“Can you even have sex?” Scooting back on my massage table, I brace myself against the wall. Taken aback by the abrupt question, I consider my response. “Yes, I can.”
The truth is I am embarrassed to admit I’ve had this conversation with a few men.
Having a physical disability and related health issues has made dating seemingly impossible. Battling antiquated ideas about what physical disability means for sexuality is something I took up as an undergraduate honors thesis. But however idealistic my aims for educating the world are, I’m still just a single woman with a boatload of fatigue and dwindling patience for ignorance.
Although I am anything but modest when it comes to discussing sexuality and disability in an academic setting, apparently, I’m uncomfortable when it comes to talking about my own abilities. Painful as it is for me to admit, I just don’t have enough experience to answer some of the questions I’m being asked. That is, if I want to answer them.
While part of me appreciates the honesty and proactive nature of such questions, I’m also simultaneously offended. What makes men think they have any right to this information? How is this appropriate at this juncture in early dating?
The fact that disability and sexuality are rarely found together in education, literature, or culture makes navigating these kinds of conversations confusing. Classes about sexuality in my own educational background have never included disability. If anything, the sexual being part of my humanity seems to have been completely ignored because I have a disability.
Although I’ve always planned on getting married and becoming a mother, the logistics of intimacy and the potential accommodations I might require have never been brought to my attention. Attempting to search for relevant resources has yielded mostly depressing results. While people with disabilities openly discussing their sexuality and rights is becoming increasingly common, I still haven’t seen many good resources that offer guidance.
My embarrassment about my limited experience with sexual intimacy is highlighted by awkward conversations like these. I wonder if it is the type of conversation women and men have regularly. I dodge questions that feel too intimate, yet I’ll reveal honest details about the absence of men in my past.
Mostly though, I feel inadequate as a human. I feel small, patronized, and infantilized by a culture that tells me I’m unworthy of sexual attention.
While the topic is uncomfortable, I wonder if somehow it’s a stepping stone to the kind of romantic relationship I’m looking for.
Baby steps, I remind myself. Baby steps.
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