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Free advice on all things sex, love and disability

If you feel alone and need to talk to someone, get a bit of down to earth advice or need some practical tips on sex, relationships and flirting, please come and talk to our resident love non expert experts! Everybody wants to feel that they ‘belong’ and finding a sense of belonging with another person is very important to so many of us. Yet finding a ‘soul mate,’ for many people, is not so simple especially when you have a disability.

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Sex and Disability

Even if you’re in an established relationship, all sorts of tensions and difficulties can crop up. It’s especially hard if one of you becomes chronically sick, disabled or has an impairment which changes. It can then become not only something you both need to get your head round, but could mean your partner now has to assist you in different ways and offer you ‘care’ in a way they haven’t done before.

The dynamic of your relationship could change, sex might become physically or emotionally difficult, or you may end up feeling like you’re living with your best friend and sex is off the menu all together. Maybe you’re single and want to date, have fun, find the person of your dreams or even play the field a bit but are scared of ending up feeling like a novelty shag. Where do you look? How do you look? When do you mention an impairment or disability?

Living in a care home and maintaining or even establishing a relationship is no easy feat. Lack of information, attitudes, privacy and access are massive barriers. After all, how many double beds have you ever seen in a care home?

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Mik looking directly into the camera, with red spikey hair and a coloured grid pattern behind him

Mik Scarlet

Mik is a big personality in the media world, representing disability in his own unique way.  He has presented shows on BBC2, Channel 4, ITV, Total Rock Radio and BBC 3 Counties Radio.

Emily yates smiling with bright pink lipstick and a colourful dress

Emily Yates

Emily is an accessible travel writer and accessibility consultant, she has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and has had relationships with both able-bodied and disabled partners.

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We’ve put together a selection of your messages and questions from our sexperts.
Do you agree with what they said? Send a reply with your thoughts!

Undressing Disability in Academia: Sexual Politics in Diverse Communities at the University of Leeds

By | Disability, Sex & disability, The Love Lounge, Undressing Disability

As a user-led disability awareness charity, we at Enhance the UK are often asked to present our ideas and opinions surrounding access and inclusion at conferences all over the country.  Our ‘Undressing Disability’ campaign has also allowed us to discuss sexuality and identity on a broader scale, and we have recently been in conversation with academics, healthcare officials and educational institutions to discuss just how we can all ensure that everyone has the opportunity to express themselves sexually, and be educated on their sexual rights and responsibilities.

We were delighted when, in early April, Emily was fortunate enough to be invited to chair a discussion panel at the University of Leeds, as part of a one day symposium on‘Sexual Politics in Diverse Communities: Conversations about Theory, Methodology and Practice.’ Organised and run by Dr Julia Bahner and an event for the School of Sociology and Social Policy (SSP), the day was an opportunity for speakers, scholars and students alike to deliver presentations and discuss topics such as intimate and sexual citizenship, disability theory, sex work and gender and trans studies.

The symposium marked the end of a two-year Marie Sklodowska Curie Research Fellow Fellowship for Dr. Julia Bahner at SSP. Julia has experience working with disabled people’s organisations in Sweden and is a social worker as well as a respected scholar. For her project on ‘Sexual Citizenship and Disability: Implications for Theory, Practice and Policy’, she focused on sexual facilitation for disabled people, and her work plays a vital role in challenging how we consider, discuss and respect the sexual identity of disabled people today.

Very rarely do academics and those working in the third sector get the opportunity to come together to share work, ideas and opinions on how to take progressive thoughts forward into practical movements.  Throughout the day, there were discussions on what sexual and intimate citizenship mean for all, the different stances of numerous countries on sexual facilitation for disabled people, ensuring the safety and security of sex workers all over the country, and supporting the trans community through pregnancy and parenting.

In her own words, Julia organised this much-needed event because: ‘I wanted to bring together colleagues within a broader field of sexual politics, who share the will to not only put marginalized voices on the agenda and show that their concerns matter beyond the confines of that particular community, but who also work actively politically and/or with practice. I hoped that this would be a ‘safe space’ to discuss challenges and share experiences that we could learn from and support each other, as well as give an understanding to the audience of the need to move beyond separatism and see that we in fact share much common ground in our endeavours.’  When asked what advice she would give to policy makers, Julia replied: ‘To not shy away from talking about sexuality and sexual support – although they are private and sensitive issues, staying silent is not helpful, in fact the opposite. We can only learn and progress to develop better and more ethical and professional practices by discussing difficulties, fears and worries – and possibilities!’

