Sex workers offer intimacy and connection for disabled clients in the age of the dating app

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Oliver Morton-Evans visits sex workers as he says potential partners cannot see past his wheelchair.

By Sarah Matthews

Oliver Morton-Evans has sought the services of sex workers over the years, because dating can be especially tough for anyone with a disability.

Despite having tried “every dating app out there”, Oliver, 39, has never been in a long-term relationship.

The Sydneysider, now a successful tech entrepreneur, said despite looking for a partner ever since finishing high school, he has had no luck.

In the modern dating world, in which apps such as Tinder rely on appearance and snap judgements, Mr Morton-Evans said most people could not see past his wheelchair.

“It’s been really hard because I’m kind of always in a quandary of, ‘do I disclose my disability straight up or do I not?’,” he said.

“I kind of don’t want to, because although it’s a part of me it’s not all of who I am.

“The moment they see a wheelchair, people tend to create a story in their head of what that might mean.”

But he said visiting sex workers was not just about the physical pleasure.

“I have no shame or anything like that, but that’s just not what I most deeply desire,” he said.

“There’s so much more to sex than just the physical activity.”

Mr Morton-Evans said everybody needed the feel of human touch to feel connected.

Mr Morton-Evans said seeing sex workers provided him with the intimacy he craved in his everyday life, and motivated him to keep looking for a partner.

“I think for an able-bodied person they forget about how much, particularly touch for example … humans need touch to feel connected with others,” he said.

“So when I would see a sex worker, it tends to make me feel a lot more able to then go out and find the kind of relationship I want.”

People with disabilities seek intimacy from sex workers

Although often viewed as taboo, many people with disabilities seek the services of sex workers as an outlet for their sexual and intimate desires.

Brisbane escort Lisa said she regularly saw clients with disabilities and was proud to provide a service for people struggling to find intimacy in their everyday lives.

“I see this job as just an extension of the caring person that I am,” she said.

Brisbane escort Lisa says clients with disabilities may want affection or a chat, not always sex.

“Not everyone wants to have sex. They just want a bit of affection, or to chat to someone, all that sort of thing.

“It’s just me giving to the person what they need, and I feel that I’m doing a worthwhile job by helping other people.”

She said access to sexual services, especially for marginalised people, was vital for their health and wellbeing.

“It’s a genuine health issue,” she said.

“Like a baby needs affection, needs cuddles, needs touch, needs food, needs all these things [so too] an adult does.

“It doesn’t matter what age you are … it’s so basic of a human need.”

Noriel works as an escort and is the Cairns representative for Respect Inc, the Queensland sex worker support group.

She said she believed access to sex workers for people with disabilities should be covered under the NDIS.

Cairns escort Noriel believes access to sex workers for people with disabilities should be covered under the NDIS.

“Whether you are a wage-earner or you’re on any type of benefit from the government, you have a right to spend your money however you want,” she said.

“And if you would like to spend your money hiring the services of a sex worker, I think you should be able to do that.”

Social attitudes have harmful impacts

Counsellor and registered NDIS provider Casey Payne said it was a common misconception that people with disabilities were non-sexual.

“Just because you live with something that’s different to everybody else doesn’t mean that your life can’t still be the same in every aspect, especially in sexual health.

“Everybody deserves the right to have a pleasurable, sexual, healthy life.”

Deakin University Associate Professor in disability and inclusion Dr Patsie Frawley said research had found people with disabilities were disproportionately affected by breast and cervical cancer — but also by sexually transmitted infection (STI).

“If you’re not seen as sexual and as a sexual person, the range of sexual health screenings, sexual health prevention and response services won’t be offered to you,” she said.

“It’s been identified in research that men with an intellectual disability have eight times greater rates of STIs than their non-disabled peers.”

Sex worker with a disability challenges perceptions

Raivynn DarqueAngel has met the stereotypes of both sex workers and people with disabilities head on.

Raivynn has cerebral palsy and has worked in Melbourne’s sex industry for more than 20 years.

