Lifestyle

Being paraplegic doesn't mean I don't have a fantastic sex life

We were in the half empty bar of a central London hotel when she paused, before declaring that she had something important to tell me.

‘I don’t want to marry someone in a wheelchair.’

It was unusually blunt for a first date, but the sentiment left me unsurprised. But if I have learnt nothing else since I was paralysed at 25 – breaking my neck in a minibus smash while working as a war reporter in Sri Lanka – it is that you cannot let these moments stop you experiencing what life has to offer.

I acknowledged her comment, changed the topic, and took her to dinner.

A few hours later we were in my bed and, soon after, we took an unforgettable trip through Europe. The sex was ‘glorious’ – her description when I asked her recently.

It may not have worked out for us long-term, but it was a gorgeous summer love affair: intimate, spontaneous and unmissable. Her frankness might have been unusual – but her initial reservations were definitely not.

My spinal injury doesn’t stop me living well, doing fascinating work or believing I can be good partner or lover (plenty of other men, it must be said, have set the bar quite low). But it has left me without ability to move most of my body, driving a wheelchair with sensors in its headrest and requiring personal assistants to wash me, dress me and lift me into bed.

Not everyone can deal with that. Some communicate that upfront while others with whom I felt a connection with simply vanish, sometimes reappearing only when they have found more able-bodied partners.

Sometimes, that hurts – or makes me jealous and intense. But such pushbacks can also spur me to new actions, activities and passions.

It’s an approach that helped me rejoin the British Army as a reservist analyst and trainer, now just returning to civilian life after a full-time service as a temporary captain during the pandemic.

It has also seen me travelling, back reporting as a foreign correspondent, founding a think tank and living a life not too far from what I want.

It is very different from the images I imagined when newly paralysed, picturing myself spending the rest of my life in my parents’ living room, a dependent waste of space losing everything I valued.

My determined attitude has brought a fuller romantic and sexual life than I at first feared. But many in society still find it hard to see disabled people in that light.

A 2008 survey showed 70% of Britons said they would likely not consider an intimate relationship with someone with a disability, 26% said they might and 4% said they had. 

There has been no significant survey on the topic since – although the UK Government’s 2021 Disability Survey run by the Cabinet Office sought to fix that. However, as is often the case with the Government, their method was completely tone deaf. In March, several people said they found it ‘insensitive’ and ‘degrading’ when respondents were asked how ‘happy’ they would be ‘to have a physical relationship with a disabled person’.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the Government asking how likely people were to sleep with others based on any other characteristics.

The statistics and discussions are not uplifting – but making this side of life work for me is my responsibility. I have no right to expect anyone to want me. It is often best to start things light, with few if any expectations – although if I am seriously into someone, I am unlikely to hold back.

For anyone who feels interest in me stirring, I know it can unsettle – and raises many questions. What might sex be like, let alone a life together?

Disability is rarely ideal, and there have been plenty of times that I have wondered if mine would rob me of any chance of happiness. Society that can worsen that by also treating disability as an unspeakable taboo – something I have no choice but to rebel against.

Because if I and others like me don’t think that we are worth love and physical intimacy, who else ever will?

Some amazing women have come into my life, strong or compelled enough to overcome any worries they had about my situation

Some partnerships – my longest has been two years – quickly headed towards long-term options. Others were rather different. One American woman with a disability fetish drove 200 miles to meet me. That made me feel a little strange – I prefer such feelings to emerge despite not due to my injury but I don’t regret our encounter – great, consensual sex is always good.

I’ve learned a lot over the last 15 years, including that I have within me the depth of passion to love someone in a way that could build and define both our lives.

My life requires logistics, but I can manage that. Some amazing women have come into my life, strong or compelled enough to overcome any worries they had about my situation.

I recently asked several former partners for their thoughts on our physical relationship and one replied, ‘In bed, without the wheelchair, it was like we were just two bodies and people together.’ 

That, ultimately, is what I want. My injury has brought more than its fair share of isolation, rejection and pain. But there is no choice but to own it – I’m not looking for sympathy from a partner, but equality and connection.

With the right person, I’d be open to either an open or closed relationship – I know I could enjoy either, and what matters to me is liking someone enough and listening to their needs.

Some memories are wonderful and wild, others tinged with vulnerability or comedy. One woman passed out in my bed after two bottles of wine, requiring me to call a carer into the room to physically move her. I have dealt with assorted rebuttals and propositions that were hurtful, sensitive and sometimes just plain odd – trust me, I’ve seen it all – but overall most of my memories are good.

As I approach 40, I am single and dating – I believe I still have it within me to be with someone incredible and perhaps, one day, to be a father too.

I don’t know what happens next, but I look forward to finding out.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

Share your views in the comments below.

MORE: What can disabled people teach us about sex?

MORE: We might argue over ho to talk about disability but it’s a debate worth having

MORE: I refuse to be told that disabled people like me can’t have sex

Source: Read Full Article