Category Archives: Disability

Disability and desire

Martha explores how to feel loved when you find it impossible to love yourself

'You can't conduct healthy relationships when you don't truly believe that anyone could ever be in love with you'

‘You can’t conduct healthy relationships when you don’t truly believe that anyone could ever be in love with you’

by Martha Saunders

“So, we’re autistic” said the man on the screen, flatly. I played the clip over and over again, searching for the joke. “So, we’re autistic.” “So, we’re autistic.” The meme was a clip from the show The Undateables, and it had surfaced on my news feed because someone I’d recently hooked up with had liked it. I typed out various increasingly explicit formulations on the response “Undateable? that’s not what you said the other night” before deleting them and throwing my phone across the room, furiously wiping tears from my eyes and a warm wave of familiar self-disgust churning through my stomach.

Confession: the main reason I don’t tell anyone about being autistic is that it isn’t very sexy. Disability in all its forms is utterly desexualised in our society – autism particularly so, in part due to it’s inaccurate representation as something which primarily affects young children. Autistic characters don’t have sexual relationships unless their clumsy attempts at doing so are a source of comedy for neurotypical viewers. We are “undateable.”

Young autistic women exist in a strange and dangerous contradiction. Young women are taught their primary value is their sexual attractiveness; disabled people are constantly publicly desexualised. As a result, I spent much of my teenage life obsessively chasing something which would always be, by definition, just a little out of my reach.

No matter how hard I worked to look pretty enough, sound smart enough, deliver flirty and funny enough comebacks, something about me still felt inherently undesirable. I cut my hair a different way every few months and saved my school lunch money for fake nails, a rainbow of lipsticks and boxes of hair dye in bright red, peroxide blonde, jet black, pastel pink and chocolate brown, hoping that one day I’d hit on some magic combination of chemicals that erased what felt like a ugly, rotten core.

Like many young women who’ve always felt something was a little out of place, I was drawn to fourth-wave feminism’s mantra of self-love and body positivity like a moth to a bulb. But while I saw women around me flourish in these spaces, they weren’t what I was looking for. In fact, as a slim, white, blue-eyed blonde, I am slightly incongruous in them; women who look like me are already constantly validated as being physically attractive. My sense of inadequacy hadn’t been coming from my body; conversely, I realised, I had been using making my physical self look as good as possible in order to to compensate for the insecurity I felt about my disability. When your insides feel uglier than your outside, the concept of inner beauty just makes you feel worse.

If it were that easy

If it were that easy

It’s not hard to predict how this deep-rooted sense of undesirability can manifest in unhealthy relationships. While the logical, stridently feminist, #StrongIndependentWoman side of me knows to take no shit from creepy men who feel entitled to my body, there is a part of me, larger and more influential than I’d like to admit, which feels someone like me should be pathetically grateful for sexual or romantic attention. Even when it comes to full relationships, it’s still very difficult for me to separate genuine attraction to a man from intense gratitude at his interest in me. Whether it’s likes on a selfie or a series of incredibly inadvisable involvements with boys I should theoretically despise, I am constantly looking for ways to compile quantifiable proof that I am desirable.

Women with invisible disabilities struggle with sex and relationships in many different ways; some of us become terrified of engaging in sex or dating at all; some of us attempt to fill our deep sense of inadequacy with as many flings and one night stands as possible. Some of us become prime targets for abusive relationships due to our predisposition to self-doubt and our fear that nobody else will accept us; some of us hold partners at arms length or self-sabotage as quickly as possible, fearing that if anyone gets close enough to find out what we’re really like they will be repulsed and hurt us more.

It sounds like a cheesy platitude, but you can’t conduct healthy relationships when you don’t truly believe that anyone could ever be in love with you, and you can’t believe that anyone could be in love with you until you’ve learned to love yourself. It’s hard to do this when you’ve only ever seen people like you degraded and mocked for their efforts to feel wanted. A lot of the people cracking jokes about your disorder will have no idea how many brilliant, captivating, engaging disabled people they’ve been attracted to. If that makes you “undateable” to them? Their loss.

Complete Article HERE!

How a sex worker helps my wife and I maintain good sexual health

David Heckendorf and his wife Jenni on their wedding day.

David Heckendorf and his wife Jenni on their wedding day.

So, here we go. We are coming out to the nation. Jenni and I have sex with other people. There, it’s done.

But, lets wind back three decades and place this in context.

It is my first job after leaving school. I’m at the Sydney-based Spastic Centre’s sheltered workshop. It seemed very large to a pimply faced 17-year-old fresh from one of the centre’s two special schools. I found the morning tea and lunch breaks in the cafeteria particular daunting when I was one of about 300 wheelchair users trying to be served and assisted to eat before the bell rings to return to the factory floor.

