For many disabled people, sex is off the cards. While most needs are met through the provision of carers, or by parents, sex is often missed out entirely. But now a number of sex workers are looking to combat this, stepping into the breach to provide specialist services to help disabled people to fulfil their sexual desires.
It's easy for disabled people's sexuality to become obscured by a web of societal assumptions about what it is to be disabled. But of course, disabled people are just as horny as anybody else. "Sex is as essential as eating, but people look at it as a luxury for disabled people rather than a right. We pretend they don't need sex just as much as we do. I think I thought like that myself at one point too," says Pru, a sex worker who has specialised in working with disabled people for a number of years.
Pru had her eyes opened when she realised a regular commenter on her blog about her experiences as an escort was disabled. With her interest piqued, she started researching what it would take to work with disabled people.
"I decided to make a page on my website addressing disability and making it clear that I understood their needs, and was willing to be accommodating," she says. "The things people take for granted can be really difficult. When a horny builder storms in and has his shirt off and is stripped down in five seconds, they hardly consider that it can be a lot harder for people with disabilities. Sometimes I have to lift people out of a wheelchair, undress them before we can do anything, and then dress them and put them back in the wheelchair once we're done. It can be pretty difficult and tiring."
However, the work can be more rewarding than working with other clients, Pru says, offering a real sense of having helped someone realise something vital within them. She recounts one instance of working with a severely disabled man.
"As nervous as he was, I managed to get him erect, and I remember him asking if he was hard, as he couldn't really tell. So I took has hand and wrapped it around himself. He was so happy. He was in a hoist and I had to climb on top of him. It was a bit awkward but we managed it.
"And when we had finished and he realised what had happened – that he'd actually done it – he burst into tears. He had thought he was going to die a virgin. Part of him wanted me to leave then, but another part wanted to carry on. So he got it up again and we had a second go – amazing. I never heard from him again, but it was touching that he cried. I'll always remember that."
It's not just about a quick fuck, it's more of a learning experience.
But things don't always go as planned. On one occasion, Pru was with a man with cerebral palsy when he moved towards her nipples. "He bit down really hard – it was so painful. It was just because his coordination was a bit off. It had never happened before, but after that I was a bit afraid when he moved towards that area. It was like dangling your head in a crocodile's mouth."
For some people it is not just about one or two experiences. Instead they are looking to educate themselves about sex and particularly their own abilities. Johnny Wheels is in his 20s and has Cerebral Palsy. He also has a condition called CVI, which impairs his vision, and means he finds it difficult to recognise faces and read expressions, making the formation of a relationship a struggle. He decided to turn to the services of an escort at the age of 20, following his breakup with his childhood sweetheart.
"Her disability was ten times worse than mine, so any sexual activity was near enough impossible, or at least that's the way she saw it," he tells me. "I was becoming very sexually frustrated. I thought, 'why am I missing out on this?' I just really badly wanted a sexual experience at that point," he says.
So he went online to enlist an escort to help him explore his sexuality. "I've learnt so much from her. It's not just about a quick fuck, it's more of a learning experience. I've got to know her and trust her and build a kind of relationship," he says.
For his part, Johnny would like to enter into a long-term, loving relationship, and believes his sessions with his sex worker are a step in that direction, helping him to build the confidence and knowledge needed.
And now it's easier for people like Johhny to find these kind of services. Tuppy Owens is a campaigner for disabled people's sexual and relationship rights, and is the driving force behind the TLC Trust, an online network that connects disabled people with appropriate sexual services.
She was motivated to help provide a bridge between clients and escorts by the idea that such contact could act as a first step towards the formation of non-paid relationships, although she does concede that some people "are just horny and want to have a good shag".
"Some people have given up on the chance of forming a relationship," she says. "They feel like they've had enough struggles and enough disappointment in life. They often find a sex worker they are happy with and are content to just continue with that. But generally I encourage them to look at it as an education, as a stepping stone towards forming proper relationships."
Moves to help disabled people connect with sex workers have, in some cases, met with resistance. Tuppy reckons that there is no need to change the law in the UK – under which prostitution is legal, but a lot of the activity around it is not – but a shift in attitudes is necessary.
The issue came to the notice of the public in 2013 when a care home in Eastbourne was dragged over the media coals for allowing escorts to visit residents. The media whirlwind that was whipped up as a result led to an investigation by the local council. "The reaction was totally overblown. Whenever the issue has been written about, the papers say prositution is illegal when that is not, and has never been, the case," says Tuppy.
It can already be hard enough – practically and emotionally – for parents or carers of disabled to arrange for them to meet with a sex worker. "There was one mother who had made the decision to help her son, but it was almost like signing away her home, she had such a look of gloom on her face," says Pru.
And for some, it is just too much of a taboo to take that leap. Pru tells me about a bedridden man's mother who was so deeply religious that she was unwilling to countenance the idea of her son being involved with a prostitute. "She would have keeled over and died if she had known he was paying for sex," she says. "We had to wait until she had gone out of the house to the hospital. It was a bit of a race to arrange it all, we had to get it all done before his mother returned.
Maybe we won't be able to get to the situation where it's delivered like meals on wheels, but we need to be more open to it at least.
"He was totally dependent on his carer, but thankfully she was in on the secret. When I arrived we gave each other this look that said we both knew what was going to happen. She had bathed him, taken great care to make sure he was clean, and she had to give me the money. Without her it wouldn't have happened for him."
All of the people I spoke to said they would like to see these services available on a wider basis. "The first thing we need is more escorts who can deal with the needs of people with disabilities," says Pru. "Maybe we won't be able to get to the situation where it's delivered like meals on wheels, but we need to be more open to it at least."
Tuppy is full of admiration for the women who are part of the TLC Trust. She feels that at least, they deserve more credit. "Sex workers, particularly those working with disabled people need to get respected as legitimate workers who do a great job. Think about what they do – would you go into a room on your own with someone, take your clothes off with no one there to support you, and show the person the time of their lives? They're so brave and yet they get just get slagged off."
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