Can The Disability Community Please Talk About Sex?

Two years ago, I began writing about sex in terms of the disability context. My learnings since have continued to teach me that, in New Zealand anyway, the disability community remains in a state of discomfort when it comes to sex.

Sex is a normal, but most importantly, achievable part of all our lives. Whether that be with a partner and taking place in a relationship, or with an escort in a hotel room, this is a normal part of life that disabled people can, and do, partake in. But the road toward this is often filled with such alarming excuses as to why it can’t, or shouldn’t happen, and this is the very thing I am trying to challenge in the disability community, and also, outside out of it.

There are already too many stigmas placed upon disabled people, including sexual stigmas, but I want to challenge anyone who is interested in challenging those stigmas, to go ahead and challenge them. If we are all about liberating disabled people on a global scale, then we can’t pick and choose what we perceive to be achievable and healthy to be having discussions about when it comes to disabled people. Isn’t absolutely everything, regardless of your morals toward it, open for discussion and activism?

Before we get into the blog, I want to start by telling you all something that you should know already:

Every day that you wake up, open your eyes, and take a breath is a day that you should feel fortunate because many who came before us failed to make the change they wanted whilst the had that very same privilege.

My name is Michael Pulman (of course, you already knew that), and the words above mean more to me now than they ever have before. It’s easy to get fed up, to say you want to quit, and to compare yourself to the situations of others. It’s also easy to overthink your own place in this world and to worry about how’re your going with that. Most of us have a social media account of some kind and we are connected to others, so that means, anything and everything we put out there will be seen, and likely, reacted to by others.

This reality for many of us can lead to fear, and this can often be the direct cause of us staying away from entering into any sort of dialogue about certain subjects.

Take the disability community for example, where a more edgy subject like sex is often spoken about in hushed tones. When I say “a more edgy subject like sex”, I almost scoff at the words I’ve just written because it all seems so crazingly pathetic to me. Sex, if we are talking about intercourse, isn’t just a natural (and hopefully pleasurable) part of life, but the whole liberation of sex and the activities surrounding it have become an accepted part of the modern pop culture.

Disability Representation and Discussion in Sex is Needed

Now, the issues facing equality for disabled people are many, and sex certainly isn’t the highest on that list in terms of priority. In fact, discussing sex and creating opportunities for disabled people, to access sex services as an example, is not even on the priority list at all. To me, that is both a terrific shame but also a complete non-surprise. It is a shame because sex (whatever that means to you and yours), is something that everyone, disabled or not, should have the opportunity to both talk about, and when the time is right, experience in an enjoyable and safe way. It isn’t a surprise, however, that sex for disabled people if often a difficult subject, because there are so many other factors at play that can place some big barriers in the way of the person having a sex life. Barriers including privacy, physical, sensory, and permission (yes, I just said that) just to name a few.

As a wheelchair user, I face barriers in my own sex life. Before entering a relationship and experiencing a fairly active sex life, I knew just about nothing in regards to my own sexual abilities, desires, or even if/how I would be able to “perform” in the bedroom. All I had to go on was the help of a few friends, but more so, the determination that when my time came (yes, I get the pun), I would do everything I could to ensure that it was the best experience possible.

I imagined my first time would be with a girlfriend, or a close friend, perhaps even a fuck buddy. But no, my first time came with a hired professional, an escort. To this day, I have absolutely zero regrets about that decision to pay to lose my virginity. Never have, and never will. 

Well before alll of that, I always had a burning desire to try and encourage as many disabled people to talk about sex whatever that means to them.

Disabled people’s access to sex hindered by ideological barriers

Whether we choose to admit it or not, people with disabilities are not seen as being capable of having a “normal” sex life.

Disability is so often looked at in a negative light, especially by the outsiders looking in. When it comes to sex and intimacy; it’s a discussion that’s been brushed under the carpet for decades.

The biggest question is why? Why has this been a discussion too difficult to be had?

Sex education, as it pertains to those with disabilities of all kinds, needs to be on the agenda more. The access issues that disabled people face to sexual expression and experience are also very real. Those issues are misunderstood by the non-disabled community.

Funding Sex Workers For People With Disabilities

The Government pours billions of dollars into health budgets and social investment plans each year in New Zealand – and it’s time that investment helped people with very high needs disabilities toward a better accessible sex life.

Legislation in the Netherlands and Denmark supports Government investment for disabled people using sex services. In Britain, a programme called ‘Putting People First’ funded a young man to fly to Amsterdam and visit a sex worker, with all expenses paid.

In other areas of the UK, some local councils revealed they had used ratepayers money towards similar schemes in situations where it was deemed that the disabled person “couldn’t achieve sexual expression and release in any other way”.

