Average-height people have historically treated little people like curiosities. Yet, while average-statured people often cast little people (who are also sometimes referred to as dwarfs or people of short stature) as undesirable, this stigma is often tinged with sensationalized interest in how sex works for them and what sex with them might be like.
It is hard to generalize about little people’s sexual experiences, because short stature results from hundreds of conditions, each one unique, and some barely understood. The most common cause of short stature, a genetic condition called achondroplasia, for example, often leads people to develop average-size torsos, shorter-than-average limbs, and larger-than-average heads, as well as curved spines and back pain, bowed legs, and stiff elbows.
Growth hormone deficiencies can cause short stature as well, but people with this condition will have uniformly smaller-than-average body parts. They will also usually hit puberty far later than their peers of average height do and often experience osteoporosis, among other complications.
Other conditions that cause short stature can lead to breathing complications, lower-body paralysis, and/or vision and hearing impairments, among other potential complications.
Each condition has its own implications for little people’s sex lives, like limiting their abilities to get into or stay in certain positions or causing chronic, distracting pain. But, in most cases, sex is no more physically complex for little people than it is for people of average stature. The biggest barriers many little people face in their sex lives are the effects of dehumanization, which can manifest in isolation and self-esteem issues. The fact that many people of average stature view little people as novelties can also leave little people wary of sexual interest from them. Frequent acts of violence against little people can also make some intimate encounters feel unsafe.
There are some indications that the sexual stigmas that cause the greatest detriments to little people's intimate lives have started to change. Performers like Peter Dinklage have pushed back against desexualizing media tropes about little people. Writers like Cara Reedy have opened discussions about little people’s social and sexual experiences. And sexologist Marylou Naccarato has developed resources to help her community with the physical and psychological aspects of sex as a little person.
VICE recently spoke to Lisa, a woman with achondroplasia, and David, her average-stature partner, about the realities of sex as, and with, a little person. (Lisa and David’s names have been changed for their privacy.)
Lisa: When I was 16, I had a sleepover with one of my friends, who was [also] a little person, and I asked her how [sex] worked [for us]. My friend was very open about it. She was like, “No, no, it’s fine, it all works.” Besides that, it didn’t come up often.
Growing up, there were no little people women in the media, telling us it was natural to see ourselves as someone other people could be attracted to. My parents [of average height] instilled a sense of pride in me. They were like, “You’re a little person—this is just part of who you are.” But I think the media still influenced me. I didn’t see someone like me in rom-coms or chick flicks, so I was never interested in having that for myself. It was hard for me to visualize myself in those situations.
Otherwise, if someone talked to me about [sex when I was growing up], it was quite derogatory. I’ve gotten comments about my height being convenient for blowjobs—those sorts of things. The one about blowjobs was from one of the managers—not my direct manager—at a previous job, actually. Great workplace.
Throughout my life, when a guy flirted with me, or expressed interest, I would often freak out a bit. I would internally panic that they were only showing interest because of some fantasy, or because they wanted a tick next to “little person” or “disabled” on their [sexual bucket] list.
So, sex wasn’t something I really thought about. I was always very school-, community-, and, later, career-focused. It wasn’t until David and I got together that I started to think about how sex might work for me. I hadn’t had any serious or physical relationships before [ours].
David: I’d never thought about the lives or experiences of little people until after Lisa and I became friends. She was the first little person I’d really known, aside from seeing, like, someone walking down the street. I don’t think I’d even absorbed any cultural messaging about little people, other than, like, what you’re told growing up is the ideal body shape.
Lisa: David and I were at university together. We were in a similar network of people, [mainly within our student union]. One day, David came 'round to my house and we talked for hours.
David: A lot of it was stuff to do with the student union that we had to talk about. And courses.
Lisa: It was purely platonic. It became a thing. Once every two weeks, we would go to each other’s houses for dinner and end up talking until like three in the morning. But we’d just lie next to each other on a bed. Zero touching. Zero intimacy. Just chatting. Then, after maybe six months, the lines started to blur—not [into] full-on [sex], but there were levels of intimacy there. Hugging, kissing, and so on.
But I wasn’t happy at my job—the one where a manager said the thing about me not getting carpet burns giving blowjobs. I didn’t renew my contact with them and was like, “I’m gonna go traveling!”
I thought it might impact us, but David said, “No, you need to go and do this.” I left but we kept in touch while I was traveling.
Then I came back and took a job traveling all around the country. I told David I was going to be in the same city he was and asked if he wanted to catch up. He said, “Yeah, but I’ll be traveling there with this woman.”
We’d never had a conversation about dating or being exclusive or anything like that, but I was like, “Wow, OK.” I called him up and read him the riot act like, “How dare you do this to me?! Nice knowing you. I don’t think we should ever talk again. We’re clearly on different pages.” At no time did I ask him why he was traveling with this woman, what the situation was. And [in retrospect] he had every right to be with this woman [in any capacity].
