One of the clients I found most challenging when I started as a sex coach was a delightful young woman with cerebral palsy. Let’s call her Rachel.
The challenge was threefold.
Firstly, there was a change in the normal way of setting up the contract. I was contacted not by her, but by one of her carers, who sent me an email, as Rachel couldn’t type. We set up a telephone call with the three of us (I’d normally have met up for a preliminary chat, but Rachel lived in Bolton, and I only visit the NW sporadically), and most of the conversation was with the carer, as Rachel seemed shy.
So, that was very unusual. Normally the contact is just with the client, and it felt weird to have another person involved.
Second, because I try my best to be scrupulous about what I offer and what we agree to do each session, I really prefer to meet. If that isn’t possible, I send a very detailed email outlining what we have discussed and agreed to do in the session. But here, my correspondent wasn’t my client but her carer, so I was concerned that I would be going into a session without clear agreement. What if her carer was doing something of her own bat, or was in some other way not acting in good faith?
And third, I was painfully aware that I hadn’t worked with a person with disabilities before, and I wouldn’t really know the extent of her disability until we met for our session.
In all of this, I was aware that I was reflecting some of the discomfort that our culture has with sex and disability. The assumptions, often completely unconscious, that we have, include:
- the unexamined idea that people with disabilities don’t have the same sexual needs as the rest of us
- then the related idea that, somehow, the disabled are like children, and so, by extension, anyone like myself seeking to address their sexual needs is akin to a pedophile
- and the strong idea that sexual matters should be private, and natural
Having at least some awareness of this reactivity, I tried to keep at the forefront of my mind, that I needed to see the person, not the disability.
Rachel had never had a sexual experience with a man, and this is what she wanted to explore. The people around her were overwhelmingly female. She had a lot of experience of being ‘done to’ but none of receiving pleasure collaboratively and in dialogue. So I decided that was where we would start.
I would have preferred if she had been able to make specific requests for our session, but as she didn’t – or, more probably, couldn’t. So I structured the session by asking her permission each step of the way. “Can I touch your face?” “What does that touch feel like?” “How could it be better?” “This is what firmer/softer/slower/faster feels like, which do you prefer?”, and so on. Sometimes, particularly for women, this dialogue can be annoying, as it can take them out of their felt experience, but here it felt absolutely the right thing to do.
It was necessarily slow, and in that slowness, a confident sexual person could gradually emerge.
It was a lovely session.
Where to go for sex and disability support
Rachel contacted me through a colleague in Liverpool who works with the Outsiders Trust (www.outsiders.org.uk). They do wonderful work for people with disabilities. They offer a Facebook Clubhouse, local meet-ups and lunches, group chats and a Sex and Disability Helpline. They also offer access to a wide range of therapists and workers in the sexual field. More power to them!