We could not agree more! Thank you to Julia and the SSP team at the University of Leeds for a brilliant, challenging and inspiring day.

 

 

Love Lounge Top Tips – Learning to Trust

By | Disability, Emily Yates, Sex & disability, The Love Lounge, Undressing Disability

Love Lounge Top Tips – Learning to Trust

Learning to trust can be tough in any relationship, but if you’re disabled and have been hurt before, or are unsure about how a new partner will take to you, your impairment and any additional requirements or care needs you may have, it can be even trickier.  For some top tips on trust that we hope will help you to welcome loved ones with open arms once more, read on.

Tip 1: Don’t tarnish everyone with the same brush.

Whether you’ve had an unfaithful partner, have struggled with open communication in the past, or are even having a hard time removing previous nasty comments about you and your impairment from your mind, please remember not to expect that same negative behaviour from everyone else.  You don’t deserve it, and some people really do know how to treat others right.  We promise.  Learning to trust again is not easy, but reassuring yourself regularly that not everyone behaves badly is a good first step.

Tip 2: Be honest about your past.

We can often make the dangerous mistake of expecting our lovers to be mind readers when it comes to our past relationships and hurt feelings.  Unfortunately, they aren’t (but how great it would be if they were!) If you are finding it tough to trust, and are getting anxious when your partner goes out, or are finding yourself itching to check their phone, please do sit them down and explain how you’re feeling and what you’ve experienced previously. Any loving significant other with nothing to hide will do all they can to put your mind at ease.  But, its then up to you to do your part and give them the benefit of the doubt until they give you a reason not to trust them, which will hopefully be never.

Tip 3:  Check in with each other regularly.

Trust, especially in relationships, can be very much like grief.  Over time, it gets easier, but certain things happen when you least expect them to that can trigger those difficult feelings all over again.  When we get those triggers out of nowhere, it can be so easy to shrink up within ourselves emotionally. We don’t want to call our partners out unnecessarily, or give them any reason to think that we are being unreasonable.  Next time this happens, take the step to resist the need to hide and bottle up feelings, and let your lover know how you’re feeling.  The more we talk about these things, the more normalised and easy to work through they become.  And relationships with openness, honesty, and care, no matter how difficult and testing they will be, have the best chance of survival.

Wishing you the very best of luck on your trusting journey.  You deserve happiness that is simple, care-free and long lasting.

Myth Busters – disabled people don’t, won’t and can’t have sex

By | Disability, Emily Yates, Lifestyle, Sex & disability, The Love Lounge, Undressing Disability

Disabled people don’t, won’t and can’t have sex

How often do you see disabled people ‘getting it on’ on tv, in films or even in porn? No, we don’t see it often either.  Society seems to think that disabled people don’t, won’t and can’t have sex, and that’s a myth that we are here to dispel.  Want to join us, whilst raising a bit of awareness and education along the way? Keep reading!

Myth 1: Penetration

Sadly, we appear to have the (very incorrect) opinion as a society that sex isn’t ‘real’ if it doesn’t involve penetration, and therefore disabled people that can’t have intercourse aren’t sexual people.  This is wrong on every level, and whilst penetration isn’t possible for everyone, it really isn’t all that sex is about.  The possibility to be sensual and sexual exists for absolutely everyone, and many people that struggle with penetration put other skills they might have to very good use…! Perhaps, if we changed our view of penetration, we would also be able to educate ourselves on the complexities and intricacies of pleasure, in all its forms.

Myth 2: A lack of desire

Another common myth when it comes to disability and sex is that disabled people don’t have the same sexual desires as non-disabled people – something else that is desperately untrue! Whilst it is correct that sex can be a little more difficult for some of us (and take a little more time, effort and planning, sadly meaning that one night stands aren’t always on the table for all of us) the desire to have sex and be considered sexy still exists for lots of disabled people.  So, the next time you see an attractive, single disabled person giving you smouldering eye contact, don’t talk yourself out of it by thinking they won’t be interested!

