Through sports, we are now able to perceive women with disabilities as powerful, heroic and iconic figures. Yet despite the fact we live in an era where personal and sexual relationships are openly discussed, finding representations of women with disabilities as desirable, sexual and sensual beings is still non-existent.
There is a social denial, even suppression of disabled people’s sexuality, which has lead to it being viewed as taboo and to people with disabilities as asexual. Whilst this is the perception, the reality is that men and women with disabilities have the same urges, and desires as their able-bodied peers. To help us put to bed some of the long held misconceptions, we caught up with Maggi, a woman with a disability who shared with us her experiences navigating the sex, dating and relationship landscape.
How old are you?
What is the nature of your disability?
I use a wheelchair due to Spina Bifida.
How long have you had your disability?
I was born with Spina Bifida but started using the wheelchair when I was about 15. Prior to that, I could walk, though not properly but started to lose my balance when I was 13. I had to use a walking stick, then crutches and eventually the wheelchair.
How old were you when you started dating?
I started dating when I was around 17.
there are times I wonder if I am a curiosity like they might just want to see what it’s like to have sex with a woman in a wheelchair
How different do you think your sex, dating and relationship experiences have been compared to your able-bodied friends?
I think I’ve had pretty much the same experiences, good and bad. Though I’ve had a few experiences that probably the average able-bodied person wouldn’t have simply because I use a wheelchair. For instance, when out and about I seem to attract people the way a baby in a pushchair does. People gravitate towards me, which isn’t always a bad thing but it also means sometimes people invade my personal space or can be unnecessarily protective of me. Like they feel it’s their duty to save me from the big bad world.
Although there are times I wonder if I am a curiosity, like they might just want to see what it’s like to have sex with a woman in a wheelchair – a bit like a fetish? I once had a guy I met online get all excited when I told him I use a wheelchair. He said it made him want me more. Errrrr ok!?! Pass!!!
Have you tried online dating and if so, what’s been your experience so far?
I have tried online dating and it’s been an interesting experience. I sometimes feel it’s like a social experiment where you get to meet a whole range of people from the interesting and genuine to the downright psychotic and everything in between. I do like the convenience of being able to meet people from the comfort of my home and not in some sweaty bar. Though the down side is sometimes having the same inane conversations over and over again. The engaging conversations can be few and far between.
Also, having to have “that” conversation where I tell them I use a wheelchair and then wait for their response which varies from “not a problem” to “oh ok, I’m not sure I can deal with that”. Then there are those that say it’s ok but then I get a follow-up call or message with a well thought out scripted second thought saying they would rather not take things any further but they would still like to be friends. My response to which is thanks but I’ve reached my quota on friends. It can be exhausting to deal with this aspect of it.
There is a lot of pressure on women to meet unrealistic beauty standards, which results in many of us having a love – hate relationship with our bodies. Acceptance and appreciation of our bodies, if it comes at all, usually occurs later in life. Is this something that you recognize and if it is, how has your relationship with your body evolved over the years?
Yes, I think as with most women we all have a certain standard we set for ourselves about how we want to look, whether this is dictated by external pressure or our own internal dialogue. Over the years my relationship with my body has evolved from trying extreme dieting and exercising, to embracing a more healthy and balanced lifestyle. I’m more comfortable with my body now, though I still have those moments when I feel that some things could be better, but in general, I’m happy as I am.
Stay true to who you are, be proud of who you are and don’t let anyone or anything change that
If you could turn the clocks back, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?
I would tell my 18-year-old self to relax and enjoy the ride, it all turns out alright. Get all the facts before making any life changing decisions, then try not to overthink things, doubt or second guess yourself. Also, Stay true to who you are, be proud of who you are and don’t let anyone or anything change who you are.
Being naked in front of a new partner for the first time can make even the most confidant woman feel extremely self-conscious. What is going through your mind during those moments?
The thoughts going through my mind are everything from are the lights dim enough to be flattering, is my muffin top on display and making sure I’m being viewed from the right angles. Pretty much like the settings for the perfect photograph. But then again I’ve come to realize from speaking to men that we as women care much more about these things than the man usually does. Like, we might think “Oh crap, I forgot to shave my legs”, when he wouldn’t care if he was getting stubble burns from your legs wrapped around his neck. He just cares that your legs are there in the first place!
What effect does your disability have on your sex drive and how you have sex?
To be totally honest it has no effect on my sex drive what so ever. I have quite a high sex drive and it’s pure self-control that keeps me from running totally wild. How I have sex, on the other hand, is only limited by my not being able to use my legs so any position that would require me to stand up would not be feasible but everything else is pretty much possible. So, it’s never been an issue or made things difficult. Being small and flexible also helps!
Communication goes hand in hand with fulfilling sexual experiences. How important is communication for you before and during sex?
Communication is essential! Sex begins in the mind for me. A little sexy flirtation goes a long way beforehand. Greases the wheel so to speak. And during sex, everyone likes positive affirmation right? I like a vocal partner though I’m willing to accept grunts of approval too.
I’m not looking for a carer. There are a lot of women with disabilities that are fully independent and do not require looking after any more than an able-bodied woman would
What are the biggest misconceptions that men have about sex with a woman with a disability?
I might need a whole page for this question alone! I think I have heard it all. I get asked some very personal questions. Although, to be fair not from all men just a few. The main misconception is thinking that sex is not possible or that it is too painful. To which I say unless you’re planning on putting me in a chokehold or getting out the torture devices in some 50 Shades of Grey type stuff I think I’ll be fine!
Also, I’ve had a couple of instances where the man thought that by having sex with me he could put it on me so good that my legs would start to work. Like really?!? Have you told medical science of the healing properties of your magic stick? You might want to consider getting a patent on it.
The other thing is not necessarily about sex but a misconception in general. They think that they will have to “take care of me”. I’m not looking for a carer. There are a lot of women with disabilities that are fully independent and do not require looking after any more than an able-bodied woman would.
If you could change one thing about society’s perception of disability and sexuality what would it be?
A person’s physical abilities or limitations has nothing to do with their feelings or desire for sex any more than able-bodied people’s need for sex is determined by their physical attributes, being tall, short, skinny or overweight. We all get horny, feel attraction, want to be intimate and all the other variations just the same.