This article originally appeared on VICE Germany
I met Stephan Blendinger at an erotic fair in Berlin, while we were both taking a guided tour for blind people. I was there because I wanted to find out how blind people experience an erotic fair, he was there because he has been severely visually impaired since birth and wanted to experience an erotic fair. Stephan is 35, has a one-year-old daughter, and writes and makes podcasts about life with a visual impairment.
In the US, over 7 million people have a visual disability. During the guided tour I realized that I hardly knew anything about what daily life is like for blind people. Stephan was so gracious to answer my most banal questions, like how he uses Facebook (with a voice output or a connectable braille display) and if he ever goes to the cinema (yes, the app Greta describes to him exactly what's going on on the screen).
Stephan had some questions for me too. How can I see in so much detail without the impressions confusing my brain? How can I look at the road and the speedometer at the same time when I drive? After the tour, we sat down so I could ask him some more questions I really wanted answers to.
VICE: Are you turned on by different things compared to people who can see?
Stephan Blendinger: I don't know what it's like for them, but I can't imagine it's that much different—touch, taste, smell. The audio track in porn is usually of pretty low quality, so porn sounds don't interest me much. All that moaning does nothing for me. But if you're watching a video on PornHub, there's a function where a (usually) female voice will explain to you what's going on. And I like listening to audiobooks of erotic literature. Plus: I have two hands that function well and a healthy imagination. Instead of visualizing sex, I just imagine touch and the movement of my body. Smells don't conjure up in your imagination in the same way, though.
You've never seen your girlfriend. Would you want to know if people who can see think she's beautiful—or would you rather not?
You can tell me, but I wouldn't care. I think she's beautiful. She feels good, has a great voice, and does the right things at the right moment. And I have seen her—just with my hands and not my eyes.
Would you want to be able to see yourself, or do you think life is easier when you don't?
I feel pretty attractive. I know I have a bit of a belly, but I don't think there's any point in being bothered by it. Being worried about such things would just ruin your self-confidence and then other people would find you less attractive too.
Blind people can be really racist. Racism is absurd, and it's definitely not just based on what we actually perceive.
Doesn't dating in Berlin suck without Tinder?
There's no Tinder for blind people, but I met my girlfriend in a WhatsApp group for blind people. Those groups are much better organized than groups for people that aren't blind, by the way. Someone once read a chat history of seeing people to me from an iPhone—it was total chaos. Everyone just talks at the same time.
The group where I met my girlfriend was about new technology but there are also other groups—platforms and mailing lists that function as dating sites for people with impaired vision. Most blind people go on normal dating platforms and have everything read out to them over the voice output.
Are blind people less shallow because they won't judge someone based on their looks?
God, no! We're just as shallow but in a different way. I can be shallow about someone's touch or smell. And I can find someone's voice very erotic—I often tell strangers that they have an amazing voice. I've even heard of blind people who only date blonde women—though they won't be able to tell. Shallowness is a character flaw. Vision has nothing to do with it.
And are blind people less racist?
No, blind people can be really racist. Some might not see skin color, but do use the n-word. Racism is absurd, and it's definitely not just based on what we actually perceive.
What's using alcohol or drugs like for you?
Not too different to people who can see. Marijuana relaxes me while alcohol messes with my orientation. I start staggering and I run into things. I don't drink much though because alcohol makes me sleepy. I have never tried anything like LSD.
Is traveling boring for you?
Well, I'm obviously not the kind of guy who spends a lot of time sightseeing when I'm on holiday. But if there's a historic landmark I could climb into while someone tells me a story about it, I'd be interested in going. I like vacations where I can feel something. Going on a wellness trip to Finland for example, or on an adventure holiday in a canoe down a river. And I like the climate in southern Europe.
Is it painful to think that your one-year-old will soon be better at orientating herself in the world than you?
No, it's not like she'd have to guide me all the time. I have a guide dog and a cleaner who comes in once a week. Of course I tidy up myself too, but ever since I've had my daughter my cleaner comes in to make sure I haven't missed anything. Everything takes longer for me but I change my daughter's diapers and feed her like any other parent. In general, I don't feel the need to be able to see at all—I'm a happy guy. But if I were allowed to see one thing, even if only for a couple of seconds, I'd want to see my daughter.
Are there certain things you're happy about not being able to see?
Yes, there are times I'm happy I don't have to see the suffering in the world, the images of war on the news. I also heard that people in Berlin run around town with a grumpy look on their faces. I don't mind not noticing that, either.