What My Disability Means for My Sex Life
People are often surprised to hear that those of us with disabilities have sexual desires. We do, it's just not as easy for us to fulfill them.
The author outside his home in Vancouver
My name is Spencer. I am a 25-year-old music aficionado and occasional radio broadcaster with the University of British Columbia's campus radio station. I also have a physical disorder called cerebral palsy, or CP.
I was diagnosed with CP at the age of one. For those of you who don't know, CP is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills. It's caused by damage to the brain during pregnancy or shortly after birth, and there are different degrees of severity. For me, it has compromised my ability to stand or walk on my own, and has rendered my left torso very stiff. I also suffer from hydrocephalus, which is a buildup of fluid in the brain that causes severe muscle spasms.
My power wheelchair allows me to maintain some independence, but I am reliant on my parents or care-aids, whom I employ myself, for certain day-to-day things like driving, transferring from my bed to my wheelchair, food preparation, bathing, dressing, shaving, and oral hygiene.
Those are all things that are considered basic human needs, and asking for help with them is perfectly fine and acceptable. When it comes to my sexuality and the needs that come with it, however, things get more complicated.
Exploring one's sexuality is a daunting task even for able-bodied young people. For someone like myself, who suffers from a disability and needs constant assistance in everyday activities, the challenge has been all the more difficult. Women often rejected me throughout my childhood and adolescence. This was not good for my self-esteem, and has made me hesitant to ask girls out in my adult life. When I have gone on dates, it typically doesn't go beyond meeting for coffee. I think some of the girls I've asked out couldn't deal with my disability, or didn't know how to.
I was around 12 when I started masturbating. I didn't know what I was doing or what it was called, but that wasn't really important. I had found a new interest in my penis, and it felt good. I suspect a lot of young men discover masturbation the same way. They start to mess around down there, unsure of what exactly is going on, and then one day some stuff comes out. They clean it up and go about their day, secure in the knowledge that they have passed a critical milestone on the journey to manhood. Crossing that threshold wasn't as carefree for me.
The first time I ejaculated I thought I had pissed myself. I was at my dad's house, and although I felt extremely ashamed and uncomfortable, given my circumstance, I knew I had no choice but to tell him what had happened. He helped me get cleaned up and afterward assured me that I hadn't wet myself—that what had happened meant I had become a man. He patted me on the back and explained everything. Since that day, I have become much more comfortable with my sexuality, and now I can talk to my dad about anything. He's very supportive and wants to give me the tools to live as a functional adult.
Watch Spencer talk more about sexuality and Sensual Solutions in the above episode of Slutever
People are often surprised to hear that those of us with disabilities have sexual desires. We do, it's just not as easy for us to fulfill them. Due to my disability, I require assistance in the set-up before masturbation and in dealing with the aftermath. I am happy to report that I can do the actual deed myself.
Most of my care-aids have come from my circle of friends, and all of them have been around my age. Once I have established a good working relationship and feel comfortable with a care-aid, I will ask him or her to help me set up and clean up afterward. Most of them are very understanding and willing to help out (once, a female care-aid even offered to give me a hand job, which I humbly accepted), but I understand that everyone has different morals and personal boundaries and would never ask a care-aid to do anything he or she isn't comfortable with.
When I need a bit more than a care-aid can offer, I use a service called Sensual Solutions. Their employees are called "intimacy coaches," and for a price, they help people with disabilities understand intimacy. How far they go is up to the client. I have been using the service for about two and a half years, and it has gone a long way in building up my confidence with women. The coaches provide an invaluable service to people with disabilities. In part because of my time with them, I have come to realize that I have as much to offer a partner as anyone else, maybe just in a different way. I talked at length about this service in an episode of Slutever, embedded above.
Moving forward, I want this biweekly column to serve as a safe space where we can talk openly and candidly about sexuality in the disabled community. Over the coming weeks, I'll offer more insight from my personal experiences, but I also want to hear from you and answer any questions you might have. Send any queries you might have or topics you would like to see addressed here, and I'll do my best to answer them in a future article.