No such funding models exist in New Zealand.

“Doing Things For People With Disabilities”

Perceptions and decisions have been made about “what’s right” or “in the best interests” of people with high needs disabilities, including those with intellectual impairments. The notion of someone with an intellectual disability choosing to see a sex worker is immediately seen as unsafe, or inappropriate.

This gets back to the discussion about consent and informed choices. But there is a fine line between informed choice and being talked out of doing something. Can we really deny that this doesn’t happen?

Like other areas of a persons life; sex and intimacy is another example of many people with disabilities (as well as their families) being afraid to have a discussion. There are so many reasons for that, and it will vary from situation to situation.

Let’s just stop and look at what’s happening in our society today.

Sex matters, for the good and the bad, because it is a normal part of the human culture. Let’s not put up yet another barrier for people with disabilities because we can’t look past our own definition of “what’s right”.

 

Sex & Disability: The Sector’s “Complex” Topic

As I will state on social media when I post this blog; I want to reaffirm the message that I am writing this blog as myself, and not a representative of any organisation in the sports journalism field or the disability sector. These thoughts are entirely my own and are my version of events.

It was December 2015, and I’d been thinking about sex and disability for a long time. I knew that I really needed to turn my thoughts into action.

I started writing as much as I could about the subject. I came at it from the perspective of a disabled person, but I wanted to advocate for those who weren’t lucky enough, or brave enough, to make the decisions that I’ve made in the past. That’s right, seeing a sex worker, and especially losing your virginity to one, is a brave choice to make for anybody. It’s not the way you’d imagine that first experience going, and it’s very daunting. Following that, all the moralistic thoughts and emotions are another battle on their own.

Without CCS Disability Action, my employers at the time, the thing with TV3 would never have happened, and that’s when the subject reached a national audience.

To the surprise of nobody, the feedback was relatively negative. The ‘powers that be’ at TV3 Story turned it into a profile about a guy in a wheelchair asking the government to fund sex worker visits for all disabled people. However, most of the country saw it as the guy in the wheelchair wanting all the money for himself, and it sparked massive uproar.

In that story, I am quoted as saying that sex is more accessible for most people than it is for those with disabilities. What I should have said was that it was more acceptable, acknowledged, and probable. Because it is; people with disabilities are not seen as sexual beings capable of having sexual thoughts, desires, or abilities to engage in a “good” sex life.

The week after the story hit the media, CCS Disability Action wrote a column in the NZ Herald that labelled the topic of sexuality as it pertains to the disabled “a complex issue”. Due to my employment with them, I couldn’t exactly go public with how infuriated I was at some of the things Joy Gunn wrote in that column, and I congratulated her on social media.

The story had drawn so much criticism, and many people in CCS Disability Action were uncomfortable. An insider has informed me that the whole reason why TV3 got the tip of my work was because of a partnership between CCS Disability Action and a company called Ideas Shop.

Apparently, the story had put sexuality for the disabled into a somewhat negative light, but I was just glad that the light had been shone on it at all, because it was about time.

Joy Gunn left the organisation just a couple of months later.

One of the things I was disappointed in was when Gunn said that the organisation didn’t support my idea that the Government should fund “his need”. It was never about my needs at all, I was simply sharing the experience of how I had lost my virginity, I wasn’t asking the government to pitch in financially towards my own sex life.

Secondly, Gunn never once discussed the lack of access to money that many disabled people in New Zealand have. Yes, some disabled people work, and others are on the Supported Living Payment, but particularly in that second example, many aren’t able to save any money, let alone save enough to hire a sex worker.

In the months following that saga, CCS Disability Action released their first Sexuality, Gender Identity, and Intimate Relationships policy.

It’s my hope that CCS Disability Action and other leading organisations really do begin to start more robust discussion around this area. Advocating on sex and disability is indeed a very complex task, but it’s not an impossible one. Government funding sex workers for those with disabilities isn’t the ideal scenario, but it’s an option for some disabled people in very unique situations. Perhaps more research into such unique situations needs to occur.

Sex & Disability: Intimacy Coaches

It is time that sex and disability were in the same conversation, because this is an issue of human rights. Overseas, what is being called an ‘intimacy coach’ is helping to fill the gap for people with disabilities, and it is entirely legal.

My Tips For Effective Public Speaking

So you want to be a public speaker? Cool!  Here are just a few tips from me.

When someone from an organisations contacts me and asks if I would be interested in coming along and speaking to their group about my life with a disability, it is always a very humbling experience. The next thing is the question, what on earth am I going to talk about this time?

One of the things that is paramount to me is that I have a rough idea of just who I am speaking too.

