In March and April I had the amazing opportunity to write blog posts for Intimately – an accessible and inclusive underwear company. Both posts centred around sex with disability – the first about embracing one’s sexuality with a disability, and the second about navigating sex with disability.
This blog post is an extended cut of navigating sex with disability, however this post focuses more on practical tips to make sex as accessible as possible from the perspective and experience of myself; a young queer woman with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and comorbidities.
As someone with pelvic instability and hip dysplasia I have had experienced subluxations and regional pain in certain positions, and one thing which has been such a benefit has been using a memory foam cushion to help support my joints and help me maintain a certain position. However you can purchase special inflatable cushions or foam position wedges, along with a variety of different sex chairs – but they are pricey and certainly not an essential if you can find a way to improvise with what you have at home.
If you want to explore bondage during sex as someone with heightened skin sensitivity I can understand how metal and rigid leather can be intimidating, but I truly think it’s wise to start with soft restraints so you discover if it’s something for you, and if so it provides you a place to explore from this point if you so choose. Furthermore, soft restraints are widely accessible as many have velcro fastening or are made of stretchy materials – unlike products with metal hardware which often require fine motor motility to open and close. However if a sexual partner is able to support you to get in and out of the restraints then this shouldn’t be something to deter you.
If you wish to incorporate toys into a sexual experience, whether this is going solo or with a partner/s, there are a fair few bluetooth vibrators on the market, and other similar gadgets which can be operated with an app, which can be easier to control than by relying upon small buttons alone. Furthermore some of these brands allow your partner to control the toy from a long-distance, which can be very useful when you haven’t the energy or means to travel to see them. However, I am definitely aware that these products are typically expensive in comparison to a standard toy, and those of us living with chronic illnesses are less likely to be able to afford such products – so this of course isn’t a necessity; but definitely something to consider if you’re willing or able to invest.
One topic which I rarely see being brought up is how we can work to accommodate individuals with conditions such as vaginismus or vulvodynia in discussions surrounding accessibility and sex – therefore I certainly don’t want to exclude a population of people in a conversation about inclusive pleasure! External stimulation, such as manual or oral stimulation will be much more comfortable as penetration can be considerably painful for those with the condition. So vibrators for clitoral stimulation are definitely something to consider.
In contrast I like many individuals out there have suffered from a reduction in sensitivity due to long term use of anti-depressants (but of course the benefits vastly outweigh the down sides); and as a result this has affected sexual satisfaction. Although I did discover stimulating lubricants last year and after using a few which did nothing for me, I invested in the Durex climax gel (not sponsored but Durex if you’re creepin’ hit me up), and this makes a noticeable difference to my sensitivity – and I would certainly recommend that those experiencing this issue explore different types of stimulating lubricant.
I have personally never had tubes before as I haven’t needed them outside of a hospital environment. However, after discussing this topic with friends who have tubes (whether this be catheters or feeding tubes), they always mention the need to clip and tie back any tubes so there is no risk of tugging tubing or dislocating a port; which is understandably necessary. So if you are someone whose partner has tubes etc, ensure you have discussed how to properly support your partner’s needs in ways which will minimise risk.
Scheduling sexy time
Even though Hollywood likes to push the belief that sex should always be spontaneous, this just isn’t an accurate portrayal of the real world (surprise surprise!). Yes this may not be as impromptu and caught in the moment, but it’s also feel it to be an unhealthy and casually ableist view of sex. We need to prepare beforehand, manage our pain levels, rest, make sure it doesn’t interact with when we need to take our medication etc. However this doesn’t mean that your experience won’t be enjoyable or creative, if anything it leaves more time to think outside the box.
Ahh yes, napping. Who doesn’t love a good nap? Napping is essential to help manage my energy levels throughout a day as someone with ME/cfs, and if you and your partner have discussed the possibility for sex later on, then why not take a pre-sex nap together? Make it a couples activity!
Intimacy doesn’t need to involve sex but it’s such an important factor in a partnership. This can act as an opportunity to bond and help provide an intimate insight into how your conditions can be supported.
Supporting someone to conduct personal care tasks, such as bathing are very intimate, and in a relationship they can act as a bonding experience. As a chronically ill individual I absolutely refute the belief that supporting a disabled partner is unhealthy; it brought me closer to my past partners.
If you’re like me and battle with chronic pain and muscle spasms, massage may be a helpful pain-relieving activity and a relaxing exercise (which is the perfect opportunity to be mindful of your partner’s touch). Furthermore it helps provide your partner with an intimate insight into your pain, and helps make them feel like they can be of help in these situations.
I know that many individuals with conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and Hypermobile Spectrum Disorder, experience heightened skin sensitivity, so trigger points may make a physical contact uncomfortable or painful. I’ve personally found that by using delicate touch, it acts as both a distraction from regional pain, and still be a pleasurable experience. For example, ticklers – or using very light touch with fingertips or vibration.
Quarantine is a difficult time for us all, and the stress of modern day life has morphed into the stress of modern day life confined in the house – which is obviously hard for everyone; some more than others. Disabled folk are receiving calls from their care team to inform them they can no longer provide a service because of lack of PPE, risk of transmission, and staff shortages. This is just one example, but as mentioned it’s important to remember that some groups are at a higher risk of suffering mentally as a result of the virus.
If you are cohabitating with your partner(s) tensions may run a little high because of everything going on around us – and this is totally understandable; but it’s also not something we would choose to do; so I have found meditation to be a great tool to help alleviate stress, focus my mind, ground myself, and in doing so feel more connected to my environment, and the people around me.
Below is a video by ‘Yoga Mountain Retreats’ on Youtube – it seems like a highly accessible routine to follow along with at home.
In conclusion sex with disability is different because we’re different – our physical, emotional and sexual needs are all unique to us; but just because we’re disabled doesn’t mean we can’t have healthy and fulfilling sex lives – if we choose so!