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 Public Morality

The issue of the taxpayer subsidising sex for people with disabilities in New Zealand isn’t about the cost, it’s the morality that society has toward the entire notion.

As has been reported previously, people with disabilities in Holland can claim the cost of sexual services as a medical expense. Recently, the Green Party in Germany pitched the idea of a similar scheme, where both the disabled and the elderly would have the costs of seeing an escort or accessing therapeutic sexual services covered by the government.

The criteria for the idea in Germany isn’t exactly robust; it simply states that an escort subsidy would improve the lives of the disabled and elderly, with the end goal of them moving on to a much healthier life.

In 2010, an investigation uncovered a similar program running under the table in England. It caused massive debate among local taxpayers, but several advocates have said that the consideration for taxpayer funded sex services for the disabled is plausible.

But in New Zealand, no such avenue is available, under the table or otherwise. The conversation is tough and the outcome is anything but plausible. The public, the government, and service providers just won’t have it.

It is hard to argue the benefits of sex, especially for people with physical conditions. The issue is, most governments and citizens don’t understand the needs, and this is in direct relation to a misunderstanding and stigma surrounding disability in general.

According to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; people are entitled to the same range, quality, and standard of free or affordable healthcare and programmes as provided to other persons, including the area of sexual and reproductive health.

This is just another example of how New Zealand, and many other countries, aren’t living up to one of their core, binding documents. Millions of dollars is spent on rehabilitation services; for people with both physical and intellectual conditions, and yet the benefits of sexual expression during rehabilitation continue to be ignored.

In a column recently released on theconversation.com; readers were reminded that the discussions about sex and sexuality for disabled people have previously been ignored. The column argued that this is because the focus is always on human rights and discrimination in the workplace. Recently in New Zealand there has been a lot of focus on education after the government announced reforms that will directly impact disabled New Zealanders rights to a fair education.

The sex industry has long been demonised, but prostitution is perfectly legal in New Zealand, and it has been for a long time. The people who work in the sex industry, men and woman, are seen as drug addicts and as contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted disease. But for people with disabilities, they often rely on a third party to help them access sex services. In New Zealand, that third party help is hard to come by.

This is an ongoing discussion; but it’s time the robust investigation into this issue gathered momentum.

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.

Sex & Disability: Smashing down the barriers

Men, Women, Young, and Old, the discussion of sex and disability is now everywhere.

As time goes by, more and more disabled people are beginning to find ways of bringing the issue previously known as ‘the elephant in the room’ to light for mainstream society to consider.

Many people in the disability sector are guilty of putting the discussion of sex (as it pertains to people with a disability) into the ‘too hard basket’, throwing out all sorts of reasons why advocacy is better used in other, ‘more important’ areas. To have a lack of understanding surrounding sex for disabled people is wrong and immoral, but this has been the status quo up until now.  Continue reading Sex & Disability: Smashing down the barriers

Government-Funded Sex: Facts and Opinion

On average, to see a sex worker will cost between $250 and $300 for one hour. If a person with a high-needs disability has one, one-hour session per month, this amounts to $3,600 per year for an individual user.

Let’s compare this cost to other things funded by the government for a moment.

In 2008, the New Zealand Government was funding gender-reassignment surgeries, up to four times per year. Those surgeries cost between $20,000 and $70,000 depending on the type, times that by four, you are looking well in excess of $100,000 per year.

Shortly after this, the Labour Party introduced a policy that would have seen these gender-reassignment surgeries paid for by the government, but not just for up to four people, but to anyone.

That policy was scrapped after intense media scrutiny and the National Party, the party in political power. Continue reading Government-Funded Sex: Facts and Opinion

TV3 Should Be Congratulated For Tackling Sex & Disability

Going on National Television and revealing how I lost my virginity to a sex worker was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do. Now the dust has settled and the nation has its arms up in the air with disgust, I want to address a few things that critics have been saying.

There has been a lot of unfair criticism towards TV3 about the way that the story was presented.

