Wheelchair, Bound? Kink and Disability

Article part of a serie published on www.scarleteen.com on July 28, 2017.

Think you might be a little kinky? You’re not alone — while it’s hard to get specific numbers, the profile of the kink community is definitely on the rise. “Kink” is a very broad and subjective spectrum of sexual and social activities, as Heather notes in our “Working the Kinks Out” primer. You may think handcuffs, whips, chains, ropes, masks, and dog collars, but people define kink in many different ways, including in scenes that explore their emotional and social relationship to each other (sometimes referred to as role playing, which can be done without physical interactions too!). It’s important to note, though, that kink is not universal. Some people don’t find the term a good fit for their lives, and if it’s not a term you like, that’s okay!

If you want to explore various aspects of kink — or whatever you want to call it — there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and it can be fun and one way to build rich, fulfilling relationships. However, just as in any community, there are definitely bad actors — predatory and abusive people — in the kink world. Some warning signs can help you differentiate between genuine kinkiness and abusive behavior, but in general, responsible kinksters are very focused on: Open, clear, safe, respectful communication; consent and clearly defined boundaries; respect for each others’ emotions and bodies; autonomy and empowerment; and physical safety in situations where people could be at risk.

Some corners of the community are super welcoming to disabled people because they know what it’s like to be marginalized because of who they are, what their bodies look like, and the nature of their sexual interests. Others may not be so friendly, in which case, their loss! If you want to explore kink, it’s likely to feel best in a respectful environment with people who support your right to access fair, equitable, kind treatment.

Let’s get physical

Some kinky activities may not require any specific adaptations for disabled bodies or brains. Others might, which is why it’s really helpful to be open about the nature of your disability and your limitations with partners. They can only look out for your safety if they know what to look out for. Self-assess your emotional and physical limitations as you look at activities that sound intriguing, from being tied up to some (negotiated) humiliation play — whether you are leading or following those interactions.

When you start having a conversation with a leader, be as clear as you can about the limits that are important to you and make note of warning signs that something is going wrong. A responsible partner — of people who are and also aren’t disabled! — should already be looking for things like strained breathing, color changes in your skin or on your extremities, an extremely fast or slow heart rate, or signs of nonresponsiveness, but you know your body and your mind better than they do. If you have a cognitive impairment and you know that sensory stimulus can sometimes make it hard to communicate, for example, make sure your partner understands that.

If you’re doing the leading, think about your responsibility to keep your partner(s) safe. You may have physical impairments that make it hard to lift or move someone, react quickly in a crisis, or manipulate small objects. Some activities might be challenging, but adaptations can make them fun and sexy. Can’t use rope because it’s hard to grasp? Consider a woven scarf! Have trouble working with someone on a bed? Have them sit in a chair — and tie them to the chair back if they get wriggly. Know that you sometimes struggle with unclear communication? Turn very clear, concise communication into part of the experience.

Some specific risks to consider:

  • Airway safety: If you have difficulty breathing and/or use a ventilator/BiPAP, make sure any positions you use are safe, and tell your partner how to react if you start struggling.
  • Circulatory problems: If your disability interferes with circulation, some positions or activities can be dangerous because they may interrupt bloodflow.
  • Neurological issues: You may have sensation limitations, making it hard to tell if something is breaking skin, burning, or bruising you, or you could have problems standing or sitting for long periods of time. You could also experience referred pain (when someone touches you in one place and it hurts in another) or other unexpected neurological symptoms. For those who experience seizures, it’s important to have a plan in place in the event of a seizure, including ensuring the recipient of your attention is able to contact EMS if necessary.
  • Limited range of motion: Some people like pushing their bodies, but too far can be dangerous. If you feel pain or distress, say so — and let your partner know which kinds of activities just aren’t possible.
  • Cognitive disabilities: If you sometimes have trouble communicating, make a plan ahead of time for facilitating constant, safe conversation, including developing a list of criteria for stopping to take an immediate break.

