I was a pretty typical teenager when it came to sex. I wanted it and wanted to know more about it. When the classes I took in school failed to tell me how sex happens for folks with disabilities, I turned to the resource kids in the ’90s turned to for everything: Google.
The results were terrifying. Most sites told me that good sex probably wasn’t possible and others were dehumanizing. It was at that moment I realized I’d have to figure it out for myself. Below are ten things I’ve learned that I wish someone could have told me back then.
1. Talk before you fuck.
This is advice I’d give anybody who is about to have sex with a new partner. However, if one of you has a body that moves differently, this can be especially key. These conversations can be awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it, it can be part of the fun.
Talk about likes and dislikes, but don’t stop there. What are your personal boundaries? For me, for example, I have trouble getting up off my back, so I’m never comfortable with a new partner holding me down. What limitations are you concerned about? Do you need to be lifted or have your weight supported? For me, this means talking about spasticity. Part of my disability is that the muscles anywhere below the waist are tighter than average. This can often mean fun for my partners but has an effect on the pace. My muscles often loosen up as sex goes on, but I have to start slow with lots of foreplay or else I can end up with very painful cramping.
What should your partner look out for? For example, many folks I know have muscle shakes during times of pleasure. What signs should your partner take as signs of pleasure or as a sign it’s time to slow things down?
2. There will be a learning curve.
It takes all partners some time to get used to each other’s likes and dislikes, but when you add different abilities to the mix, this is even more true. Give your partner time to learns the ins and outs of being with someone new and give yourself time to do the same.
3. The first time is never the best.
In a culture that is hooked on the ideas of love at first sight and immediate chemistry, we often think if the first time isn’t all fireworks that something must be wrong. Sex with a disability is like anything else we do with one. We have to figure out how to adapt to make it work for us.
My first few times having sex were not what I had hoped. In fact, they were awful. Even with guys I really liked and was really sexually attracted to I found it was painful and just really unappealing. It took a lot of experimenting and finding the right partner before I was convinced sex could be pleasant. However, I found once I stopped imagining it as impossible and gave us both a chance to learn, great sex was an option after all.
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4. A little humor goes a long way.
Taking ourselves, and especially our sex lives, too seriously often ends poorly. Sex is supposed to be fun. You are with someone you enjoy being with, doing something that, out of context, would be funny in and of itself. Know that having different abilities means you will most likely end up in some situations you were not expecting.
Let me give you an example. When I first started having sex with my fiance, we had a tendency to get stuck. Yes, you read that right. Given my muscle issues, it was not unusual for me to end up in positions neither one of us was sure how to get me out of. In my younger years this would have mortified me, being buck naked and my disability all on display like that.
But you know what happened? We laughed, hard and for an insanely long time. What would have once been a huge embarrassment for me became something we can both smile about.
5. Mobility aids can be a fun addition.
I had always frowned on using my mobility aids as part of my sex life. Having been with men who fetishized disability, the whole thing just turned me off.
When talking to a friend who uses his wheelchair more than I use mine, however, I was assured that wheelchair sex was not to be missed. As it turns out, my friend was right. Fooling around one day, my fiance and I found ourselves bent over my wheelchair having some of the best sex I can remember.
Now of course, that angle won’t work for everybody, but the lesson here is to use your own mobility aid to your sexual advantage. Try different things. Play around with it. It’s a great way to mix things up that’s unique to you and your partner.
6. Look at sex from different angles.
Finding out what angles are most comfortable for you and your partner is key to enjoying sex. I was sure I’d always be a missionary girl, but as it turns out, there are tons of options I can do comfortably and really enjoy.
Start with things you know you’re comfortable with. How do you sleep? How do you cuddle? How are you most comfortable when pleasuring yourself? As it turns out, missionary isn’t always comfortable for me. But starting there and trying new things, like sex in the spooning position, has opened a lot of doors for us. Try them all and you’ll be amazed by what you learn about yourself.
7. Play with making your fantasies accessible.
At some point I mentioned to my fiance that I had always wanted to try being on top. This was just a passing thought because I had already ruled it out. Because of my balance issues, I had never been able to get on top the way able-bodied women do. This led me to assume it was just not possible for me. However, the next time we were in the heat of the moment, he figured out we could start with me on the bottom and we could rock back and forth until he could pull me up on top. Not all fantasies are going to be possible, but it can be great fun to try it out. You never know.
More Radical Reads: 4 Keys to Talking About Sexual Desire and Boundaries With Your Partner
8. Ask around.
I have been lucky enough to surround myself with very open disabled friends who can share tips and tricks. If that’s not the case for you, don’t be afraid to ask able-bodied friends for their favorites as well. Once you know what you’re comfortable with, you and your partner can adapt it to work for you. If you need more specific advice, consider online groups specific to your disability or illness. There are plenty of these on Facebook.
9. Learn what makes you feel sexy.
In a culture that has a hard time seeing those with disabilities as sexual beings, it’s important to be able to see ourselves that way. Learn what parts of yourself you love and your partner loves. Have fun finding new ways to accentuate them.
For instance, I can’t wear high heels. For a while this made me feel less sexy than other women. So now my fiance and I enjoy shopping together to find shoes I feel amazing in. A pointed toe works wonders.
10. Never stop learning.
Many couples fall into patterns when it comes to sex and it gets boring. Feeling like our physical abilities are limited can make this an even bigger problem. Whether it is through these tips, books, movies, shopping, or anything else, enjoy experimenting.
[Featured Image: Two individuals sit in wheelchairs facing one another outdoors. The person on the left rests their leg between the legs of the person seated on the right. Source: Flickr.com/amslerPIX]