Brothel owner Mary Brennan, the other woman who was interviewed in the story, summed up the entire point that I was trying to make when she said the following line:

“For someone who is physically disabled and who has only ever felt the touch of anybody through a latex glove, it is huge to feel another body”.

The reality is that this is how it is for a lot of disabled people, especially those at the higher end of the disability scale who live in residential services, rest homes, or even in hospitals in some cases.

It is not simply asking the government to pay for disabled people to have sex with prostitutes. It also isn’t a question of, “well if the government will pay for the disabled then why not me, because I can’t get laid either”.

The point I am making is that surely everyone deserves the opportunity to experience sex, in whatever way that is for them in their situation. I am speaking about disabled people, young and old, who can’t even do the most basic of everyday things… like shower, go to the toilet, dress themselves, or eat their dinner.

It goes without saying that there is a significant difference between sex and love.

CCS Disability Action, my employers, argued that sex is a personal responsibility and it is up to the disabled people themselves to fund it. That is entirely fair, but not to those extremely disabled young men and woman who are so severely limited that work, even part-time work, will never be possible due to many different factors, including access to the community.
What then? Do we just forget about it and hope said person loses their sexual desire?

Helping people access sex workers is one thing, making it happen, with all the variable barriers a disabled person faces in the bedroom, is entirely another.

Simply saving money received from the Supported Living Payment (a benefit for disabled people paid by the government) is a piece of advice that misses the bigger issue.

The issue here is that sex, whatever that means for people with high-end needs due to their disability, needs to be discussed and looked at in a different way than has been the norm up until now. Sex is one of the most natural pleasures of all, and some of the people I am talking about have never experienced any sexual or romantic feeling whatsoever.

Their disability is a big reason for this. They need support to access sex, and they need support to engage in sex. Without that support, sex, eventual intimacy, and hopefully true love, will never be possible.

I want to thank TV3 for opening the door to this issue, because it is something the disability sector needs to shine the light on.

Barriers that don’t help disabled people find sex, lust, & adventure

Hook up apps like Tinder make sex a quick and easy find in 2016, but going out and getting laid isn’t quite as simple as swiping right for people living with a disability.

For a long time now, the general assumption amongst has been that most disabled people are asexual.

When was the last time that disability was brought up alongside sex education in schools? When did the government last mention New Zealand’s sex industry and disability in the same sentence?

Perhaps a bigger question – when was the last time you saw a disabled man or woman portrayed in a sexually satisfying way on mainstream media or in music videos?

The guess would be never.

In many ways, relationships are easier to form and engage in now than at any other time in human history.

Social media makes it easy to meet new people with similar interests, but it also allows a certain mystery in those innocent early moments.

If two people begin chatting on social media, it leads to an exciting meet up with this new person, perhaps at a nice coffee shop or at a bar, but it isn’t until that moment (or perhaps after) that the actual friendship, or the beginning of a relationship, really begins.

The great thing about social media is that it is accessible to everyone, if only the local community was the same.

Disabled people often face four major barriers, making a quick getaway from home to meet up with a girl in town almost impossible at short notice.

  • Transport
  • Care
  • Accessibility
  • Safety

The harsh reality is that these four barriers are very real, there is no sugar coating them.

For the majority of disabled people, going out on the town and “getting some” just doesn’t happen at the drop of a hat. Therefore, when they do get these opportunities, it becomes so much more than just a random hook up to satisfy sexual urges, however amazing that may feel at the time.

These barriers shouldn’t deter however, but sadly, they seem to nonetheless.

Disabled people like to f**k just as much as you do

What would you say if I told you that for some disabled people, sexual release is a taboo subject that has become so impossible to imagine that giving up is the easier option.

This is the case for a lot of disabled New Zealanders, wether they want to admit it or not. Every day, another disabled New Zealander accepts their sentence to a life without sexual pleasure, the most natural pleasure of all.

A simple Google search will reveal that overseas, a lot is being done to address sexual expression for the disabled.

