We Have It, and We Like It: People with Disabilities and Sex

SafePlace provides comprehensive services to people with disabilities who are trying to escape dangerous relationships and establish healthy lives. We’re very pleased to present this guest post by Renée Lopez, a member of our Disability Services Advisory Committee. For more information about specific SafePlace services and programs for people with disabilities, click here.

Aaaahhh the movies! I do so love movies. I especially love movies that features stories about people with disabilities. Over the years I’ve seen many movies with a range of portrayals, from “the angry cripple” to the “blessed cripple” (Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol), the “I feel-sorry-for-myself cripple” and well, you get the idea. But sex and the cripple…rarely.

(From here on I will not use the word “cripple.” I hate it and it’s a most derogatory term. I will use “PAD” — person with a disability.)

Recently, I watched a movie called The Sessions. It’s a true story about a PAD with polio who has very little use of his body and needs to use the old “iron lung” to breathe. He is 38 years old and a virgin, and he decides he wants to lose his virginity. He finds and hires a sex surrogate and gets to experience sex — but also more than that, human touch.

This movie brought to mind my own search for sexual intimacy. As a PAD, I can’t stress enough that I am a person first and then disabled. Unfortunately, in the 1960’s, this was not true. It was the other way around. It was drilled into my head that I would probably never have a boyfriend, much less get married — and as for having children??? Forget it.

OK, I could see my lot in life. But every once in a while there would be a story — like the one on 60 Minutes that featured a woman named Bonnie who was born without arms and had been married not once but twice and had two sons!!!  WOW. Stories like that were inspiring and offered hope to me — but that hope would soon be dashed when someone would make a comment like “he only married her because he felt sorry for her” or “she only married him because she’s fat and no one else would want her.”  Well, there went my hope.

Around age 20-something, I thought it was time to lose my virginity. I was never going to get married, so what was there to wait for? The sex part was easy, but I was left still longing, longing for something I couldn’t define. It was the longing for intimacy, touch, the human touch. I realized I was all too human. Oh my God, what was I going to do with that?!!! The longing all too real.

The shape of your body makes no difference to your humanness. Intimacy is something we all desire, whether you’re a PAD or not. Many PADs are sexually abused or taken advantage of by predators who sense vulnerability and loneliness. I know, because I was one of them. It is my hope and personal effort to support and educate PADs on healthy sexuality and self- awareness. I am very pleased to be a part of SafePlace to do just that.

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