I had seen Jenni at our hostel over the years and she carried an air of importance, with her father being on the board. I soon found her favourite table in the cafeteria. I would try to race to it each day hoping to sit next to her and, perhaps, share a support worker. The time spent together soon extended beyond the lunch table to include activities other than talking.

The mid-’80s in saw a change in the national disability policies from large residential facilities to much smaller group homes spread throughout communities. I was among the first to be de-institutionalised. While Jenni and I weren’t housed together she frequently visited.

After a long courtship, mostly by correspondence, we married on 1 December 1990 in the small university chapel at Armidale NSW, where I was fortunate enough to be accepted to study. Our Byron Bay honeymoon was so delightful that we returned the following year.

We moved to Canberra in search of employment after my degree and to work towards a second qualification. Together, Jenni and I had to survive a number of ‘homes’ that were less than ideal. One was at an Australian National University residence where the bedroom was so small we had to leave our wheelchairs in the public access hallway. In a later house, the bedrooms were not even big enough to accommodate our bed, so we used the living room as a bedroom.

Notwithstanding these challenges, we were doing remarkably well with support from ACT government-funded home care services. That was until September 1, 2008 when Jenni over-balanced transferring from the bed to her wheelchair. She landed awkwardly and broke bones in her left foot, which weren’t properly diagnosed or treated for several months.

This fall had long-lasting consequences on Jenni’s health generally and on our sex lives. Her prolonged and mostly unsuccessful recovery resulted in Jen having further reduced mobility in and out of bed. It meant we had to take extreme care not to touch or bump her foot. We had been fully independent in bed but after the fall the effort involved became too much. We tried different toys and different positions without joy.

Two years after the fall we were at a point where we had to make a decision to either give up on enjoying sex or to investigate the possibility of allowing a third person into our bed.

We were way too young to stop having sex.

Sex is important in most long-term relationships because it increases the pair-bonding by releasing the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin. There is also scientific evidence to suggest that sex has a range of health benefits associated with our immunity, heart, blood pressure, reduced risk of prostate cancer, pain and stress relief.

In early 2011 we arranged for sex worker, Joanne, to begin working with us. With each visit we had to remind ourselves that she wasn’t there to make ‘love’ to us. Rather, in the same way that our support staff ensure that we remain in good physical health – by showering, feeding, and dressing us – Joanne helps us to maintain good sexual health.

Also in 2011 we successfully approached the ACT government to extend the funding of our disability care support to cover these conjugal support services. In December 2015, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) agreed that, in our situation, a modest allowance for conjugal support service would be reasonable and necessary.

Jenni and I still enjoy doing a lot of activities together. For instance, we work out at the Spastic Centre’s (now the ‘Cerebral Palsy Alliance’) Canberra gym, challenge each other at online Yahtzee, visit our favourite local cafe for morning coffees, and cuddle up in front of our favourite television shows and movies.

Doubtlessly, sex is critical to all marriages. Our love for one another and shared history means sex is important for our marriage too. And, just as with other activities, we just need the right support to make this part of our life happen.

Complete Article HERE!

The film making us face the idea disabled people have sex

‘Yes We Fuck’ is an uncompromising look at the reality that disabled people have sex lives too. We caught up with director and disability activist Antonio Centeno to find out more


Yes We Fuck

As a society we’re becoming more accepting of sexuality in all its guises and forms – and rightly so. 2015 could be seen as the year when trans issues finally broke through into the mainstream after decades spent on the margins of society, while more and more women in particular are joining the sexually fluid revolution. And yet for all of our talk, there’s one conversation that we’re not having – about how disabled people have sex.

Spanish director and disability activist Antonio Centeno wants to tackle this prudishness head-on. His film Yes We Fuck (which is co-directed with Raúl de la Morena) is a no-holds barred look at the world of disabled sexuality, with uncompromising visuals (of people having sex) and a strong sense of moral purpose. Centeno shows human intimacy in all its forms, and what strikes you from watching the film is that the issues faced by disabled people when it comes to their sex lives aren’t so dissimilar to those faced by the rest of the population.

Watching the film, which recently showed at the British Film Institute’s Flare festival, at times makes for uncomfortable viewing. You’re discomfited by the fact that the sexuality depicted on our TVs and in popular culture almost uniformly represents one experience: that of heterosexual intimacy between two able-bodied, cis-gendered people.

Yes We Fuck is an uplifting, refreshing corrective to the narrative that disabled people are in some way sexless, made noble by the struggles they undergo to assimilate into a society that is in many ways ableist. The film isn’t perfect – sections are too long, and while Centeno wants to depict the reality of disabled people having sex, at times the camera lingers too long or in a way that feels intrusive. It’s clear that this is very much a passion project from the fledging director, and one which could perhaps have profited from tauter editing. Nonetheless, it’s rare to see a film which so profoundly makes you confront your own prejudices to recognize that we all of us share a common humanity and a common desire to express that humanity through the most natural act of all – the act of fucking, of course.