Not so much in New Zealand though, only thanks to the tireless work of a few devoted advocates has sex even become a topic for discussion.

In the Netherlands, the government financially aids disabled people the opportunities for “sex surrogacy sessions”, up to 12 sessions per year in fact. That’s right, disabled people in the Netherlands get to explore their sexuality in a safe environment with an escort and they get it funded by the government.

In the UK, several dedicated websites can be found with a wealth of information about disability and sex, and one campaign in particular, called The Undressing Disability campaign, drew widespread mainstream attention while challenging the public view on disabled persons perceived lack of interest and capability to engage in sex.

But, what exactly is happening in New Zealand?

Sooner or later, the question has to be asked, a similar mindset and approach to sex be may need to be adopted for disabled New Zealanders.

If the government is prepared to pay $30million to change the flag, then surely they can spare a few thousand dollars per year so a disabled person can access the services of a sex worker?

Known disability advocacy organisations in New Zealand are only now just beginning to toy with the motion of addressing “the elephant in the room” that is sex.

But only a few of them.

Not only that, but the commitment is weak due to fear of public backlash.

Discussion is not enough if it doesn’t lead to action, because like most able bodied youth in New Zealand, disabled guys and girls just want to get some of that hot, fun, and sexy action.

A common myth is that disabled people can’t, don’t, or won’t be able to partake in sex. This is entirely incorrect in both theory and reality, in fact the exact opposite.

In a lot of cases, the only reason a young disabled gentleman is still a virgin at 23, 24, or 25 years of age is because he has never had the opportunity or encouragement to experience, and this is large in part due to the fact, in the eyes of many, that modern society doesn’t view or understand disability in regards to sex.

There was a young man in the UK a few years ago who took to the streets with a simple message:

“Don’t disable my libido”.

The disability, the wheelchair, the need for constant 24/7 support is a reality for people living with impairment, but how exactly is sexual pleasure not being catered into those supports? Not only is it not catered for, it isn’t even thought of by the majority, and it takes away a basic human right for a lot of disabled people.

Did you know that most people affected by a severe physical disability cannot and have not ever masturbated or reached climax?

Think about that.

Discovering Sex: A year on and still learning

I don’t think I can honestly describe how important being sexual and having a sex life is to me.

handicapped-sex-brothel-wheelchair

This time a year ago, to say I was a bundle of nerves would be an understatement.

I was more than nervous – I was terrified and excited at the same time.

Terrified because of the potential that I couldn’t and excited at the possibility that maybe I could.

I can’t describe that feeling during sex or solo play, it is just like nothing else in life. It isn’t always great either, sometimes it is just a little meh, it really does come down to how you are feeling I reckon.

At least for me anyway.

As I wrote in April last year, discovering sexual freedom and sexual ability really changed such a big part of how I felt about myself as a person. I could have lived with not being able to have sex and not being able to orgasm, but boy it would have been a really tough pill for me to swallow.

It just felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders, relief that after so many years wondering I finally knew that I could, and then discovering just how enjoyable it was.

Sex, even though I am somewhat limited in what I can do in the bedroom, is up there with the most powerfully good feeling that I have ever had.

In the last year since losing my virginity so many of the “what ifs” surrounding my sexual abilities have been answered, and if not for this experience I wouldn’t have discovered masturbation.

One of the things I revealed back in April was that prior to losing my virginity I had never masturbated, so therefore had never felt anything sexual at all. Physically I couldn’t, still can’t today, but through the experience of sex for the first few times and a little experimentation and research, I have found a way to discover sexual pleasure all on my own and today I can experience that every single night if I want.

To some, writing a blog of this nature will be a little offensive, to me it has always been a subject I have been quite passionate about.

Disability and sex is something I really think needs to be talked about a little more.

Whilst my sex life isn’t exactly booming, the greatest thing about the last year has been the knowledge in me that I actually know I can now.

To sit here on January 15th 2015, a year on from that question of if I could or not being answered, is something I am very very proud of. Not a single regret.