Myth 3: Attraction

This third and final myth is arguably the biggest one, and the toughest to dispel.  It is so unfortunate that disabled people are portrayed so negatively by the media in many ways, and we are almost told not to find disabled people attractive.  Many of our colleagues, friends and partners are disabled and, let us tell you, they are all smart, funny, sexy and drop dead gorgeous in their own ways.  Don’t ever allow the world we live in to prescribe what is attractive and what isn’t.  Sure, a night with a disabled lover may require a little more thought, but it will most certainly be memorable.

So, to set the record straight.  When it comes to disability and sex…

We do, we will, and we can!

Love Lounge Top Tips – Losing your virginity as a disabled person

By | Disability, Emily Yates, Sex & disability, The Love Lounge, Undressing Disability

If you’re reading this, the time may well have come to lose the big V (isn’t it a bit off-putting that we dramatise it so much in society?!) You might have discussed having sex for the first time with your new beau, or just decided that tonight might be your night! However you want it to go down, and whoever you’re about to have sex with, we hope that these hints and tips might give you some peace of mind, or even quiet confidence, when it comes to getting it on for the first time.

Tip 1: Losing your virginity can be a whirlwind of emotions…or not!

Nerves and anxiety, pain, pleasure, giddiness, sadness or… nothing at all.  Having sex for the first time (or even just the anticipation of it beforehand) can induce a series of emotions.  You might feel every single one that we’ve listed above, or you might think that the whole thing was a bit over-rated.  Whether you feel everything at once or nothing at all, that’s more than okay, as long as you feel comfortable with having sex all the way through (and, remember, if you don’t, you can ask your partner to stop at any time; consent can change!)  If, as a disabled person, you’re particularly worried about muscles seizing up, certain positions hurting or being difficult to get into, or what your partner might think of your catheter or the aids you use, feel free to stop proceedings and discuss your concerns with them – that’s so much better than bottling the fear up and wishing that you’d said something earlier when you’re half way through an awkward romp! Sex can be amazing, but first time sex shouldn’t be rushed.

Tip 2: Make sure you’re being treated right

This may sound obvious, but make sure that the person you’re going to have sex with for the first time is at least going to stick around for a cuddle afterwards.  Whilst you might not remember losing your virginity as a particularly earth-shattering experience (unless you’re really lucky!) you’ll never forget the person you lost it to, so make sure they are worth that memory and are going to treat you well throughout. For us disabled people, this can be even more important, especially if you might need help getting back into your wheelchair, or getting dressed afterwards, for example.  Whilst we don’t agree that you should need to be in love with the first person you sleep with, you should care enough about each other to ensure you’re both going to have fun, be able to communicate openly and honestly, and know that whatever happens between you two, stays between you two.

Tip 3:  If at first you don’t succeed…

However much you plan it or fantasise about it, sex doesn’t always happen exactly when we want it to, or the way we want it to.  It might be too painful for you or your partner, muscles might tense up and spasm from the stress of it all, or it might just turn into a hilarious fumble rather than a passionate shag.  Learn to laugh it off, and try again.  Foreplay can be just as good (if not better) than intercourse so as long as you’re enjoying yourselves and each other, what does it matter?

Be safe, have fun and don’t take any of it too seriously.

Love Lounge Top Tips – Penetration isn’t everything

By | Disability, Emily Yates, Sex & disability, The Love Lounge, Undressing Disability

For those of us who are disabled, penetration isn’t always possible, comfortable or even desired… but it also isn’t everything.  Whilst penetrative sex is seen as the be all and end all by mainstream society, we are here to tell you that there are ways to be sensual and sexual without it and, trust us, they can be just as pleasurable, too! If you worry about how to satisfy, or be satisfied, without conventional intercourse, please read on.

Tip 1: Conquer foreplay

Want to please without penetration? Learn how to conquer foreplay.  Let’s be honest, it’s how many of us get off best anyway! Learn how your partner responds to touching and oral sex, does their body tense or quiver at certain movements, and want can you do to make them ask for more? If you feel unsure of how to best navigate their body and pleasure points, ask them to feedback to you on what feels good and really gets them going; you’ll be a pro in no time!

Tip 2: Communication is sexy

Sometimes, it’s not what we do that gets our partners off, but what we say. If that’s the case for the person you’re getting under the covers with, make sure to vocalise during those intimate moments.  You might let them know what you love about their body, what about them turns you on, or how good you feel when you’re with them. So whether you’re giving specific details of what you’d like them to do to you, or describing at length what you’d like to do to them, communication really can be sexy, and penetration doesn’t have to be involved once!

Tip 3:  Fantasise to the finish line

Discussing fantasies (or thinking of them yourself during solo play or sex) can be another great way of pleasuring yourself, penetration-free. If they are fantasies that you are comfortable sharing with your partner, sexy conversations around them can also be a great way of getting to know each other and your likes and dislikes in a more intimate way.  Who knows, they might even be fantasies you decide to act on later, too!

Penetration will always be a big player in the sexual dictionary, but it really isn’t everything. We hope this article has given you a little more confidence, and even a few hints and tips to take back to the bedroom…

I want to start dating. When should I disclose my disability?

By | Disability, Emily Yates, Mik Scarlet, Sex & disability, The Love Lounge, Undressing Disability | No Comments

I am pleased to have seen your website through my Open University website and module I am doing.

My name is Naomi I am a 39 year old disabled woman, from three years ago so all new, I have come to a point in my life where I don’t know how to date, when to disclose my disability but also an illness without a prognosis.  I thought about dating other disabled people without sounding rude, but wouldn’t even know how, what I would put on a dating site as in disclosure,  sorry so many questions,  I think I’m excited about finding your website.
Naomi

Hi Naomi,

Lovely to hear from you, and thanks so much for writing in to us.  In terms of disclosure, it is of course totally up to you when you decide to disclose your disability, but if you feel confident in doing so, mentioning it in a dating site bio might be a good start. I’m not sure if your impairment is visible from your email, but I’m a wheelchair user and have previously added a photo of myself using my chair in my profile, and also mentioned that I play wheelchair basketball – that often does the trick in terms of disclosure!
When it comes to dating other disabled people, asking open, honest practical questions has always helped me.  Without sounding too crude, it’s of course important to find someone that has similar interests/preferences (just as you would want in a non-disabled partner) but who you will also be able to be compatible with practically – with everything from whether that person is able to drive (if that’s important to you) to intimacy. There are specialist sites for disabled people wanting to date other disabled people – just google ‘disabled dating in my area’.  Also have a look at a site called Meet Up – there’s great groups that you can join whether you’re into partying, book clubs, arts and crafts or having a coffee and a natter! I’m a big fan of the meet up site as it can often be a very ‘natural’ way to find someone you’re attracted to, by doing something you both love.

Would love to chat to you more Naomi, and hoping this is a good start 🙂

All best wishes,

Emily

Is it worth it? How can I stop feeling so ugly and alone? – Love Lounge

By | Disability, Emily Yates, Mik Scarlet, Sex & disability, The Love Lounge, Undressing Disability | No Comments

Hello:

My name is Sarah.  I’ve already been in contact with Mik Scarlet and he referred me to this page.

I have been made to feel unattractive/ugly from quite a young age, and was subjected regularly to sexual abuse from the age of 4. Needless to say I grew up with a very warped view of physical intimacy and a feeling of being undeserving of being in a relationship. My marriage ended due to violence on his part, which stemmed from our lack of communication and my inhibitions on a sexual level stemming back to my childhood and the associations with molestation and abuse. This element led to the end of my next long term relationship which started shortly after my marriage ended.

I was a carer for 9 years and I am now in my mid 50’s. I know it is never too late for love but part of the reason I have given up looking is because of the issue raised by Dr Phil which led me to contact Mik – the fact that as I age my care needs will either outstrip my partner, or I will end up trying to care for my partner when I am no longer physically able to do so-and social services will separate us, leaving me alone and vulnerable at a late stage in life.

So with all that said, is it worth it? I still consider that people would perceive me as  ugly, because I recently saw a comedienne who looked exactly like myself giving an interview representing women who are “proud to be ugly”, thus confirming that I am doomed to be perceived that way by society’s gauge of attractiveness! Leaving my disabilities out of the equation of course, relationships always start with physical attraction, before you go deeper…

Your thoughts/advice would be most appreciated.

Many thanks

Sarah

 

Hi Sarah, many thanks for writing in to us and being so honest and open with a difficult topic.

The first thing I’ll say is… Dr Phil has a lot to answer for! I’m a wheelchair user and needing a bit of extra physical help/care/support is absolutely part of my package when it comes to relationships.  The men I’ve been in relationships with have had to ‘step up’ on a practical level, whether that’s meant lifting my wheelchair into the car for me, or helping with cooking, cleaning and even helping me to wash and dress on my more difficult days.  Do I think they value me any less as a lover? Absolutely not.  In fact, I’d argue that practical intimacy often makes sexual intimacy even stronger! It also upsets me that people tend to never see what us disabled people do for our partners, too.  Since meeting me, my boyfriend has travelled to 4 continents, left a job he hated and started one he loves, moved house and made some amazing new friends.  He’s done these things for himself, of course, but emotional support and encouragement from me has definitely played a part.  What I’m trying to say is don’t ever underestimate what you can provide in a relationship – physical care and support is but one part of many, many successful partnerships.
On the topic of attractiveness, it sounds cliche but everyone possesses so much beauty in their own way.  I know many people who aren’t conventionally ‘pretty’, but their fierce fashion sense, brilliant humour or passion for what they do make them incredibly striking and attractive. I was watching ‘Queer Eye’ this weekend, and something brilliant was said: ‘You’ve done all you can if you present yourself to the world in the best way possible every day’.  We think we will be happy with ourselves once we’ve lose weight, got a boob job or have enough money for expensive make up and jewellery, but if we do the best we can with the body and resources we’ve got at this moment, there’s a quiet confidence in that that I believe with radiate from us into further attractiveness.
Keep fighting the good fight and believing that trying again is worth it.  Having the confidence to open up and write to us already says a lot about the honest and passionate person you are.
Hoping this helps, and please do get in touch if we can help further in any way.
Thanks,
Emily x

How can I find love and stop feeling so lonely – Love Lounge Q&A

By | Disability, Sex & disability, The Love Lounge, Undressing Disability | No Comments

Hi Mik and Emily

This is a particularly difficult email to write.  Basically I am a single,  divorced 42-year-old bloke living with Friedreich’s Ataxia – a progressive, genetic disease of the nervous system.
I am lucky enough to have plenty of good friends and I get a lot out of these relationships.  However, I do find myself suffering from loneliness and feel lost when dealing with issues of sexuality and intimacy?
I am not interested in simply calling an escort as I want to build a special friendship based around respect and trust.
I have quite a busy social life and I have recently led a disability campaign in Wales.  This has increased my profile but simply turned me into the most popular lonely person I know.
I think my confidence needs working on and I really enjoyed watching Mik’s recent YouTube video about Dr Phil.  I am not sure which way to turn and was hoping for some advice from your good selves.
Look forward to speaking soon
Nick
Hi Nick,
Many thanks for writing into us with such honesty.  We will certainly do our best to help!
The first thing that popped into my head when I read your email is whether you can use the resources around you to your advantage. It’s wonderful that you have such a supportive network of friends. If you don’t already, can you go to events or on trips with these friends to places that will increase your chances of finding someone in a romantic sense? Have you heard of the site MeetUp? I suggest this to a lot of people because it’s a great way of finding out about what’s going on in your area.  Let’s say that you enjoy cooking, for example, there’s bound to be a MeetUp group in your area that focuses on cooking, or trying out new local restaurants every week.  It’s a great way of meeting people weekly, building up friendships based on similar interests and, who knows, maybe it could lead to romance?!
Have you tried online dating, or are you interested in trying it at all? If mindlessly swiping on Tinder isn’t your thing, how about a site focused on communication and similar interests, like eHarmony? I’m a wheelchair user and met my boyfriend on Tinder, and many of my friend now have very successful relationships from online dating!
You say that you’ve had a busy time recently (and the campaign sounds brilliant!) Don’t forget to take some time for yourself, too.  We often radiate a bit more confidence when we feel good about ourselves, so don’t feel guilty about buying a new outfit that you feel great in, or going and treating yourself to a spa day, if that’s what you’re into!
Hoping this helps Nick, and good luck!
Emily

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