Many people use safewords to indicate that everything is going great, hey maybe things should slow down, and no, stop immediately. The traffic light approach (“green,” “yellow,” and “red”) is common, but you can come up with something else if you like. Physical signals can also be useful to reinforce messages — or replace verbal cues if you can’t talk. If you have a limited range of motion, spasticity, or other issues that might make it hard to communicate physically, discuss this during your negotiations.

Being adaptable to respond to disability concerns doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, and in fact, sometimes creativity can spark a little evil genius.

If you’re the one wielding the power in a scene, your voice can be an incredible tool, but you can also take advantage of some of the same things you use in daily life to torment your partner. Those grabbers and extenders that help you grasp and navigate the world? Totally adaptable to a physical scene, too. Limited hand strength? You can use the weight of your body as a tool for restraining your partner. You can also bring a third person on the scene to do your bidding, if you want to explore role play.

If you’re the follower — or an equal, depending on how you interact with your partner(s) — you also play an active role in deciding how a scene will play out. You may have adaptive suggestions beforehand that will make the scene more fun and playful. Adaptations will improve and enrich your time together!

Spoken word

While exploring physical sensation together can be intriguing, some people prefer to go verbal (written, spoken, or signed) with a role play. This can make for a fun break, or it might be more your jam, or you might enjoy a mix of the two.

Sometimes role playing can be an interesting way to explore power and control, disablist social structures, and how you relate to the world. Sometimes it can also feel a little too real. A responsible, respectful partner understands when it’s time to stop, either by hearing the word “stop” or picking up on your nonverbal cues, whether they’re leading or following a scene.

Be really specific and clear in negotiations about what you are and aren’t comfortable with (“I don’t like medical role play” “I won’t say that word” “It makes me anxious when…”), and don’t be afraid to safeword out if a scene is making you anxious or causing distress, or to stop a scene as a leader if you feel uncomfortable with the direction it’s headed in. If you know you sometimes go nonverbal or feel a little scrambled when you’re in overload, tell a partner that so they know, and ask them to take it slow and check in regularly — if they ask for feedback and you don’t respond or sound confused, upset, or frustrated, then it’s time to stop.

Afterward

Whether you’ve been involved in an intense physical scene or a dramatic emotional one, kink involves a comedown. Structure time for a break to nurture each other after playing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’ll need after a scene together, especially when playing for the first time, so it’s ideal to have a conversation ahead of time to match up expectations.

  • Physical comfort: Did you lead a scene? Make sure your partner is physically comfortable with cushions, a blanket if needed or wanted, something to drink, and some snacks. Ask your partner if they’re feeling any physical pain or tension. Some people like being touched after a scene —maybe that’s gentle massage, snuggling, brushing their hair — so ask them how they’re doing and whether they’d like more or less attention. On the flip side, communicate with your partner about what you need to be comfortable, and check in with your body. Be aware that endorphins may make it hard to notice pain, dehydration, and other issues at first, so if you feel great, keep checking in with youself.
  • Emotional comfort: The intensity is one of the things some people love about kink, but it can cause a little emotional whiplash for everyone involved in a scene. You might not want to process immediately afterwards, but check in with each other about how you’re doing, and if you have any needs and issues to address. Keep your space calm and relaxing: Think low light, low noise levels, and gentle voices — unless you or your partner is someone who wants lots of stimulation after a scene.
  • Evaluation: After you’ve had time to recover, integrate your play into your ongoing conversation about your relationship. What worked and didn’t work? Did you feel frustrated, disrespected, or ignored? Do you have suggestions for fun things to do in the future, or practical adaptations? Were there communication breakdowns? Why?

It’s also important to note that not all kinky scenes with a partner include or end with sex — no matter the sexual orientations of the people involved in the scene, or even their preexisting relationship. You may like playing with someone you’re not sexually attracted to, may not view kink as a sexual activity, could be asexual, or could absolutely love the way playing together enhances your sex life. This can also be part of your negotiations, whether you’re hoping to integrate sex into role play or you just want to tie someone up and whack them with a whip.

