How Sex Changed for Me After Embracing My Disability
Illustration by Erin Aniker
My First Time is a column and podcast series exploring sexuality, gender, and kink with the wide-eyed curiosity of a virgin. We all know your "first time" is about a lot more than just popping your cherry. From experimenting with kink to just trying something new and wild, everyone experiences thousands of first times in the bedroom—that's how sex stays fun, right?
This week, we're speaking to activist Kelly May Perks-Bevington about how she came to accept and explore her sexuality while living with a disability.
I have spinal muscular atrophy type three, which is a muscle wastage disorder. It means that I use an electric wheelchair on a daily basis. My condition’s been pretty stable since I was about ten or 11 years old, and I’ve used an electric wheelchair since then. Before that, I used to walk everywhere—I had a manual wheelchair, but I’d push it places. I didn’t accept myself as disabled, and I wanted to do all the things that other kids do, even though I knew I couldn’t.
I became rebellious to prove a point: I wanted to show people that I was normal, in a way. I’d go out and get really drunk and have sex with people that I shouldn’t have been. In hindsight, it wasn’t a great thing to do. I went that extra mile to be accepted by my peers, but really I should have just been myself. In my sexual encounters from that time, I wanted to be validated sexually. I wanted to be seen to be a sexual being, not a disabled person. I was looking for that attention anywhere and everywhere, really.
My first sexual experience wasn’t that great, because that person really didn’t care about me. They say that your first time should be with someone you love, which rarely happens anyway. Looking back on it now that I’m in a good relationship I wonder, why did I rush into it to prove a point to other people? I should have just waited until I met somebody who actually cared about me.
At that stage of my life, I didn’t realize that being in a wheelchair makes you a target. I just thought, I’m so good-looking! They really like me. But a lot of people came to me because they thought I was an easy target for sex. A lot of guys thought that I’d want the attention, which at the time, was true. They thought that I should be grateful for that attention.
Looking back at it, I think, why did I do that? I thought I was being strong and defiant, but I was putting myself into stupid situations—dangerous situations, really. Because I can’t walk, I have to put my trust into the people I have sex with, as I can’t get myself up from low heights on my own. I trusted these people to get me up and down, and this was before we had mobile phones and those sorts of things. I wouldn’t have been able to get myself out of dangerous situations and get away.
I used to talk about sex quite a lot and it was the biggest aspect of my personality. I used to bring sex into conversation, because I wanted to show people what I could do and that I was normal. But I wouldn’t change anything, because that’s made me what I am sexually and emotionally.
The real turning point for me was when I went away to college and met my husband and made some good friends. We were a really close group of mates, and they gave me the validation that I needed from a sexual point of view. I needed that to accept myself and started to value myself a bit more.
With Jaz, who’s now my husband, I felt like—sexually—I could be myself. The first time we hooked up, it was just a hook-up. Because we were best friends, it felt different. I didn’t feel embarrassed to ask for anything I needed in terms of help. It felt natural, like we were on a level and knew each other really well. It was different from any of my other experiences.
When you are disabled, most sexual things are possible, but you need to figure out how to do things. That’s the best thing about our relationship. We’ll say, “we want to do this,” and we’ll find a way to figure it out. When you talk about sex and figure out what you want it’s better for everybody, whether you’re able-bodied or not. It’s great to talk about things, and I think it does add to sex.
A lot of people view people with disabilities and their relationships as really juvenile. It’s like, “oh you’ve got a boyfriend, that’s sweet.” I remember that I was at a nail bar once, and the nail technician asked me whether I’d ever kissed anyone. That used to really frustrate me: that people saw me as sexless, and juvenile. If I had a boyfriend, they’d think we were just holding hands and walking around a park, not having sex. People assume Jaz is my career all the time. We’ll be walking around with our child, and people will ask, “whose baby is that?” When we check into hotels, they’ll put us into rooms with twin beds all the time. I have to ask for a double bed.
Watch: The History of Birth Control
When I was pregnant I was so worried, because there aren’t that many documented cases of person with my disability having kids. I was really scared about what was going to happen—would pregnancy worsen my disability? Would it hurt me? Doctors didn’t know. But it was really easy, actually. I didn’t struggle with any pain during my pregnancy. But the misconceptions still come up, even now. People don’t want to hand my son to me, they think I’m going to drop him. I think, I’m his mom, I’m not going to drop him!
If I could speak to my younger self, I’d say, "Wait!" I was a mess when I was younger, I didn’t know anything about myself. I wish I’d known that I would accept myself and my disability, and I should just wait until everything comes naturally. I was trying to take control of my life when I really didn’t need to. It all works out in the end.