustration that there are almost no sexy stories about disabled people.

The Lady and the Butch is a contender for one of my favourite stories. It’s so delightful, I wish it were true – 100% all the way true. Really, an older lady coming in to buy her first vibrator ever, because her “queer lesbian” granddaughter told her to? It doesn’t get much more novel, and amusing, and ultimately touching than that.

But Kaleigh, while she wants to share with us the awesome experiences she’s had and self-discoveries she’s made since starting to work for Venus Envy takes her customers’ privacy seriously, so all store-related stories are fiction based on real-life people and events.

Where this book really shines is in the stories in which Kaleigh is being unfailingly vulnerable with us – not just because she’s usually talking about sex – though that’s great too – but because she shares parts of herself that make her uniquely her, and she sheds light on sexual stories and scripts we don’t usually get to hear but which are a part of a lot of people’s lives.

Fresh-Faced and Orgasm Free is some of the best writing in this book. It’s so much more than a “how I learned to masturbate” story. Kaleigh shares what it’s like to grow up with physical disabilities, to grow up interacting with her body in mostly medical ways. She describes lerning how to drain her urine through a catheter, how she became familiar with her genitals as a place she needed to manage.

As an adult she realizes: Touching myself was so common that it was hard to imagine it as a sexual experience. It was functional,
not hot. Necessary, not fun.”

Trying to learn about masturbation through the sex guides she sells at work, she realizes that none of them really speak to her experience. They all assumed that bodies work in certain ways…that all people can use their fingers to circle their clits, that everyone’s nerve endings fire in pretty much the same ways. “It occurred to me that perhaps I had yet to learn my way of coming because all the step-by-step methods I was reading, all the porn I had watched, and all the sex I had had thus far had not considered my disability.”

There’s so much more I’d like to tell you about this book, about the lyrical ways Kaleigh describes her body, about her observations of and fears around fitting into queer culture, about just how complex and unexpected the piece of erotica was.

But I’m not allowed to copy the book out here, so I’ll just encourage you to get it for yourself.

Thanks so much to Invisible Publishing for giving me an electronic copy of this terrific book.

Click here to hear the author reading from her work.

Aug 032015
 

Can we all agree that asking random people on the street (or in the mall, or anywhere, really) about their sex life is just plain creepy?

People with disabilities are asked, much more often than you’d think, how, or if, we have sex. No, really, this happens all the time. If it’s not about sex directly, it’s something to do with relationship status. Maybe it’s random questions about whether you’re married, or about your dating life. Maybe it’s your server at the fancy restaurant assuming the person you’re sharing a romantic candlelight dinner with is “just” a friend, or worse yet, your brother or payed caregiver.

***

Honey, if they’re with me then they’re not looking for normal — and I don’t mean because I’m crippled. Because sex with me can mean any fetish, any request you’ve always been afraid to make, any position you can think of. Because sex with me can be watching porn together, reading erotica together, or preferably making our own of both…

– Kelsey Warren, My Body

This poem is Kelsey’s answer to the question about her sexual relationship she couldn’t laugh off.

It’s powerful, edgy, and provocative.

As with anything both taboo and sexy, Internet news sources picked this up right away, with headlines like What It’s Like to Have Sex with a person With a Disability.

Kelsey’s sexuality is clearly broad and flexible, and she has the gift of a lovely voice and the art of creating words that grip us and won’t let go.

I know I’ll be going back to this video for inspiration -the sexy kind, not the inspiration porn kind.

But this doesn’t speak to all disabled people’s sexualities – and I doubt Kelsey means it to, since she named her poem My Body – even as it’s the perfect challenge to the idea that disability makes someone not-sexy and incapable of or uninterested in sex, or to the idea that “normal sex” – (whatever that is) – is impossible for disabled folks.

The lives of people with disabilities are so often boiled down to being about our disabilities alone, – usually because nondisabled folks can’t imagine how life with a disability would work – that the idea of grocery shopping, or getting dressed, or having sex with one’s partner become exciting or alien concepts nondisabled people want to learn about the way they’d learn about astronomy or the mating habits of giraffes.

There’s also the assumption that all of these life activities are controlled first and foremost by the disability – that disability changes everything. Newsflash: It doesn’t. We’re just as likely to swoon over cute puppy pictures (or stories for those of us who can’t see the pictures), have ridiculous laugh-fests with friends, or get frustrated over the rising costs of milk. The ways we get dressed – whether it’s how we know what colours we’re wearing or how we put on our underwear or tie our shoes – are just the ways we dress, not anything better, or worse, than dressing the “normal” way – because that way of dressing is normal for us.

***

“I want to learn more about accommodating people with disabilities if I’m going to have sex with them.”

This was one of the answers I got to a question on Twitter asking what people most wanted to learn about sex and disability.

Since it was sex we were talking about, I asked if this wasn’t actually more about pleasure than about accommodation. When I think about accommodation, at least when it’s related to disability, I think of Braille signs on elevator buttons, equal opportunity employment, or buses that announce stops and have wheelchair lifts – not sexual intimacy or X-rated play time.