A little shy about getting involved in kink, or not sure where to start? Sometimes local kinky organizations hold “munches,” gatherings that are basically mixers for kinky people, though they are typically 18+. They can be a safer way to meet people, because they’re in a controlled group space, and they can give you a sense of the community and whether or not it’s supportive. There may also be a local coffee shop, art gallery, or other spot known among kinksters if you want to feel things out in an all-ages space and environment that isn’t necessarily sexual.

Sexual health for people with disabilities focus of new training program

Article by Wallis Snowdon published on March 7th, 2017, on CBC  Edmonton website.

‘They just see the disability, and that’s not who I am. I’m a whole woman. I’m a whole person’

Michelle Bissell had heard it before, even from complete strangers.

“People with disabilities should not have sex.”

The Edmonton woman, who has cerebral palsy, is hoping a new University of Alberta training program for medical professionals will help empower people with disabilities to learn more about their sexual health, and ease some of the stigma that persists in society.

“It’s just awful, because obviously they don’t see me as a whole person. They just see the disability, and that’s not who I am. I’m a whole woman. I’m a whole person,” said Bissell, a longtime advocate for disability awareness.

“In a lot of respects, the medical field glazes over that part, because people with disabilities aren’t thought of in society as a sexual beings.”

‘It is a taboo subject’

The Online Certificate in Sexual Health program was recently launched by the U of A’s faculty of rehabilitation medicine. The course, led by sexual health expert Shaniff Esmail, is intended to train more health-care professionals about the relationship between sexual health and disability, and how to approach it with respect.

Sexual health is a topic everyone struggles with, said Esmail, adding that most doctors feel ill-prepared for these sensitive conversations with their patients.

“The biggest barrier is that sex isn’t talked about. There are very few programs and unfortunately it is a taboo subject,” said Esmail, a professor and associate chair in the U of A’s department of occupational therapy. “I was surprised when I started doing some research that there is very little to no programming for people with disabilities.”

The post-graduate certificate program is the only one of its kind currently in Canada.

The demand for the program was so high that a second round of students was admitted in January 2017, the university said in a statement. Currently, 20 students are making their way through the program.

‘It can be scary’

Statistics Canada reported in 2012 that almost 14 per cent of the Canadian population aged 15 or older reported having a disability that limited their everyday activities.

Up to 3.8 million Canadians, if not more, are experiencing sexual health issues, and the demand for better training in the medical community only continues to grow, said Esmail.

However, the sexual health of patients with physical and cognitive limitations is often ignored by those charged with their care and recovery.

“People with disabilities tend to be systematically asexualized,” Esmail said. “They don’t get the opportunities or resources to actually learn about sexuality.

“Whether it’s their parents, teachers, or significant others, sexuality is something that people with disabilities have been isolated from.”

Bissell, who will be lecturing regularly in the new program, wants to ensure others don’t feel the isolation and fear she has experienced.

“I was born with CP so I’ve always been like this, but someone who has been injured who can no longer make love, that can be a lot,” Bissell said.

“People are released from the hospital and they don’t know how to handle things. It can be scary, especially if someone was in an accident mid-life. They need to have those conversations.”

 

 

The Last Taboo

STORYLINE

These persons share their outlooks on affection, connection, friendships, relationships and, according to their experiences, they share what they’ve learned about themselves. Basically, the overall idea of the film is that… “In bed, everyone’s able.”

The maker of this film, Alexander Freeman, had never felt comfortable with his own sexuality. It was always that strange thing that he wanted so badly to explore, because in order for you to really understand yourself you have to be able to experience the touch of another person. One time a girl who was a friend of his gave him an experience that changed how he saw his own sexuality. It was the first time that he felt attractive. But he still had questions. He decided to find out why it is perceived to be the last taboo. He has cerebral palsy, which basically means that he doesn’t have total control over his muscles. But, everything still works down there.

