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Let’s talk about sex, baby

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Let’s talk about sex, baby

Let's talk about all the things that you don't think I should do with my body
- Francis Vicary

Sex and sexuality are very contested spaces for people with disabilities. Services, governments, support workers and, even the best, most forward-thinking parents see sex as a "bridge too far". Many people with disabilities are supported in every other aspect of their lives, but this is often delivered in a way that treats them as asexual.

Almost every person with a disability can tell you of a time when they sought to express themselves sexually, only to be thwarted by family members, support workers, services and government.

I am among them.

I have had cerebral palsy from birth, due to birthing trauma. This results in me having a physical disability which means I cannot independently dress, shower, feed myself or do any fine motor tasks. I can, however, socialise independently, speak my mind, study, work, pay taxes . . .

I was living in country North Queensland, working at TAFE and having a fling with a moderately important, intelligent public servant. I had sorted contraception, support and succeeded in dating this person to the 'interested' stage . . . then my usually accepting family went ballistic! They rang me and said "no, no, no". They rang my boss' motherin-law, who rang her daughter, who rang her husband, who came and said to me 'They think you're going to get SOME". They even rang the 'interested' person.

If it wasn't so perverse, it would be funny!

Independence
My mother was the only one who moderately supported me and actually called my sisters off their hyper-protection of my virginity, but even she didn't really know what to do next.

As I'm a fairly independent and determined person and wasn't taking this thwarting of my sexuality quietly, I took my hard-won individual support package funding and set off to lead an independent life.

I was lucky. I had individual support funding, I could live in a regular apartment, and I had the academic credits and nous to see a PhD as an exit-strategy from the asexual, country Queensland wasteland to the bountiful "fruit" garden of a capital city and university campus.

There was a lingering concern. I was a 30 ¾ year old virgin and my medically-trained sister had led me to believe my bits might not work. So I used the Yellow Pages to get a nice man in a suit to come and relieve me of that worrisome cherry.

Game on!
After that it was game on! There was a hot and heavy long-ish term multi-night-stand with a person I'd known in the sector for years. Just in case you find this suspicious, I should add that he had not be involved in delivering any disability services to me for years. So started the passionate affair.

The need for positive support
Let me just state that all of this time I had support workers who were fabulous. They would cook dinners; squeeze me into spunky corsets and fishnets, and refilled my condom purse. I did have one who got squeamish at putting lip balm on my nipples. I helped her by getting her to put it on my finger, so I could apply it to my nipples. I sense my audience getting a bit uncomfortable here and thinking "uuurrrggghhh, details!" The details are actually important because you need to know that I cannot dress or feed myself - so support is an important part of helping my life to happen.

Goddess of sexual kingdom
I used social media to re-invent a persona of a sexually intriguing woman who just happened to not dress, feed or cook for herself, yet managed to live alone and have a number of random, casual sexual encounters.

It was a space in which I had power and agency and could put utter trust in strangers who I had only chatted to randomly online. But you can find out a lot about men and how they will treat a woman when they let their guard down because they want to walk in your secret garden. It's easy to weed out the weirdos and not give them details.

I was the goddess of my own sexual kingdom and knights came to court me. Through the internet my encounters were the engineer, the logistics person, the skater boy, the young builder who bought pizza, the Greek guy who took his wedding ring off . . .

Why are we so prudish?
The reactions of my support workers were also very interesting. Even when they were committed Christians, like one special young woman was, they seemed to value me the whole person over their own beliefs.

This young woman, who sneezed so quietly and delicately that Freud would have been concerned, gave me dinner one night I was meeting someone and made me solemnly vow that I would "call her if I needed her".

This thoroughly enlightened attitude begs the questions, if a committed Christian could honour and support my sexual expression then:

  • why do so many people try to deny it?
  • why don't we facilitate sexual contact for people with disabilities?
  • why are we so (extremely) prudish about sex in general?


These are crucial questions that society must address if people with disabilities are to exercise their full human rights. Governments need to stop making 'Safeguarding' laws that effectively limit the sexual opportunities of people with disabilities. In some states of Australia, it is an offence to have sexual relations with a person who has "an impairment of the mind", rendering many people with disabilities celibate. Solicitation laws need to permit supports to be given to people with disabilities who require assistance to negotiate and organise the services of sex workers. Service providers and direct care/ support workers need to get less prudish and start respecting the privacy and desirous needs of people with disabilities. And families need to understand that children with disabilities grow into adults who have the full range of adult physical and sexual needs.

References and further information

This piece was first published on The Guardian's comment website "Comment is free" at www.theguardian.com/us/commentisfree.

This article featured in Edition 17 of Synapse's Bridge Magazine - The Unmentionables. You can view the entire magazine here.

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