Raivyn, who has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair, has worked in Melbourne’s sex industry for more than 20 years, mostly as a dominant escort.

“I chose to be a dominant to … change perceptions,” she said.”

The submissive people that I see make me feel strong and in charge and I like that. I’ve taken it back home and I’m much more confident saying what I need with my support workers.

“It’s given me the confidence to trust that I’m worth my needs.”

Despite his disappointing dating experiences, Mr Morton-Evans insisted he had not given up on finding love.

He had one thing to say to potential partners: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Being paralyzed does not mean I can’t have sex…

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and six other myths about sex and disability debunked

Samantha Baines, Matt Tuckey and Shannon Murray debunk some of the biggest misconceptions they come across

By Poorna Bell

Despite pockets of progress, such as online fashion retailer ASOS recently releasing wheelchair-friendly clothing, there is a long way to go when it comes to representation of people with disabilities.

Ignorance abounds because of narrow depictions of living with a disability. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to sex.

To counter this, people such as disability awareness consultant Andrew Gurza are driving candid conversations about sex and sexuality. Andrew’s Disability After Dark podcast addresses all kinds of stories around disability and sex. Andrew, who has cerebral palsy, told the Huffington Post last year: “Whenever we talk about sex and disability ― if we dare ― it is in this painfully sanitised way that tends to tell you nothing about the person with a disability, their sex or what they actually want ― it doesn’t shed any light on how it really feels.”

Here, four men and women debunk some of the myths and misconceptions they encounter about sex and disability.

1: ‘Sex with a disabled person must be pretty boring’

Actress Shannon Murray, 41, who experienced a spinal cord injury when she was 14, tells misconceptions about sex and disability still come at her from all corners. “Just like any other human being, disabled people have desire. We want to be touched, to touch, to feel pleasure – why is that still such a ridiculous taboo? Why are intelligent people genuinely shocked when they learn that I have sex?

“If anything, I’d say some of my disabled friends are some of the more sexually adventurous and confident people I know. We have to be creative and find different techniques that work for us and spend every waking hour being adaptable to the environment around us.

“Sex is no different, though it’s much more fun.”

2: ‘I’m not a sexual being’

“There has been a real disservice done to disabled people by the mainstream media who have only told very one-dimensional stories,”  Shannon adds. “You see disabled men who use sex workers, or people who are frustrated and angry at their bodies.

“It can feel very marginalising; it’s all very woe is me. I think that suits the idea that non-disabled people have about our lives: that we’re asexual, incapable or it’s too complicated. However if you venture on to websites or publications aimed at a disabled audience you’ll see a much more rounded and interesting experience.”

3: ‘Being paralysed means I can only have sex missionary style’

Shannon says: “Some of the misconceptions I’ve faced is that I can’t have sex; that I am incapable of having sex; that I must be numb from the waist down; that because I’m paraplegic I can only have sex in the missionary position; that I can only have sex in my chair; that I can’t feel pleasure; that I can’t give pleasure; that orgasms are impossible and that I can’t have children. All of which are untrue.

“It’s also interesting how frequently strangers think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask me about my sex life within an hour of meeting me.”

4: ‘I must be shy in bed because I have a disability’

Far from it, says Joanne*, 51, a housewife who is profoundly deaf. “When I first started having sex, because I could not hear anything, the sounds I was making were extremely loud. I only found out because the man I was having sex with put his finger on his lips in a ‘sssh’ motion. I got really self-conscious – I mean, how loud was I?

“So I decided to record myself masturbating, and asked my best friend to listen to it. To my embarrassment she said I was very, very loud! I soon met my now-husband and our first sexual encounters were strained as I always stopped before things got to a point where I thought I would start getting ‘excited’.

“Finally, I decided to tell him and he laughed because he thought it was his fault and was relieved. In a sensitive way, he said he would always let me know if I was getting too loud and I’ve sort of trained myself to be less noisy.”