I don’t have to know all the people in the audience by name or have solid background on the company they work for, but I like to know why they have come to listen to me on this particular day. Continue reading My Tips For Effective Public Speaking

PERSONAL: Getting over a girl you can’t be with

As much as it doesn’t help when you hear it, the fact remains true that having a crush on someone you cannot be more than a friend with is something that we all go through at least once during a lifetime.

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I don’t like the word crush.

I’ve always believed that feelings I have had for girls have been so much more than a simple crush.

So, how do you get over (for lack of a better phrase) somebody you have feelings for but can never be with?

Reasons you cannot be with this girl will vary.

She could be in a relationship with another guy, she may not like you in that way, she may be crushing on someone else, or she might just want to be a friend to you and nothing more.

Maybe the two of you just aren’t meant for a relationship.

The first thing you need to do is find a way to accept the situation and accept that you cannot be with this girl.

It is ok to be sad, sadness will be with you for a while during this period, but eventually you will come to realise that you can feel sad and unlucky for days on end, but eventually the time comes to get over it and move forward.

You really like this girl right? So, of course you’re going to be quite sad about not being with her in the way you want.

Next I think it is important to find a way to talk about how you feel, to the girl herself even.

It is easy, so very easy for things between the two of you to become awkward so you really need to find a way to tell this girl how you feel, but do it in a way that doesn’t make her feel guilty for not feeling the same way, but a way that helps her to understand how you feel, while at the same time you need to realise that she doesn’t feel the same way about you and she cannot really say anything that you will want to hear.

Find a way to talk, remember you and this girl are friends and as much as seeing her beautiful face day in and day out will make you yearn for her to be yours, just remember friendship is still a good thing!

At times you will feel so jealous, especially if she has a partner. But if you do anything, make sure you don’t make her feel guilty or bad because some other guy got there first.

Your feelings are yours and yours alone at this point. To be blunt, it is a problem and a problem only you know how to get yourself out of.

Lastly, you are going to be ok through this.

You’re not crazy, and you certainly aren’t needy or emotionally unstable, you simply like this really amazing girl who sadly will never be more than a friend to you.

It just isn’t meant to be, because if it was you wouldn’t be going through all this emotional turmoil just to be given a chance at being her boyfriend.

There is a girl out there who is better for you, but she has to find you and no matter how amazing you think this girl that you like but cannot be with is, there is somebody out there who is better.

Yes I said it, someone better.

I myself have been through this many times, in actual fact I am right at this moment as well.

DREAM BELIEVE ACHIEVE.

My Journey To Sex: Part 2

Even today, I don’t know why being able to perform sexually meant so much to me. All I knew was, if I couldn’t, I would be heartbroken but somehow would have to find a way of dealing with it. It was hard to not think negatively, but I just tried to hold onto hope that everything would work out.

I may be disabled, but I was damn sure that it wasn’t going to motivate me to shy away from this goal.

I was fortunate enough to have a few days notice before my first sexual experience occurred. It gave me time to think, and while thinking may sometimes not be the way you want to go into something like sex, it did me a world of good in the end.

As I said in the last blog, sex was something I had desired for so many reasons but all those reasons I couldn’t explain or justify to anyone, including myself.

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The first reason was to experience sex. The second, to know if I could or not, and the third reason was the biggie, to achieve something that so many of my friends with either MD or SMA had passed away without ever attempting or knowing if they could or not. This was the hardest justification of them all, because a handful of them had almost given up on sex, or at least that is the vibe I got from them when they were still alive.

It was a myriad of reasons, reasons I couldn’t justify to anyone, including myself as well sometimes… most of the time… all the time.

I had the best part of a week’s notice before my first sexual encounter, so I had time to prepare my mind for the event. Much time that week was spent on my own, deep in thought, as I had been in the sexual sense since the journey began all those years ago. I never talked to anyone about my fears, and the week of losing my virginity, I kept the nerves as much to myself as I could.

The few people around me who knew of the pending event were well aware of just how nervous I was becoming.

It was a nervous excitement, a fear of the unknown, and a worry that after all this time and all this toil, including the decision to finally take a leap of faith and do it, sex may not be all I imagined it to be. I was worried that I would go through all these years of wonder, only to be disappointed.

“Ok, maybe I will be able to perform in the bedroom, maybe I will orgasm, but what if it just isn’t that good?”.

I can hear those words in my head like it was yesterday.

I think you could easily put sex up on a massive pedestal, thinking it will be something out of this world. I think everybody who hasn’t experienced is in danger of doing that, some will have realistic expectations while others will be a little more out there in what they think will happen when the clothes come off.

I was in both camps, and on reflection I think most of my thoughts about intercourse and how it would be and feel were fairly realistic.