A couple of months later, I messaged him saying, “Hi, I know things didn’t end well between us, but I hope life’s treating you well.”
He was like, “I’d been thinking about getting in touch.” We met up and got into a cycle of talking about and rebuilding our connection. At one point, we had two nights in a row of long conversations about our connection, and on the third night he said, “Look, we need to figure out what this is.” We started dating.
The first night we talked, we had conversations about intimacy, kids, marriage. I was like, “We need to get this all sorted out [up front].” A couple months later, I moved in with him. Six months later, we got engaged. Now, we’ve been together for over five years, and married for three years.
Part of the reason why David was the first person I seriously dated or was intimate with was that, [thanks to all this,] even by the time he and I blurred the lines just a little bit, I knew I could trust him—that he was interested in me because I was Lisa, a woman he knew. I knew it wasn’t some fantasy of his [to be with a little person]. He wasn’t there just for the novelty factor.
David: Her stature didn’t come up in those conversations. I didn’t have any thoughts or concerns about what it would mean for intimacy, or how other people saw us. I didn’t have any thoughts or concerns at all that I wouldn’t have had if Lisa were average height.
Lisa: We were both virgins. So, it wasn’t like I’d been with another little person—not that far, at least—or like David had gone that far with an average-height person [and we were using those experiences as points of comparison or expectation for each other].
I’m not a sex expert, so I could be wrong, but I feel like when any two people get together, there are some steps to figuring out how things work. Everyone has preferences about what’s comfortable, what they like or don’t, how they want to be intimate. For us, it was just a natural process. We were discovering sex together. It was our own journey. Neither of us came in with prior experiences and ideas about, “This is what I like,” or, “I expect this, and I expect it at this frequency.”
David: Yeah, nothing was different from how I assume everyone goes about it the first time.
Lisa: [One of the biggest issues for us was that] physical touch is one of my strong love languages. I’m a very touchy-feely person. David really struggled with that at the start.
David: That’s where we’re most different, for sure. Any sort of touch I associate with wanting more, I guess. I eventually realized that wasn’t always the case and [adjusted the way I reacted].
Lisa: When it comes to how my stature affects me, my back gets really sore, so there are times where that means I’m like, “Yeah, that’s not going to work for me at the moment.” Or, “You need to stop.” If I have a bad back day, it’s not going to be pretty. But he picks up on that.
And there are times when my back’s really sore, but I still go, “Oh, I really want sex.” Then I go, “I shouldn’t have done that!” Then he feels really bad. I’m like, “Hey, you’re not allowed to feel bad. It’s my body and I know my limits. If I get lost in the moment, that’s not your fault.” Then I get annoyed at him for feeling bad, and at myself for pushing myself. It’s this internal spiral.
Beyond that, there are obviously some things I can’t do. I mean, I can’t pick him up.
David: Yeah, sometimes if we’re trying to line things up, there can be issues.
Lisa: We’re never going to have standing-up sex, like, in the shower.
David: But if I’m standing on the ground and Lisa’s on the bed, that works just fine.
I can’t ever remember having a conversation like, “OK, we’re going to do this thing this way because of your stature.” We’ve always just found ways to make things work.
Lisa: David is honestly the nicest person ever. So, it’s never a big deal. He doesn’t push things, so there’s never a need to sit down and say, “Hang on, why are you pushing that? I can’t do that. You keep saying it would be nice if we could do this, but I just can’t.” Or things like that.
David is a strong feminist. I am too. That feminism comes into the bedroom with things like consent. He knows no means no, or yes means yes. We’ve got safe words and all of those things. If, for whatever reason, either of us does not feel comfortable, we can act on that.
It also helps that David’s been open to getting involved in the little person community. I’m proud of being a little person, and he supports me in that. The impacts of that support at home have been that nothing [about my life or body as a little person] is a surprise because it’s all out in the open.
David: Lisa being proud of being a little person makes me proud of it as well. She’s like, “Yeah, it’s awesome that I’m a little person.” And I’m like, “Yeah, it is awesome.”
Lisa: When we started dating, I did become more aware again of how people look at me as a little person, because [being with an average-stature person] took it to a new level, and [I thought that] David would become much more aware of it, as well.
We get a lot of particularly older women looking at him with pity, like, Oh, he’s so good for being with a little person. I did worry about what his friends would think, too. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him, like, Oh, that guy can’t have… I don’t know, like, shower sex, or anything like that.
David: When it’s derogatory attention, I do struggle and get angry. One of the reasons I wanted to engage with the little people community was because I didn’t know how to address things like that. I didn’t feel confident in doing anything because I’m not a little person. I don’t know what it’s like. Now, I’m a little more confident in confronting people about comments like that. And when I see people giving us looks, I think it’s more their problem.
Lisa: We’re comfortable with ourselves now.
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