The problem with the word “disability” is that it has a negative connotation from the get-go. It automatically implies that there’s something that somebody “can’t”, or something that somebody “isn’t”, and that becomes defining, foundational definition of the way somebody thinks of somebody and then it spills over everything including sexuality.

People will look at something and they’ll think it’s beautiful if it falls under certain guidelines and that is what puts so much stigma on the idea of someone with a disability being a sexual person, because people can’t quite connect the dots between the idea that someone has a non-normative body or presentation and the fact that they might be sexual.

The Last Taboo conveys a captivating and comforting story of six people with different physical disabilities and a fit partner who was in a relationship with one of them.

How I Have Sex as a Quadriplegic

This article by Anna Breslaw was originally published on www.cosmopolitain.com on June 27th 2014.

Rachelle Friedman, author of The Promise: A Tragic Accident, a Paralyzed Bride, and the Power of Love, Loyalty, and Friendship, dispels misconceptions about the sex lives of disabled people and speaks frankly about her own.

It was the summer of 2010 and I was having a bachelorette party. I had been engaged for a year, and it was four weeks from my wedding. I’d met Chris in college; he was my first boyfriend. We got engaged right after graduation. We were staying at a friend’s house who lived in Virginia Beach. At night, my friends got me a limo like I had always wanted, and we went dancing. By 1 or 1:30 a.m., I was kinda over it, and wanted to chill by the pool. So we went home, I ran upstairs to put my suit on, and stood at the side of the pool. It was chilly, so I was hesitating, and my friend playfully came up behind me and pushed me into the pool. I went headfirst. Thank god I protected my head with my hands, but I went in at bad angle and broke my neck.

I immediately knew it was serious, even as I was on the side of the pool with the paramedics. People say it was shock but I knew how bad it was. Chris was camping with his dad three and a half hours away so when the accident happened we couldn’t get in touch with him at first; he didn’t know until the morning. I can’t imagine getting that phone call. He was scared and sad about what happened, mostly. I was in the ICU for 10 days and then I went to rehab for about 2 ½ months. I’m a C-6 quadriplegic.

Chris was by my side the whole time, no matter what. It wasn’t even a question. People are like, “It’s amazing that he stayed with you!” It’s like people think someone with a disability isn’t as deserving as someone who is able-bodied. As if he’s giving me a favor. That is so sad for them, because it goes to show that they have no idea what true love is.

Before the accident, we were very sexual as a couple. We click sexually very well. We had sex more than the average couple. He was actually my first; I lost my virginity to him in college. We just connected so perfectly — sex was something that always brought us closer together, and it was scary to think what our lives would be like sexually [after the accident]. The doctors don’t really talk about that stuff — you don’t know until you get into rehab. And even there, they don’t say anything unless you ask, which I did. Learning how to have sex all over again, in my opinion, is vital to the rehab process. I had a very awesome, open nurse who worked at the hospital I was at, and neither of us had any problems talking about sex. There was also a female quad who worked there who was 40 and who got hurt in her 20s, and she was very sexual and open, and I asked her a lot of questions.

[Chris and I] had sex for the first time after the accident when two months had passed, and it was kind of like losing my virginity again. We talked about it, we knew we would still be intimate, and we knew I wouldn’t be able to crawl around on the bed and climb on top of him — but from the sex ed that I sought out since I was openly talking to people [at rehab], there were plenty of positions I could do. I actually had sex for the first time in rehab, because they have a special room, like an apartment, that people go into by themselves, and it’s kind of like being at home again. The nurses only come when you ask them for help for something, because it’s hard to transition from a hospital bed to normal life again. So we had an apartment for the night and we decided to try to have sex.

