The frenzy surrounding John Edwards extra-marital affair has provided the media with a perfect chance to explore the complexities of sexual relationships involving people with disabilities. As usual, this opportunity looks like it is going to be completely squandered, so I figured maybe I could do something to change that. Besides, I just really like talking about sex whenever I get the chance to.
My first college sweetheart and I were together for three years before breaking up. I was physically disabled but undiagnosed when we first started dating. We had the nice sort of (vanilla) sex life that I think was fairly typical for two non-disabled people beginning their adult lives. However, once I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus, the whole relationship went south. Well, actually, it went west because he decided that he just wasn’t cut out to be anyone’s caretaker yet, so he left New Orleans and moved back to his hometown in California for a while.
I’m fortunate. That was the first and last time I was dumped because of my disability. The next relationship I entered into was with my best friend (The German) and we’ve now been involved with each other for ten years. I came into this relationship as a self-identified PWD (person with disabilities). I’d like to say that he knew what he was getting himself into but how things start are rarely how they end up.
A few years after we got involved with each other, I was diagnosed as having a rare bone cancer in my chest. Then, three years ago, he was attacked by a German Shepard and knocked unconscious when his head slammed into the side of a truck. This left him with damage to his spine and brain. At that time, I was still going through treatment for my cancer and in need of a lot of caretaker assistance. Suddenly, instead of one PWD being cared for by a non-disabled partner, we were two people with disabilities trying to take care of each other. It was a rough transition.
If you saw how difficult our lives became, you might have concluded that we wouldn’t have the time or energy to even think about sex, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, we started having even more sex. Yeah, that’s right. I said it. Our sex life got even better than it was before.
Having cancer is extremely stressful and physically traumatizing. After the rigors of rounds of treatment, sex helped me reaffirm my sense of ownership over my body. Though the radiation and surgeries brought me to the very edges of what the human body could withstand, none of it made me want to stop having sex. Picture spending months (and then years) of your life, being pressed and twisted and turned, under, behind and between machines. Now try to imagine how you’d gather up the strength to keep going even though you’ve already been told that, no matter what you are willing to endure, none of it is going to cure your body. Being able come home and have that same body kissed, caressed, and worshipped kept me going.
My doctors warned us that there wasn’t any reason to believe that I was going to live much longer. Surprisingly, this also improved our sex life. Hey, if you’re going to die soon, screw visiting the Eiffel Tower! Instead, why not enjoy as many orgasms as you can during the interim?
Also, the knowledge that your time to enjoy experiences is quite limited can be powerful motivation to try out all of those things you’ve considered trying but never got around to doing in bed…or other locations. We stopped waiting for perfect opportunities to come along and started making the most of each moment, regardless of back-aches, soreness, sleepiness, or less than ideal locations.
Oh, I know this must all seem like too much information to some but there’s a reason behind it. I’m really fed up with people assuming that people with disabilities aren’t sexual beings, capable of having fulfilling physical relationships with others. Furthermore, a lot of us are having great sex lives with each other. In other words, don’t assume that we are all desperate to find some non-disabled person willing to get us off. Some of us actually prefer to share our bodies with those who can understand what it means to live in a society as a person who is seen as non-sexual, abnormal, and only worthy of pity, simply because our bodies don’t match up with society’s ablist norms.
Just so you know, I’m not the only PWD who sees disability as a catalyst for all sorts of sexual possibilities. In case you’ve never heard of it, check out this video on Sins Invalid: