by Josh Hepple
Everyone with a severe impairment would benefit from reading this
It will not come as a surprise to anyone to hear that disabled people are often desexualised. This undoubtedly has negative consequences for disabled gay men who want to explore their sexuality.
First of all, it is okay to accept that it is harder for disabled men, and to allow yourself to feel any anger or frustration at this. This is justified. For people with physical impairments, first impressions might be tough. However, this makes it all that more special when someone is not overly bothered by a wheelchair or involuntary movements. Do remember that everyone has hang-ups about how they look and many people want to be bigger and stronger. Your impairment might exacerbate some of this, but it all comes from the same place. Don’t be afraid to talk to trusted friends. You may well be surprised that, while you think they look perfect, they are in fact having similar thoughts.
You may feel that people do not like you because of your impairment. However, it is important to ask yourself who has the problem with their impairment. Most of the time, this will be about your own relationship with your impairments and learning to embrace that. Not only will this help your general well-being, but everyone else will be able to pick up on this. Meeting men is tough and requires a sense of confidence and acceptance about who you are. The saying that you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you is not as silly as it sounds. To some extent, it’s a bit like the chicken and egg debate. Some people say you need to love yourself before others will love you, while others might tell you that it really helps to boost confidence to know that someone else can love you. I don’t think anyone solves all their problems before they find a partner and relationships can help you learn more about yourself and what you like and don’t like.
Practically, I prefer the apps as a way to meet people and, luckily for me, this is the general trend within the entire dating community. Not everyone on the apps is lovely, and racism and ablism is rife. However, when this is compared to the pre-technological age, I don’t think there have been any regressive stages. In fact, if you know how to play your cards right, the apps can work very well. I have a severe speech impairment with substantial involuntary movements that can frighten many people away in all environments, including everyday conversation. Yet, at the same time, I am able to meet four to five guys a week using Grindr.
You can start how you want. Some people are only looking for ‘the one’ while others have a lot to get out their system and may prefer the slightly more promiscuous approach, which is reflected by some in the LGBT community. Casual sex can be fun, but it is absolutely essential that you go into it knowing what you want and having set expectations which should be clear before meeting. To have great casual sex with someone you think you have a good connection with, for that person not to text you back after can be soul-destroying if you were hoping for more. At the same time, to just see it as a biological act with a hot guy and then to carry on with your day can be extremely liberating and practically helpful for many.
Sexual confidence is attractive, but promiscuity isn’t always as appealing. Your body may be different to others and you may have spent the last few years contemplating if you are able to do it or not. You may think that your first sexual experience should only be with someone who really knows you and understands how your body already works, whereas others may want to get it out the way with casual sex to know that they know what they’re doing by the time it comes to meeting the right person. Again this is often a consideration for non-disabled people and where faith sometimes has a bearing.
You may not feel safe with the idea of having sex with someone you don’t know. These concerns are easy to understand and you are taking a big risk. My advice would be to have some trust. I am very fortunate and I live in a very safe environment with panic chords at my bedside and security at the door. However, while meeting 150 guys, though quite often the sex has been rubbish, I have never felt unsafe. This is very different to what my expectations were. The very fact that a guy is coming in through very tight security to have sex with someone who is severely disabled is a pretty rare situation and, to be honest, I admire and respect their decision to go through with it. There are stories of Grindr guys killing and dicing up other Grindr men. Though this could not be more different from my experiences, you may wish to take more sensible steps in securing your safety. Is it possible to have your assistant or friend in another room in the house? Or to give someone keys? If you are going to meet someone, then you may one day give your friend the address and the time you are expected back. You might agree for your friend to phone you after a few hours and if no response to take further action, such as to come to the address and if no response to phone emergency services, should this put your mind at rest.
You might need help practically getting into bed. I can throw myself and a guy can help, with trial and error. Again, the very fact that they are past the hurdle of security and my movements demonstrate that they are open-minded enough to help with the rest. I am clear online about what I need and give people the choice. Of course, writing a short message online and reality are very different.