It was different than it used to be, first of all, because I don’t exactly feel sexy. Before I got hurt, I was an aerobics instructor and I got myself as fit as I could. I was a girl. I wanted to look sexy. Now I couldn’t even shave my legs by myself, I was pale, and I had a neck brace on in the middle of summer. So it was hard to be in the moment, but at the same time, it was a revelation! It was awesome. I was like, “I’m gonna go home and take care of myself like I used to, and I wont always have this neck brace.”

I’m still trying to figure out the deal with orgasms. Basically, it’s hard to explain this, but some people have complete feeling down there when they have sex. I’m not one of them. I don’t feel below my chest, but when I’m having sex I can tell when he’s inside me — because my blood pressure raises a little bit, and your body changes in a lot of little ways. The vagus nerve is responsible for the pleasure signals from sex and it totally bypasses your spinal cord and goes straight to your brain. So that’s why I’m kind of able to tell when I’m having sex and still feel aroused. You get endorphins, you feel the same signals in your brain pleasure-wise, I get the messages. And most girls like to be kissed on their neck, but now it’s an ultra sensitive spot for me. It’s very intense.

Now: Do I hardcore climax? I haven’t gotten there yet. But I get to a very intense state of pleasure. And sometimes, other quads figure out how to get that, after years and years. But one positive difference, I would say, is that before the accident, it was always about having the orgasm. My mind really did kind of get set on getting there, and sometimes, looking back, I wasn’t always in the moment. And now I am. At this point, it’s about feeling all those pleasure zones as they happen, and not just waiting for the big climax.

Obviously, I want people to understand the truth. I’m not gonna say it’s so much better — I miss orgasms. It’s natural to want to have an orgasm. I’m never going to lie about it. But as far as positions go, it’s much easier to do missionary obviously with my legs — you’d hold them back, but what I do is kind of wrap my arms around my legs to make it easier. I can do it from the side, like being embraced, or on my stomach.

One reason I’m very upfront and overshare about this is because it’s such a misconception that people in wheelchairs can’t have sex or be sexy — and they’re just lying there, so how can that be sexy? But there’s a lot I can still do in the bedroom, and I still think our sex life is better than the average married couple’s.

Sex positions for those with disabilities

Ok, let’s face it: it can be awkward communicating about sex.

Sometimes we’re in the heat of the moment and we want to say something, and the words don’t come. Or we’re not in the mood and don’t or can’t explain why. It could be said that sex is a topic to be discussed in the bedroom. However, that’s not the whole picture. Sex is all around us: on TV, in magazines, in music, in porn and other media. But we’re not the ones defining the terms.

With representations of sex all around us, where are the real people in all of this?

Representations of sexualities and bodies are everywhere but there are so many taboos around our real, messy sexual experiences. Not everyone fits those representations, in fact, hardly anyone does.

Talking about sex helps us define what we want, what we don’t want and what we’re not sure about, instead of relying on pre-existing ideas that are prevalent in our society. For example, that sex is between a man and woman, there’s no build-up, there’s penetration, everyone knows what to do, and there’s a mutual orgasm and then its over.  What about oral, the use of toys, giving pleasure with our hands, pleasurable sensations on other parts of our bodies?

We believe sex should be discussed everywhere!

Given the ac-sex-ability considerations that some of us might have such as assistive gear, varying levels of privacy depending on our living situations, communication tools, catheters, fluctuating pain levels, side-effects from medication, mood swings, and many others, it makes sense to discuss our desires and needs before we hit the bedroom. We can be leaders in pre-sex communication! It can take some of the pressure off and sensitize both or all people involved to the needs each person has. A little ‘heads-up after sex I don’t talk because I’m overwhelmed and that’s ok’ goes a long way to mutual understanding. Likewise, a discussion of sexual positions that are comfortable and pleasurable prior to simply trying them bedtime rolls around can do a lot for our sex lives.

Try communicating about sex, safer sex methods, bowel and bladder routines, desires, fantasies, fears outside of the naked bed sexy time! (P142, Ultimate guide to sex and disability)

To be clear, when we refer to communication, we mean in anyway that you communicate, in all it’s diverse forms: written, drawn, verbally, through body language, with assistive technologies, through symbols, in whatever ways work for you.