It turned out this person was concerned about hurting a potential disabled partner if he didn’t understand how their disabled body worked.

Fair enough – but… We don’t know how anyone’s body works until they tell us, until we’ve spent enough time with it to learn what every little sound or wiggle means. It ultimately doesn’t matter what someone’s body does or doesn’t do; no “Sex and Disability 101” Or “Sexual Exploration for Everyone” workshop is going to be able to tell you how to have sex with them.

The fun, and fear, of sexy time with a new partner is the same regardless of ability. The challenges come up when we’re faced with things we’ve never encountered, and sometimes have never heard of.

Knowing something about different disabilities can take some of the mystery of disability out of the equation, and that’s a good thing. The more familiar words and realities like cerebral palsy, hemiplegia, degenerative retinal diseases, PTSD, etc, are, the less unfamiliar they’ll be to people, and the quicker they can get on with their everyday business, including getting it on with a new lover. It’s also a relief to disabled folks when people understand the basics of what we’re telling them, even if it’s as simple as knowing basic human anatomy.

Sure, there are general disability-related differences in romance and sex we can pretty much always assume to be true: A blind man can’t glance across the room and entice an alluring stranger with eye contact. A woman who uses a wheelchair to get around may, depending on the nature of her disability, need help in and out of the chair, with changing positions, with going to the bathroom after sex. A deaf person will likely want to leave the lights on so they can read a lover’s lips, watch body language, or do whatever they need to do to communicate while getting it on.

Understanding disability by studying WebMD and Wikipedia won’t help anyone learn a lovers’ body.

We want answers, and formulas, for sex, and for understanding disabilities, and there just aren’t formulas for understanding either, or both together.

No one’s limbs work the same way, no one’s brain chemicals do the same things, no one person likes exactly the same sexual activities in the same way.

Becoming an encyclopedia of disability and intimacy will only take anyone so far in growing a relationship with a disabled or nondisabled partner or playmate.

I don’t necessarily suggest conducting an interview with someone you want to have sex with – unless question-and-answer sessions light your erotic fire, and theirs – but discussing questions like the ones below can be a good place to start if you’re just not sure what to do with this playmate you find so hot:

  • What feels good to you?>
  • How do we have sex so I don’t hurt you?
  • I want (insert your deepest fantasy, or just what your body craves that day). What do you want?

***

I think the connection we need to keep making between disabled people and sexuality is our right to want sex, to think about sex, to be sexy and express our sexuality – or not to do any of those if we choose not to. For some people that includes the right to have sex, but for others it’s more about the right – and the responsibility – to live in a world that’s so often about sex appeal, and where so many interactions are expected to have sexual overtones.

…unless you’re disabled, in which case you’re assumed to be childlike, uninterested in sex and lacking a sexuality, even unaware of sex; in other words, nonsexual.

We used to describe these attitudes towards disabled people’s sexualities as seeing people with disabilities as “asexual.”

Asexuality is, however, an actual identity or orientation. It’s not generally seen as an absence of sexuality, but as a way some individuals relate to their own sexualities or with the idea of sexuality in general.

Disabled people can, and do, identify as asexual, without that having anything to do with their disability.

I think highlighting the variability of disabled people’s sexualities is important, and sometimes overlooked.

We emphasize so much that disabled people are sexual beings, that we forget that we’re allowed to be lousy lovers, or to have sexual relationships that don’t work, or to have lovers who just don’t enjoy our sexiness without that making them narrow-minded, ableist jerks. We forget that having sexual rights also means we have the right to be lousy in bed, that we have the right not to shock others with our sexualities, that we have the right to be celibate by choice.

So many disabled people don’t get choices, though. They don’t get privacy, or say in who provides their personal care, or who knows about their personal business. The idea that disabled folks who need physical assistance with daily personal-care needs (dressing, bathing, caring for their home, etc.) could also get assistance (without judgment) with the parts of their sexual and intimate lives they physically can’t negotiate themselves is deeply complicated.

There are no easy answers – so much of what I’ve brought up here would, and has, fill books – and there are no quick fixes for making mass changes to attitudes about disability, or sex, or disabled people expressing our sexualities. We’re talking about changing generations of attitudes about two experiences people hold so much fear around in general.

Maybe one place to start, for everyone, is to expand what we think of as sex in the first place.

Jul 062015
 

I wrote the following post in March 2014, after attending Mara Levy‘s talk, Problem-Solving Sex with Disability at the Catalyst Conference.

Mara Levy is an Occupational Therapist (OT) in Washington DC. Occupational therapists help people who’ve experienced injury or illness to return to activities that are meaningful to them—activities like walking, driving, working, crafting, and the like.
Mara includes sexual expression and sex in her definition of meaningful activities. This may be a “well duh!” idea to many readers here, but there’s this belief out there that people with disabilities have more important things to worry about than being sexual, and that sex just isn’t relevant once someone becomes disabled. (Not true!) it doesn’t help that many medical and rehabilitation providers don’t address sexual issues, concerns, or changes with their clients, and you can have people really not sure where to go with meeting the sex and sexuality needs that don’t go away after illness or injury.

