(PG 13) Let's Talk About Sex
Come on, you can admit it. I know you’re curious because the bravest among you have asked about it. And I’ll confess, as open as I like to be about my life, S-E-X isn’t the easiest topic for me to talk about. However, I’ve decided it’s time for me to broach this important subject because there are so many stereotypes, generalizations, and myths about intimacy and those who live with disabilities. Trust me; I’ve heard them all from well-meaning people who assume they know the answers. I’ve decided it’s time you hear the truth from someone who’s been there!
Another reason why I think this is an important conversation is because of the lack of information on this topic. I went 10 years without dating (by choice), and as I prepared to be married I was surprised by the absence of information that was available to me. There were textbook types of information, which was not helpful at all, or the information was on the verge of being pornographic in nature, which REALLY was not what I was looking for.
My research went so far as to read books that others had written about their spinal cord injuries and to my dismay still found very little information. They would even gloss over the subject of sex, never really divulging any helpful information or go into detail. Thankfully, as I got to know other women through the Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant, I was able to get more answers. They were more than willing to reveal information about their personal lives and marriages. I will be forever grateful to these women who were an open book for me, and so now I would like to do the same by sharing my experiences. I do not think that this topic should be hidden; neither should it be shameful to talk about as it is normal, natural, and a part of being a human being.
Let me start by addressing some of the misconceptions I’ve heard. People assume that disabled individuals are asexual and have no desire for intimacy and sex. People have even been surprised when I have talked about it, and have commented, “I didn’t think you were into that.” Sex is a normal human desire and I have been shocked by people thinking that because I’m in a wheelchair that I am excluded from the normal population. I even have been asked if Doug and I sleep in the same bed. Of course we do! We are married!
People also assume that with paralysis there comes no satisfaction with sex. Even though it may be different for me versus an able-bodied person, I definitely am satisfied sexually. With a spinal cord injury, it has been documented that there is heightened sensitivity above the level of injury, and Doug definitely has learned which areas those are. I also believe that a big part of the sexual experience has to do with the mental and emotional realm, of security, closeness, and trust, and it is these things that fill my bucket.
Another misconception is that the disabled person can’t satisfy their partner; therefore the partner ends up sexually unsatisfied. This actually was a fear of mine before Doug and I were married, but definitely is no longer. I had someone remark before our wedding, “I’m surprised that Doug would want to marry you, especially because of the whole sex thing.” I took the inquisitive approach and asked her why she would assume that I couldn’t have sex. Her response was, “Well, you do have a head and a mouth that works, so I guess it will be okay.” It was clear to her that satisfying my husband was unlikely. At first, I was angered by her comments, but then I realized that she probably was not alone in her assumptions and I vowed that someday I would find the courage to speak openly about this topic.
Doug and I have a normal, healthy love life. Early in our dating, we decided that we would wait until our wedding night to be intimate and that we would not live together until we were married. This was not easy! However, I am very thankful today that we made that decision because it allowed us to build a marriage grounded in friendship, rather than on physical passions. Because of this, I feel we have a solid foundation that will not be easily shaken with the difficulties of life.
After our wedding it did not take us long to figure out that we could have a satisfying sex life; that I could fulfill Doug’s needs and he could fulfill mine. We regularly and frequently make love and enjoy the intimacy of each other, like any other happily married couple. What about children? Yes, I can still have children. Over the years, many people have just assumed that I can no longer have children because of my spinal cord injury. When I fell through the trap door, none of my reproductive organs fell out, and everything is still there, therefore the possibility of me having children is the same as every other woman in this world! The only difference would be that I would need to have a C-section for delivery, as blood pressure levels become a concern. I know there are women with spinal cord injuries who have delivered naturally, but my doctors at Mayo Clinic believe that a C-section would be the best option for me.
When it comes to having children though, Doug and I are in no hurry. We are just enjoying married life and truly want to make sure we are ready for the responsibility before taking the plunge. Even though this has always been a dream of mine, I don’t want to have a baby just for the sake of saying I had one. Parenthood is a huge responsibility and with our busy speaking schedule I would not want to bring a child into this world unless we were fully prepared and committed to him/her.
Doug and I have plans to begin writing a sequel to my first book, “My Last Step Backward”, this upcoming summer. It will detail more about this topic, along with our dating experiences, the questions we explored together in the early stages of our relationship, and all that has made our first years of marriage so wonderful! Since I personally had a hard time finding resources before our marriage, I have decided to be an open book for others, so they don’t have to feel the same frustration that I did.
So now that you’ve heard my perspective, it’s time to share a man’s point of view. Stay tuned as Doug weighs in on the subject. We’ll post his viewpoint here next week.