5: ‘My hearing aid must be a turn-off’

“I love sex and hearing aids don’t stop me from loving it,” says comedian Samantha Baines, 31, who acquired her disability at the age of 30. “I mean, I do need to take my hearing aid out before sex as they aren’t good with fluids – I don’t want to see my audiologist and explain how I got spunk in my hearing aid.

“Taking your hearing aid out isn’t a very sexy procedure when you are in the moment. It’s a bit like taking your socks off or peeing after sex – it just has to be done.”

@samanthabaines 

6: ‘It’s ok for disability to be treated as a sexual fetish’

Joanne says: “Growing up as a child I was made to wear hearing aids which really were of no benefit to me at all. When I used to go out I always was conscious of it and deliberately made sure that I wore my hair to cover them.

“When I got older, I looked just like any other woman, I just couldn’t hear. Except one guy I dated for a few months always wanted me to wear my hearing aids during sex. I think he found my deafness a turn-on which was strange.”

Shannon adds: “When the odd TV drama includes a story about disability and sex it is always negative or traumatic, or conversely our bodies are fetishised for the non-disabled gaze.

“People with disabilties are not curiosities, we are humans with wants, needs and desires. Treat us with the same respect you would any other person that you’re interested in. It’s really not rocket science.”

7: ‘You don’t look disabled so you don’t have to tell sexual partners about it’

“I’ve been guilty as anyone else of not seeing disabled people as sexual beings,” says Matt, “but I’ve realised keeping it hidden is so much harder than being honest about it. Around the time I was correctly diagnosed, I met someone in a club.

“After a couple of conversations over the next few days she started to realise that I had short term memory loss. For the first time I could be open with a woman about my memory difficulties, rather than pretending I’d just forgotten something as a one-off. Two weeks later, I’d lost my virginity to her.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Medically assisted sex? How ‘intimacy coaches’ offer sexual therapy for people with disabilities

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‘For me, the sex is obviously why I’m seeking this out, but I’m also seeking services like this out because … I feel the need to be touched, to be kissed,’ says Spencer Williams.

[F]or years, Spencer Williams felt he was missing something in his love life.

The 26-year-old Vancouver university student and freelance writer has cerebral palsy. He says he meets lots of potential sex partners but had trouble finding what he was looking for.

“I always refer to my wheelchair as it comes to dating … as a gigantic cock block,” he says. “It doesn’t always get me to the places I want, especially when it comes to being intimate.”

“I thought, if something didn’t happen now, I was going to die a virgin.”

So he Googled “sexual services for people with disabilities.”

That’s how Williams found Joslyn Nerdahl, a clinical sexologist and intimacy coach.

‘Intimacy coach’ Joslyn Nerdahl says sex can be healing.

“I answer a lot of anatomy questions. I answer a lot of questions about intercourse, about different ways that we might be able to help a client access their body,” says Nerdahl, who moved from traditional sex work to working as an intimacy coach with Vancouver-based Sensual Solutions.

“I believe [sex] can be very healing for people and so this was a really easy transition for me, to make helping people with physical disabilities feel more whole.”

Sensual Solutions is geared toward people with disabilities who want or need assistance when it comes to sex or sexuality. It can involve relationship coaching, sex education or more intimate services. They call the service “medically assisted sex.” It costs $225 for a one-hour session.

Nerdahl notes that some people with disabilities are touched often by care aids or loved ones who are assisting with everyday activities such as getting dressed or eating.  But her clients tell her that despite that frequent physical contact, the lack of “erotic touch” or “intimate touch” can leave them feeling isolated, depressed or even “less human.”

‘Help a client access their body’

Nerdahl says each session with a client is different, depending on the person’s level of comfort and experience, as well as his or her particular desires and physical capabilities.

Williams says his sessions might start with breathing exercises or physio and move on to touching, kissing and other activities.

An intimacy coach may help a client put on a condom or get into a certain position.

A session might also involve “body mapping,” Nerdahl says, describing it as “a process of going through different areas of the body, in different forms of touching, to figure out what you like and what you don’t like.”