It may not cross your mind to share your desires or ask what your partner(s) likes before you hit the bedroom, but it may not be the most calm, fruitful discussion as you’re undressing either. By then your hormones are already racing and you’re not as patient and levelheaded as you might be at a less charged moment.

Has anyone ever told you not to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry?

You end up buying things you don’t want, things that are way over your budget, or instantly gratifying snacks that end up making you feel bad. (No junk food judgement intended. We love chips;) The same goes for sex: if we save communicating about it until we’re really hungry for it, we might not respect all our boundaries, or do things we otherwise not want to do.

What if you were to discuss sexual positions, over coffee for example, or talk about some of your fantasies while snuggling on the couch? Anyone for a discussion of condoms and diaphragms over trail mix on the couch on a Sunday afternoon?

Whatever it is you need to talk about such as protection methods, your personal desires and needs in the bedroom, or navigating personal care schedules, discuss it when you’re feeling calm and comfortable; in those intimate but not overly vulnerable moments. So that you can be close with your partner or crush but not feel completely exposed.

Think of it this way: Ice cream.

Say you really wanted it double chocolate chunky flavoured. Your friend offers to treat you to a cup but you’re too shy to tell them exactly what kind you want. They bring back vanilla. Vanilla tastes good anyway, and sure, you’ll eat it, but… you didn’t get exactly what you wanted.

If the person you’re going to get down with knows how to make you feel good (aka knows your fave ice cream flaver) and enters the bedroom with that knowledge, things will only be that much better!

If looking for a few tips to starting that sex-talk, here are a few suggestions:

1. Beforehand, think of some of the main points you would like to share and imagine yourself expressing them in the way that you communicate. You could jot down a few notes for yourself or practice what you’d like to say in private. Whatever you do to organize your thoughts. Imagine the conversation going well!

2. If you’re wondering how to start the conversation, you could mention you read a blog post on ACSEXE+ blog about sex-talks, and go from there…

3. During the conversation(s) you could mention how you feel about it as it’s happening. It’s cute and endearing to let the other person/s know if you’re ‘feeling awkward’ or ‘have never talked about this stuff outside of friend circles’ or are ‘nervous because I really like you’. Personally, those kinds of statements puts us at the ACSEXE+ headquarters at ease when someone says them because chances are I’m feeling nervous and awkward too! Saying how you feel allows for a few chuckles and lifts some of the pressure. Don’t worry, you’re cute!

No pressure:)

These are examples of how things could go, its not a recipe that works for everyone. Ask yourself what are the ways you’d like to talk about sex, what are the most comfortable places? Try it out, don’t expect things to be perfect. Practice with your friends or cat – the more experience you have talking about sex the easier it’ll go.

Take this couple for example:

One of them has paralysis in his legs. They are a heterosexual couple, and these positions could also be used with a strap-on dildo. They try sexual positions together in their clothes to find out what will work for them, and what will be fun, before the naked fun begins! This too, can be more fun than you think, and can bring you closer together as you work toward the same objective. Yay teamwork <3

The video is in English but for those of you who don’t understand English, the images are useful on their own. Sorry there are no sub titles or closed captioning. It would be great to access videos like this in French. If you know of any, please post below!

This video is an example of two people who are committed to finding ways to pleasure each other comfortably. I love that they experiment together with their clothes on in a low pressure environment, to get an idea what will work before they’re in the heat of the moment. That way if it’s awkward or someone falls or it takes multiple attempts to get to a good spot they can laugh about it and be prepared when the hot, naked version rolls around.

Remember lovers, if things don’t go well its ok! It takes practice to communicate about sex and we learn as we go. Let us know how things go!

<3<3

Post written by  Aimee Louw and inspired by « The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness» (2007) by Miriam Kaufman , Cory Silverberg , Fran Odette