THE BLOG

Sexuality and Disability

03/05/2013 17:15 | Updated 03 July 2013

Children always have a hard time facing the fact that their parents have sex, especially as they get older, and sex is no longer for procreation but merely for pleasure. Even when caught merely sneaking a kiss in the kitchen, one is often met with "Yuk, get a room mum and dad!" Why are only the young legitimately allowed this normal pleasure in life? A further question and a much more disturbing one is, why do people think someone chronically ill or disabled doesn't want to, or isn't able to have sex? I bet I've got your attention now!

A person suffering from a chronic disease or some form of disability, needs intimacy with their spouse or partner as much as anyone else. Being intimate brings a closeness to a couple and is a necessary part of a healthy relationship. Many patients, too embarrassed to talk about these matters, can end up suffering from a lack of affection and tenderness which is essential to us all. I have even come across a few doctors who appeared uncomfortable about this particular issue when I brought up the subject.

When chronically ill or disabled, it's only natural to want to look good and feel attractive for one's spouse. I can assure you, there is nothing sexy about having Parkinson's, so a sense of humour is vital, and together you can overcome any obstacles. Granted, in this situation one is not afforded the same freedom as a healthy person, so high heeled shoes, antics on the kitchen table and spontaneity can no longer play a part in this area of one's life which is unfortunate. However, with a little ingenuity, sex can and should be part of one's life. You may not be able to swing from the chandelier, but I'm sure you'll figure something out. Talking frankly about this most normal activity with your spouse or partner is essential; there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Yet I sense there is stigma attached to disabled persons having sexual relations. Let me tell you about something that happened to me not so long ago in a well known lingerie store in London . I can't walk far, and there is so much walking entailed when shopping, therefore we took my wheelchair with. I wanted to buy a fun item of clothing, something a little naughty, but most important, something without buttons. Due to the lack of dexterity in my fingers caused by Parkinson's, buttons and I do not go well together and I try to avoid them at all times.

The saleslady asked if she could help. I immediately answered, by pointing at a little negligée hanging up. The saleslady asked what size, to which I said I wasn't sure what size I was. The look of total shock and horror that flashed across her face was quickly replaced by her cheeks turning a bright shade of red. "This is for you?" she asked in an astonished voice. "Yes" I said quite determined not to let her question faze me, however it was her next question that totally threw me, and I'm not often at a loss for words. "But you're in a wheelchair" she said as if someone disabled wanting a sexy piece of clothing was just too preposterous to consider. There was a deafening silence before she managed to collect herself and handed me the size she thought would fit. "Do you need to try it on?" she asked hesitantly, looking towards the changing room. I could already see the tiny cubicle with a curtain that would be too small for my wheelchair, so I asked if there was a chair inside. "No there's no chair. Why would someone need to sit down?" she said, almost biting her tongue as the words thoughtlessly burst from her lips. It was at this point that my voice returned to me and out of curiosity, I asked "Have you ever had anyone in here who's been in a wheelchair?" I think you can guess the answer; it was "no".

We left the shop without purchasing anything, since I couldn't fit my wheelchair into the cubicle and believe it or not, there wasn't a single chair in the shop. I felt quite dejected to tell you the truth, and the humiliation left me feeling discriminated against. I started to wonder how many people, like myself, wanted to buy an article of clothing from such a shop but were too ashamed to enter the premises. Then I began to think that quite possibly this ill informed sales lady was unfortunately not alone in her ignorance regarding disabled persons. After all, this is a sensitive topic that most don't talk about, and if we don't speak, how are others to know?

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