Social stigma

Sex and sexual pleasure remains a taboo topic when it comes to people with disabilities.

For Williams, accessing this service is about more than sexual pleasure. But it’s about that, too.

“[T]he sex is obviously why I’m seeking this out, but I’m also seeking services like this out because I feel the need to be close. I feel the need to connect. I feel the need to be touched, to be kissed.”

“Sometimes people … offer to sleep with me as a pity, and I often don’t appreciate that. I want things to be organic and natural,” says Williams.

He much prefers his sessions with Nerdahl, in which he is able to explore physical and emotional intimacy in a non-judgmental and supportive setting, even though it’s something he pays money for.

“I think it freaks people out when we talk about sex and disability because most of the time they haven’t thought about that person in a wheelchair getting laid,” Nerdahl says. “They just assume they don’t have a sex life because they’re in a chair, and that’s just not the case.”

Legal grey area

The stigma is further complicated because Canada’s prostitution laws have no provisions for services that blur the line between rehabilitation and sex work.

Kyle Kirkup is critical of Canada’s current prostitution laws that criminalize the sex trade regardless of context or intent.

Currently, it’s legal to sell sex and sex-related services, but illegal to purchase them. (Sex workers can be charged for advertising services or soliciting services but only if in the vicinity of school grounds or daycare centres.)

Kyle Kirkup, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, calls the current laws a “one-size-fits-all approach” that criminalizes the sex trade regardless of context or intent.

The current law doesn’t include provisions for people with disabilities, or which deal specifically with services like Sensual Solutions whose intimacy coaches may come from clinical or rehabilitation backgrounds.

“A person with a disability who purchases sexual services would be treated exactly the same as any other person who purchased sex,” he says.

“So it’s a very kind of blunt instrument that doesn’t actually do a very good job of contextualizing the reasons why people might pay for sex.”

There are other countries, however, such as the Netherlands that view medically assisted sex in another way entirely; sex assistants’ services may be covered by benefits, just like physiotherapy or massage.

Complete Article HERE!

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Hot Wheels

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Name: Michael
Gender: Male
Age: 23
Location: Minneapolis
I’m a 23-year-old bisexual paraplegic. Hey ya have to be available for whatever comes your way when you’re in a chair, right? I got this way in a really stupid alcohol related diving accident three years ago. So OK, I fucked up.
I was just getting my groove on sexually before the accident, nothing serious, fooled around with my cousin Jack and got a severe case of blue balls with this chick, Amber, I used to date. Anyhow, I’m finding it hard to connect with guys or girls for a bit of fun so I thought I’d write you and ask for advice. By the way, the equipment still works, sort of.
I think most people think disabled people can’t have or don’t want sex. I would like to have a relationship with someone who doesn’t pity me, but is hot for me. I have this really developed upper body, like a gymnast, and people tell me I have a handsome face. That should be enough to get me laid, right? Is there such a thing as a wheelchair fetish?

[Y]ou’re a fuckin’ treasure, darlin’! I mean it. If you come across as upbeat, self-effacing, humorous, and sexy in person as you do in this message to me you shouldn’t have any problems getting laid. Ahhh, but of course, writing for online sex advice from a total stranger is probably a whole lot easier than wheeling up to another hot dude or sizzlin’ chick and suggesting a torrid session of the old slap and tickle; am I right?

Yet despite the inherent discomfort and difficulty of being that upfront, that’s precisely what is gonna get you laid. It’s all in the presentation Michael. Self-confidence and charm trumps disability every time. Unfortunately, many people think that “paralyzed from the waist down” means “there’s nothin’ goin on down there.” It’s your job to change their perception about that. Now, I’m not suggesting you be a dick about this. Just be your own sweet self and put it out there as natural as can be. You’re entitled to some good lovin’, just like the rest of us. And just like the rest of us, you’re gonna have to learn how to ask for what you want.