Everyone enjoys orgasm, but benefits for people with cerebral palsy can be immense. I know that my movements are much calmer after I have ejaculated which then goes on to let me go about my day far more productively with better results. Because of this, sometimes I use Grindr as a perfunctory tool, rather like medication or having a basic need met. It also really helps me with my speech. I cannot often articulate myself when I am apprehensive, which I naturally often am before having sex with someone I don’t know. The men often find it surprising to hear how chatty and talkative I become after. Orgasm helps me relax and allows my speech to be much more articulate.
In terms of dating, there are similar considerations that have to be made. I, for example, cannot hold a drink, nor can I be understood in any noisy environment. During summer months, it’s quite nice to meet guys in a park, but in the colder months options are limited, especially while living in Zone 1 of London. My bedroom comes in as a handy excuse for a quiet environment.
Communication is continuously the most fundamental part of any interaction. The balancing act between lover and assistant is always difficult to juggle and this raises so many considerations which you may have never thought about. You may have to rely on others for help and have ways of doing things your way and appreciate the fact that direct payments allow you to employ staff who can work your way.
No one enjoys having a third wheel at the start of any relationship. This stops intimacy while at the same time to rely on a new person to be your lover and help you with very personal things takes a lot from both of you. This is about compromise and maybe allowing them to do it in a slightly unconventional way might be better than having similar standards. Do remember that you should always have your own care as a priority and never cancel the support you need at the start of anything. It is bad enough for anyone to be stood up, or to have their new partner let them down at very short notice. Do not let this compromise your personal care as you must still have access to the toilet and any other basic needs.
Sexual acts and privacy often go hand in hand, so does personal care. Depending on your impairment you may have had to sacrifice some of your privacy for help with intimate tasks such as showering and dressing. These needs can be dealt with in quite a perfunctory way by your support staff and could also be sexualised with your partner should you feel comfortable with this.
Unfortunately as far as I know there is no such thing as a perfunctory orgasm and therefore help cannot be sourced in a traditional manner as your impairment normally requires. There are toys and different devices that can do the deed for you these can include the autoblow which has beads that are powered to rapidly masturbate. Once you’re in, you are fine however for some people insertion may be difficult and help may be required for this, this will involve an open dialogue between you and whoever helps you. Some of you may find these devices far too difficult to use and need to rely on another person. I luckily live in central London and have a plentiful supply of Grindr men available at very short notice given the population and openness of the city.
Of course the other options could involve payment and hiring a sex worker. You may feel more comfortable initially exploring your sexual abilities with someone who you know will not judge you and will probably be very good at what they’re doing. This is your decision. If you want to treat yourself to some fun then sex workers might be the way forward however given the financial implications you may not be able to use this tactic every time an orgasm is needed.
Finally there is a drug called Yohimbe which can help force an ejaculation a few hours after taking it. It is successful in roughly 50 percent of the people who try it and commonly used among people with spinal injuries. The drug does take a few hours to kick in and can activate at very short notice. There are often slight stomach cramps. While this is a herbal remedy I would suggest chatting to your doctor first though it can be bought in health food shops.
Safety is important in many different areas of intimacy and, again, while these issues may apply to everyone, your impairment may exacerbate some of this. I have been lucky and have never really felt unsafe with any of the men I have met, and have also understood that I have various panic cords and people nearby shouldn’t go wrong.
You may find it difficult to put on a condom and again, this is probably something for your partner to do rather than any support staff, it requires another level of trust. I think this is about communication it is also about putting safety before anything else and working out how to say ‘no’ if you’re uncomfortable at any point of the encounter. If you are a man who has sex with other men and find condoms difficult there is always the option of PrEP which allows you to have unprotected sex and not catch HIV, this involves taking one pill a day and can be easily administered in a safe environment, away from any sexual partners. Clearly this does not help against the less severe HTIs so the choice is still yours, even if you are having protected sex do not forget that some infections can be transmitted through non-penetrative means, so it is still critical to be tested after. This is also an opportunity for you to ask a medical professional about any sex specific questions though don’t have high hopes that they fully understand your impairment.
Lastly, I just want to say good luck. Having loads of sex with random men is fine, as is holding out for the one. Your impairment might add another layer, but everyone has their own shit to deal with. You might get a few knock-backs (who doesn’t?) and it might take you a few more years, but it is totally worth all of it and the best rollercoaster ever.