To find why we need to get on board with the fact that disabled people fuck like the rest of us, Dazed caught up with Centeno at the BFI. Below is the transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for flow and clarity.


Can you give us a bit of background as to why you made Yes We Fuck? Is this an issue that’s particularly close to home for you?

Antonio Centeno: By background I’m an activist and I’ve always advocated for helping disabled people, or those with functional diversity as we prefer to call them, to lead independent lives wherever possible. For us, this is a political issue. If we want people with functional diversity to have real lives – not merely to survive – then we need to be visible sexual beings. We need to break this infantilised image of us as children, to show that people with functional diversity are sexual beings, people who desire and are desired. So by giving them a sexuality, we politicise the issue.

You depict real-life intimacy in the film in a lot of detail. How did you get the participants to trust you?

Antonio Centeno: Many of the people in the film I’d met as activists throughout the years, so they trusted in me and what I was doing. And they understood that the film wasn’t just entertainment, but a political tool to help the change the realities of our society. I mean, of course it was difficult, to expose yourself and put your body out there. But it was only possible because of the trust I enjoyed from them, and the fact they understood what political message we were trying to put out.

What’s the reaction been like?

Antonio Centeno: In my native Spain and internationally there’s been a huge amount of interest and it’s generally been very well received. Some people find it too direct, maybe  there’s too much exposure, and some people thought there were some stories missing as well. But it’s been more difficult getting it out to a wider audience, outside of LGBT and specialist film festivals. And I think this reflects the way in which people with functional diversity live in our society. You know, we live away from the masses, from the general public. We live in ghettos. And by ghettos, I mean special residences, or with families that look after us. We go to special schools, because we have to. We work in special centres. So basically, we live in a parallel world, segregated from other people.

Would you like to see this segregation broken down so everyone is living side-by-side?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I’m not sure about ‘everyone’. I don’t like most people! [Laughs].

The title of the film is quite risque…

Antonio Centeno: In Spain, we have a motto which roughly translates as ‘Fuck as you live, and live as you fuck’. Which means that you can only have your own independent life if you have a sex life which is free, which is independent, which is rich. And you can only have a sex life that is free if you personally are free. If you have a free sex life, you can have a good life. You can fight for your freedom, for your independence. So the film is about how you can show, through sexuality, that people with functional diversity want to live like others, independently, not being cancelled out and made to delegate their decisions through family members or professionals.

What I found interesting about the film is that a lot of the sexual issues that people faced, like guilt or shame, are common to everyone, not just those with functional diversity.

Antonio Centeno: Well, our intention wasn’t just just to show weird people doing weird things. We wanted to deal with general issues, like desire, pleasure, our relationship with our bodies. But basically by focussing on this group of people with functional diversity, we produced this magnifying glass effect…I mean, the issues that they have aren’t so dissimilar from those the rest of the population have. But it’s just magnified in this group.

It’s historically very difficult to depict sex on film. Was this a concern for you? Wanting to show sexuality in a way that was honest without being gratuitous?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I want to start by saying that reality doesn’t exist, as such. We were constructing a reality. And that’s the powerful thing about porn, not that it represents reality but that it constructs reality. If we think about what people think about those with functional diversity, they think that we don’t have sex. So we wanted to put images in the heads of the viewers, so that those images were incompatible with the prejudices that they had.

Is there a danger that we risk sensationalising the issue?

Antonio Centeno: It’s a risk we take, definitely. But if the problem before was people with functional diversity being invisible, and now it’s us being sensationalised, that’s okay with me. For me, it’s important that we construct narratives which don’t just place people with functional diversity between two opposite poles. You know, we have the pariahs, the hopeless people, and then on the other end of the spectrum there’s the hero and it’s all very inspiring, but…I mean, no one actually believes that. It’s reductive. So there are lots of stories that have to be constructed in the middle about people with functional diversity. And that’s what I hope to do.

Complete Article HERE!

Off Limits? The Best Sexual Positions for People with Limited Mobility

Aging brings changes to our physical and emotional states. These changes can have both positive and negative affects when it comes to sexual intimacy. While it’s not a given that desire and frequency of sex decrease as we get older, it may be necessary to accommodate the limited mobility many of us experience over time. Painful joints, decreased flexibility, and physical disabilities can all contribute to restricted mobility. Rather than allow limited mobility to get in the way, we’ve provided illustrated positions to help you and your partner continue to be intimate. Remember that not all positions work for every individual or couple. Do what feels best for you and your partner and pay attention to any discomfort. Read on for our suggestions that appropriate for various conditions.