While I completely understand you’re not looking for a mercy fuck from someone who will take you out of pity. There may be a number of potential partners out there who’d jump your bones as a novelty…at least at first. I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at these folks if I were you. Because a novelty fuck is a teachable moment when you can show the benighted dude or chick what you can do.

If you see yourself as a sexual being and put out a sex-positive vibe, I am confident that you will connect with folks. Make eye contact and smile. If you’re leering at her tits or focused on his package, you’re objectifying a potential partner. You don’t want that to happen to you, so don’t do it to anyone else. Consider coming up with a few choice lines that’ll call attention to all the sexual things you can do. Like, “The old legs don’t work so good, but there’s nothing wrong with my mouth and tongue.” Get the picture?

As for wheelchair fetishists, they’re out there honey. Just like the amputee/devotee fetishists I’ve talked/written about. There are lots of amateur paraplegic porn sites. Just google that you’ll get an eye full. Just think, this could be the beginning of a whole new career move for you.

Do an internet search using the key words wheelchair fetish or wheelchair fetish sites. I did and found a couple of really amazing sites: gimpsgonewild.com and disabledsinglesdating.com/. Check ‘em out.

Just remember, each of us has one kind of disability or another, yours just happens to be really obvious.

Good Luck!

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Why Sex Education for Disabled People Is So Important

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“Just because a person has a disability does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals.”

 

By

“Sex and disability, disability and sex; the two words may seem incompatible,” Michael A. Rembis wrote in his 2009 paper on the social model of disabled sexuality. Though roughly 15% of adults around the world (that’s nearly one billion people), and over 20 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64 have a disability, when it comes to disability and sex, there’s a disconnect. People with disabilities often have rich and satisfying sex lives. So why are they frequently treated as though they are incapable of having sexual needs and desires, and are excluded from sexual health education curriculum?

According to Kehau Gunderson, the lead trainer and senior health educator at Health Connected, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comprehensive sexual health education programs throughout the state of California, the sexual health and safety of students with disabilities is often not prioritized because educators are more focused on other aspects of the students’ well-being. “Educators are thinking more about these students’ physical needs. They don’t see them as being sexual people with sexual needs and desires. They don’t see them as wanting relationships,” Gunderson told me when I met her and the rest of the Health Connected team at their office in Redwood City, California.

When I asked why students with disabilities have historically been excluded from sexual education, Jennifer Rogers, who also works as a health education specialist at Health Connected, chimed in. “In general, the topic of sex is something that is challenging for a lot of people to talk about. I think that aspect compounded with someone with specialized learning needs can be even more challenging if you’re not a teacher who’s really comfortable delivering this kind of material,” she said.

But it was the third health education specialist I spoke with, DeAnna Quan, who really hit the nail on the head: “I think sometimes it also has to do with not having the materials and having trouble adapting the materials as well. While people often just don’t see disabled people as being sexual beings, they are. And this is a population who really needs this information.”

The complete lack of sexual education in many schools for students with disabilities is particularly alarming given the fact that individuals with disabilities are at a much higher risk of sexual assault and abuse. In fact, children with disabilities are up to four times more likely to face abuse and women with disabilities are nearly 40% more likely to face abuse in adulthood. Yet students in special education classes are often denied the option to participate in sex education at all. When these students are included in mainstream health courses, the curriculum is often inaccessible.

Disability activist Anne Finger wrote, “Sexuality is often the source of our deepest pain. It’s easier for us to talk about and formulate strategies for changing discrimination in employment, education, and housing than to talk about our exclusion from sexuality and reproduction.” But as Robert McRuer wrote in Disabling Sex: Notes for a Crip Theory of Sexuality, “What if disability were sexy? And what if disabled people were understood to be both subjects and objects of a multiplicity of erotic desires and practices, both within and outside the parameters of heteronormative sexuality?”

When it comes to disability and sexuality, a large part of the issue lies in the fact that disabled people are so infrequently included in the decisions made about their bodies, their education, and their care. So what do people with disabilities wish they had learned in sex ed? This is what students and adults with disabilities said about their experience in sexual health courses and what they wish they had learned.

