Rediscovering your sexuality with a disability
by Gabriella Carafa, Social Worker and University Lecturer
There are a lot of life changes when you develop issues with your mobility, including to your sexuality and intimate relations. How we know ourselves, connect to others and find our way in the world is related in part to our sexuality. Which makes this a natural and necessary topic to explore.
Below I have posed some questions that may help you think through your new reality. My hope is that they generate some positive dialogue within yourself and with others.
How do you feel about yourself?
It’s important that you get to know yourself all over again. This is a time of redeveloping and redefining many parts of yourself, including your sexuality. Being open to giving and receiving pleasure in new ways requires understanding who you are and being comfortable with what you find. For example, what you used to enjoy may no longer please you. I believe your first priority is to rediscover yourself before you focus on what your partner wants and needs.
What does your partner need?
If you are in a relationship, your partner will be going through a transition as well. They will be relearning how to give and receive pleasure. Luckily, you can explore this together! For example, the two of you may change or broaden your definitions of pleasure and intimacy. It’s important for both of you to be honest about what has changed and how you can go forward together. Encourage your partner to share their needs as you share yours.
How well are you and your partner communicating?
Exploring sexuality requires honest and trusting communication. But what specific conversations might you have? Here are some common topics: physical changes in sensation; the need for planning and forethought; personal assumptions and biases about “right” and “wrong” ways to be intimate; and what new approaches you can try. There may be additional physical details to share, such as whether your ability to be aroused has changed. Good communication is vital for intimacy.
What about dating?
If you will be dating sometime in the future, you might anticipate the question “how do you have sex?” I have heard that this commonly comes up! My suggestion is that you find an answer for yourself first and then decide what you are willing to share with a potential partner. Again, knowing yourself and being comfortable with who you are come before considering others.
Who else can you talk to?
Who in your circle can support you on this journey? You may have a good relationship with your occupational therapist, social worker, or a member of your health care team. If not – or even if so – you may want to talk to another person with a similar disability. Many organizations can connect you with someone who has been in your shoes and can offer a personal perspective.
There is much more to explore on this topic, but I hope these initial questions get you started down the road of rediscovering your sexuality.
Gabriella Carafa is a Social Worker that works with people who have disabilities.
For more information on Sex and Disability, join Cortree Disability Education Centre.