I mean jeez, I had enough time to think about it that’s for sure!

My disability and how it works is restrictive. Physically, I probably have the ability of a baby. My arms are weak, I can’t move my legs, I can’t move my hips, I can’t even reach my private areas.

A lot of people who are in the know wonder why I don’t masturbate, the reason why is because I can’t. I have never masturbated, never had any pleasure from my own hands. I don’t have the arm power or the hand power. The man zone is just not a place where my hands go. They never went there.

My point?

Everything about sex was so unknown, and the week’s preparation was so vital in me coming to terms with all that. There were countless times when I wondered what I would actually be able to do in the bedroom. I questioned if I would be able to get her off and make her feel as amazing as she was going to make me, I wondered if it would hurt when it came to penetration, I was worried that I would not be able to get an erection, I was worried I would break my hips, I wasn’t sure if I would know if I was doing the job right. The list just went on and on and on, there were so many reasons to back out of the whole thing, to save the potentially damaging results to my mental state if things didn’t work, but so many reasons to bite the bullet and try as well.

I ended up having a coffee with the girl I lost my virginity too a few days out from the event.

It was so crucial for me to trust her, and also for her to know what my limitations were and would be once we got to the bedroom. We had a good few conversations about it all. She really was amazing at calming me down, and it was quite easy to trust her in the end. She was experienced, and while someone who had been around the block a few times wasn’t how I always imagined my first time girl would be, it benefited me ten fold. I needed a girl who knew what she was doing.

I was scared because I wondered if my reliance on her would scare her away, despite all her experience, I was worried that she would back out because she thought she’d hurt me, and I just wanted the whole thing to fly off without a hitch.

But in order for it to be a success I had to put myself in a position that could have easily taken the whole thing away. I am VERY, VERY proud of the courage I showed in that conversation with her in particular.

Casual sex, or picking up girl in a bar and bringing her back to my house wont ever be an option for me if sex was going to occur just randomly out of the blue, because there will always need to be some sort of discussion about how things have to work in order for sex to be a success for myself and the girl. Like most things with the disability, my sex life also requires pretty much total 100% reliance on somebody else. Getting ready before hand, during sex, and after sex too, it is all pretty much out of my control and I have to rely on the help of somebody else.

But through all the worry, it was such an exciting time too!

That was the longest, but in many ways most enjoyable week of my life. The days just dragged on and on and I couldn’t settle myself down. If anything I was getting more excited and I wanted to forget my worry and just soak up the whole experience. Whilst asking myself if I could move on and live my life if I couldn’t perform sexually, I also tried to ask myself what I would do with my life if I could have awesomely amazing sex. I didn’t come up with any answers to both those questions, but I just knew that either way, I wouldn’t regret what I was about to do.

The other lingering factor in the back of my head was if this whole thing was “right” or not.

I guess I am a little old school, but sex should be a good thing and it should be with the right girl. Plus, virginity is special, and it shouldn’t be taken too easily. Just keep that in mind. I don’t have any regrets, but lets just say I worried that I would have had massive regrets if it didn’t turn out like I hoped.

Two things to keep in mind.

Be prepared to accept that you may not be able to have full on sex, but also be confident or positive enough to believe that you will.

And so… D Day arrived.

The sun came out bright and early on Wednesday January 15th 2014, and I knew that no matter the outcome, this day would be remembered for the rest of my life. I remember the first thing I did that morning. I got up, had breakfast, and went outside listening to music on my iPod. Nothing was done differently than any other day.

As the morning wore on, and the time till my first sexual experience drew closer and closer, I was feeling more and more excited. I took a shower, and that’s when it hit me.

Out of nowhere, an amazing sense of worry threw itself over me. It was one of the most exciting, but terrifying feelings I have ever had. I don’t know why, I think I was just scared that sex, something I so yearned for to settle a question I had been having with myself for years, just wouldn’t be something I could do. My disability, like it has for all of us, had taken so much of my physical capabilities away from me, I didn’t want my dream of sex to be taken away too, because I knew what it would do to me if it did.

It was all so important to me.

But I had to go through with it, worry be damned, self belief and hope shone on through and before I knew it, the time had come and it was about to get a whole lot more real very, very quickly.

You cannot describe that level of adrenaline, my heart was beating quicker than it ever had before, and my panic buttons were being pushed in every direction possible. All the pep talks and advice were ringing loud and clear in my head, and all the ways I had imagined sex would be were racing through my mind like a silent movie, a montage of pictures, what felt like a lifetime of questions and second guessing about to be answered.

Before I knew it, I was having sex. I was no longer a virgin, and everything had worked out well.

Regards,

Mike