People with disabilities are not automatically asexual.

“The idea of people with disabilities as asexual beings who have no need for love, sex, or romantic relationships is ridiculous. However, it is one that has a stronghold in most people’s minds,” wrote disability activist Nidhi Goyal in her article, “Why Should Disability Spell the End of Romance?” That may be because disabled people are often seen as being innocent and childlike, one disabled activist said.

“As a society, we don’t talk about sex enough from a pleasure-based perspective. So much is focused on fertility and reproduction — and that’s not always something abled people think disabled people should or can do. We’re infantilized, stripped of our sexuality, and presumed to be non-sexual beings. Plenty of us are asexual, but plenty of us are very sexual as well, like me. Like anyone of any ability, we hit every spot on the spectrum from straight to gay, cis to trans, sexual to asexual, romantic to aromantic, and more.” Kirsten Schultz, a 29-year-old disabled, genderqueer, and pansexual health activist, sexuality educator, and writer, said via email.

Kirsten, who due to numerous chronic illnesses has lived with disability since she was five years old, was not exposed to information regarding her sexual health and bodily autonomy. “I dealt with sexual abuse from another child right after I fell ill, and this continued for years. I bring this up because my mother didn’t share a lot of sex ed stuff with me at home because of illness. This infantilization is not uncommon in the disability world, especially for kids,” she said.

Growing up in Oregon, Kirsten said she was homeschooled until the age of 13 and didn’t begin seeing medical professionals regularly until she turned 21. “This means all sexual education I learned until 13 was on my own, and from 13 to 21, it was all stuff I either sought out or was taught in school.” Schultz explained. But even what she learned about sex in school was limited. “School-based education, even in the liberal state of Oregon, where I grew up, was focused on sharing the potential negatives of sex — STIs, pregnancy, etc. Almost none of it was pleasure-based and it wasn’t accessible. Up until I was in college, the few positions I tried were all things I had seen in porn…AKA they weren’t comfortable or effective for me,” she added.

Internet safety matters, too.

While many disabled people are infantilized, others are often oversexualized. K Wheeler, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Washington, was only 12 the first time their photos were stolen off of the Internet and posted on websites fetishizing amputees. K, who was born with congenital amputation and identifies as demisexual, panromantic, and disabled, thinks this is something students with disabilities need to know about. “There’s a whole side of the Internet where people will seek out people with disabilities, friend them on Facebook, steal their photos, and use them on websites,” she said.

These groups of people who fetishize amputees are known as “amputee devotees.” K had heard of this fetish thanks to prior education from her mother, but not everyone knows how to keep themselves safe on the Internet. “This is something that people with disabilities need to know, that a person without a disability might not think of, ” K said.

K also believes more general Internet privacy information should also be discussed in sex ed courses. “In the technological age that we’re in, I feel like Internet privacy should be talked about,” they said. This includes things like consent and sending naked photos with a significant other if you’re under 18. “That is technically a crime. It’s not just parents saying ‘don’t do it because we don’t want you to.’ One or both of you could get in trouble legally,” K added.

Understanding what kinds of sexual protection to use.

Isaac Thomas, a 21-year-old student at Valencia College in Orlando, lives with a visual impairment and went to a high school that he said didn’t even offer sexual education courses. “I did go to a school for students with disabilities and, unfortunately, during my entire time there, there was never any type of sexual education class,” he said.

And Isaac noted that sexual awareness plays a large role in protection. “They should understand that just because a person has a disability, does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals. It’s even more important that they teach sex education to people that have disabilities so they’re not taken advantage of in any kind of sexual way. If anything, it should be taught even more among the disabled community. Ignoring this problem will not make it go away. If this problem is not addressed, it will increase,” Isaac said.

Before entering college, Isaac said he wishes he had received more information about condoms. “I wish I had learned what types of condoms are best for protection. I should’ve also learned the best type of contraceptive pills to have in case unplanned sexual activity happens with friends or coworkers.”

Body image matters.