There are a lot of negative, or just plain silly, responses to disabled people and sexuality.

Here’s what Mara says nondisabled people need to do about that:

  • listen
  • rid themselves of paternalistic attitudes (thinking of disabled people as childlike or helpless)
  • Avoid jumping in to help or change something unless they are asked to
  • remember what is and isn’t their business (hint from me: If you wouldn’t ask an apparently nondisabled person on the street about their sex life, don’t ask a disabled person)
  • respect boundaries

And, Mara added, nondisabled people need to do this processing and awareness building on their own time.
A disabled person’s sexuality is no one’s business unless they ask you for help working on sexual issues, or unless they want to have sex with you (and you want to have sex with them).

People also need to question the all-too-common assumption that a visibly nondisabled person seen with a visibly disabled person must be the caregiver or helper. This gets old—really fast—especially if the people in question are actually lovers.

Speaking of partners, Mara made what I thought was a really important point about consent. It’s not just the person with disability who needs to consent, but their partner. For some disabled folks, most physical activities have some level of pain or discomfort attached to them. A partner may not be able to consent to something they know hurts their partner, no matter how much they’re told that it’s okay, and that this sexual activity is wanted. For people with chronic or episodic (occasional, brought on by specific factors like weather, certain activities, etc) pain, this may well be part of the sexual negotiation.

Because people are often sent the message that talking about sex and sexuality isn’t okay—and this is doubly true for people with disabilities—Mara emphasizes that it’s important for medical and rehabilitation providers to give their clients or patients explicit permission to talk about sex and sexuality. Even if that’s not their area of interest or specialty, even if they don’t have all the answers (people who do specialize in sex and sexuality rarely have all the answers), just listening can be powerful, and starting the problem-solving process can lead to patients and clients getting what they need and want from their sexual lives.

There are a lot of barriers to people with disabilities experiencing their sexualities, such as:

  • Physical and psychological pain or discomfort.
  • Societal attitudes about what “real” sex is, about who is sexy and attractive, even about who is allowed to live. (Hint from me: Disabled people are often told, by strangers and friends alike, that a nondisabled person would “just die” if they had such-and-such a disability.)
  • Paternalistic or inspirational attitudes. It’s a strange either-or in which people with disabilities are either seen as childlike—in need of help or guidance—or are seen as amazing, imbued with super powers. Sometimes, disabled people are subjects of inspiration porn, which isn’t at all sexy!

Mara proposes using the same model she uses to work with clients around their activities of daily living—I just had to throw some rehab speak in there—to helping people solve sexual problems or simply to reach their sexual goals.

This model has us looking at the person, at the environment, and at the situation. For each one, we figure out what needs to and can be fixed, what can be compensated for, and even what may traditionally be seen as a problem but which can actually be an asset.

What does the person bring? Not just their disability, but their hopes, their desires, their beliefs about sex (and what they know about sex). The environment may or may not be accessible to this particular person. What’s the situation? What’s the person trying to do? Does the available environment make the situation possible? (If the person wants to have intercourse with someone, but needs (maybe for pain or mobility reasons) to be able to lie down on a firm surface, and the only room that’s available has a fluffy feather bed, the needs of the person, the requirements of the situation, and the reality of the environment, aren’t going to go together.

That’s just a simple example of course. The kinds of questions that will be asked, and the kinds of fixing, compensating, or adapting that will be done will depend on the activity—and when it comes to sex and sexual expression, the activity list is endless. So here’s just a sampling of the kinds of questions one might ask:

Person

  • What are the physical issues (E.G. pain, reduced sensation, mobility impairment)?
  • What are the psychological issues (E.G. anxiety, stress, grief around acquired disability)
  • What values and knowledge does the person have around sex?
  • Does the person have a solid understanding of their medical condition? Is the prognosis and treatment known? Are there limitations on sex recommended by healthcare providers? If medication interferes with sexual functioning in a way that doesn’t work for the person, can that be changed?

Environment

  • Is the place where the person wants to express their sexuality accessible (E.G. dance club, bedroom)?
  • If the person needs a caregiver to help with some tasks before, during, or after the time of sexual expression, is there someone close by who can give nonjudgmental assistance?
  • Cultural environment: What attitudes are held about sex and disability, both separately and together? Are they negative or limiting? Has the person internalized them? Are they having to spend time and energy resisting spoken and unspoken messages they’re getting about their disability, their sexuality, or both?

Activity

  • What’s the activity in question? What movement or amount of physical and emotional energy is required? What props are required?
  • Are there things that would help, such as pillows to support the body or grab bars to help with movement?
  • What are the goals the person has for the activity—orgasm, connecting with their own body, laughing and sharing playful, intimate touch with someone else?

The questions you’ll ask will be very different if you want to go dancing and flirting at a local bar or if you want to find a romantic partner.

It occurs to me that this kind of problem-solving process can be applied to anyone’s life, whether you have a disability or not.

It seems to me particularly useful though in breaking down barriers that say that sexual expression for someone who has disabilities is just too complicated to warrant attention.