The Best Sexual Positions for People with Limited Mobility

Complete Article HERE!

Topping As A Disabled Person

By Lyric Seal


People are often surprised when I say that, for me, topping is more vulnerable than bottoming.

I remember going to a sex party with a bunch of other queer people of color, many of them sporting strap ons and saying that they weren’t interested in receiving penetration, but that they would gladly top, as that was an empowering, safer place for them. From multiple gender and racial standpoints, I deeply understand this, but it is not what my body knows. The reasons are even more complicated than perhaps I am ready to admit. But I am going to try.

Even now as I write this, I feel a welling up in my face, under cheek meeting eye. This is tear territory. I want to write you a ferocious little article, a tasty little piece, like me, but topping with a physically and visibly disabled body is a place of uncertainty and fear for me. Luckily, they say I’m brave.

When interviewed by .Mic  on the subject of being an “alt/disabled porn performer”, I was asked to speak on the issue of disabled people being desexualized by an ableist society. I told my interviewer that. as a disabled child, I was nonconsensually sexualized and yet also constantly infantilized by people around me. There are many disabled femmes (can I get an AMEN?) who know the complex plight of being a sexy baby in a lover’s or society’s eyes, whether or not we choose it.

Some identify with this; in my personal, intimate sexual life I have a Daddy. I love being topped. I love knowing I have someone wrapped around my finger. I love being taken care of. But I am not only this. I am an adult too.

I have choices. I have desire. And there is a fire in me.

When my own desire and agency tried to creep through the baleen-like filter through which I was understood by minds inside bodies not like mine–able bodied people fed on ableism with narrow understandings what my body was for–I felt like this hunger of mine was monstrous, too big for me to let out or in.

I know all too well that bottoming is not passive; even when we are touched against our will, it takes every fiber of one’s being to receive, or to not receive, psychically or physically. When I am bottoming, submitting, opening to my lover, there is that fire too, that hunger, that capacity for desire. Maybe it’s that I feel I can let loose when I am bottoming. I feel I can be a screaming hole. I feel I can be a possessed banshee. I feel I can be a taken siren/muse. When I trust what I am opening to, I can be so generous.

Perhaps it’s the performance I fear with topping. It reminds me more of dance than of song. It feels more visual. It seems it requires precision. It is only naked, or near a bed, or bench, or car, or miraculously accessible rooftop with all my clothes on, about to have sex with someone who wants me to top them, that I get such stage fright.

Socially, I’m a great top. As a wheelchair user, with a visibly disabled body in other other ways too, with the privileges of being neurotypical with a quick tongue, I learned to make speech my tool, my entry point, my point of connection and flirtation. I don’t even always know when I’m flirting; t’s my comfort place. I like to make people blush! Have since I was a teenager and all my friends were having sex with their boyfriends in private and I was having no sex but coming onto awkward boys in public

If I don’t think someone’s a charming top, I don’t like being hit on by them in an aggressive way. I’m particular about tops. I have the best one now already.

With switchy people, with subs, I’m all about the bait and switch. I’m all about the talking and dancing not leading to anything. I am hung up. I am scared. I have created a locus of control through my social interaction, in which you can view me as powerful for my words, my dancing on my own, my compliments, my insight, my tease. Physically, once we are touching, I am less confident of my abilities, or that my desire will be received, once someone feels/sees how awkward the form. What if I am too slow? Too imprecise? What if I stop for pain or discomfort?

I had a girlfriend once, who encouraged me to practice topping her, which was wonderful, and then she would embarrass me by telling new dates in front of me that I was a “big domme”. Proud parent with bad boundaries much?

It was like she was saying, EVERYONE! NEVE HAS A PERFORMANCE THEY WOULD LIKE TO SHARE! My partner, my daddy, actually does invite me to top him sometimes. And the practice is heart-altering. I become a more well-rounded me. Despite my Picasso body.

When you are learning the dance of how to top someone well, in the way they like, in the way you like it, it can take time and experimentation. It can take translation, modification. It can take making up a whole new way to move and relate to another body from scratch. Especially if you are physically disabled, if your partner is, if you both are.

I have been learning, slowly, that while there are tricks of the trade on how to top or dominate someone safely, there is no rulebook (thank goddess) on what it actually means to top someone. I am learning to take the time I need with my gimp body to top in a way that is true to me.

When you are learning a new dance, you begin slow. In fact, some bodies will only ever be able to replicate a dance slowly, and some do not replicate at all. Fuck replication. This is not to say that there are not disabled people who have topping on lock. I am not one of them! But I’m sassy as hell.

Complete Article HERE!