Nicole Tencic, a 23-year-old senior at Molloy College in New York, who is disabled, fine-motor challenged, and hearing impaired, believes in the importance of exploring and promoting positive body image for all bodies. Nicole, who became disabled at the age of six after undergoing high-dose chemotherapy, struggled to accept herself and her disability. “I became disabled when I was old enough to distinguish that something was wrong. I was very self-conscience. Accepting my disability was hard for me and emotionally disturbing,” she shared. “I was always concerned about what other people thought of me, and I was always very shy and quiet.”

It was when she entered college that Nicole really came to accept her body, embrace her sexuality, and develop an interest in dating. “I had my first boyfriend at 21. The reason I waited so long to date is because I needed to accept myself and my differences before I cared for anyone else. I couldn’t allow myself to bring someone into my life if I was unaccepting of myself, and if I did, I would be selfish because I would be more concerned about myself,” Nicole said. She also recognized the fact that while sexuality and disability are separate topics that need to be addressed differently, they can impact each other. “Disability may influence sexuality in terms of what you like and dislike, and can and cannot do,” but overall, “one’s sexuality does not have to do with one’s disability,” she clarified.

It’s important to make sex ed inclusive to multi-marginalized populations.

Dominick Evans, a queer and transgender man living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, various chronic health disabilities, and OCD, believes in the importance of sexual education stretching beyond the cisgender, heteronormative perspective. He also understands the dangers associated with being a member of a marginalized group. “The more marginalized you are, the less safe you are when it comes to sex,” he said in an email.

Dominick, who works as a filmmaker, writer, and media and entertainment advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, has even developed policy ideas related to increased inclusion for students with disabilities — especially LGBTQ students with disabilities. “These students are at higher risk of sexual assault and rape, STIs like HIV, unplanned pregnancies, and manipulation in sexual situations,” Dominick said. “Since disabled LGBTQIA students do not have access to sexual education, sometimes at all, let alone education that makes sense for their bodies and sexual orientation, it makes sense the rates for disabled people when it comes to sexual assault and STIs are so much higher.”

According to Dominick, the fact that many disabled students are denied access to sexual health curriculum is at the root of the problem. “When it comes to disparities in the numbers of sexual assault, rape, STIs, etc. for all disabled students, not having access to sexual education is part of the problem. We know this is specifically linked to lack of sex ed, which is why sex ed must begin addressing these disparities.”

So what does Dominick have in mind in terms of educational policies to help improve this issue? “The curriculum would highlight teaching students how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, STI and pregnancy prevention campaigns geared specifically at all disabled and LGBTQIA youth, ensuring IEPs (individualized education programs) cover sex ed inclusion strategies, access to information about sexuality and gender identity, and additional education to address disparities that affect disabled LGBTQIA students who are people of color.”

Understanding power dynamics and consent.

It’s important to understand the power dynamic that often exists between people with disabilities and their caretakers. Many people with disabilities rely on their caretakers to perform basic tasks, like getting ready in the morning. Women with disabilities are 40% more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to non-disabled women. This includes sexual, emotional, financial, and physical abuse, as well as neglect. For this reason, women with disabilities are less likely to report their abusers.

“Sometimes they’re more likely to think ‘this is the only relationship I can get,’ so they’re more likely to stay in these abusive relationships or have less access to even pursue courses of action to get out of the relationship. Especially if there is dependence on their partner in some way,” said K.

Dominick agreed. “Many of us often grow up believing we may not even be able to have sexual relationships. We often grow up believing our bodies are disgusting and there is something wrong with them,” he said. “So, when someone, especially someone with some type of power over us like a teacher or caregiver, shows us sexual attention and we believe we don’t deserve anything better or will never have the opportunity for sex again, it is easy to see why some disabled people are able to be manipulated or harmed in sexual situations.”

Dominick said this ideology led to his first sexual experience. “I probably should not have been having sex because I lost [my virginity] believing I had to take whatever opportunities I received,” he said, before going on to acknowledge the falsehood in these assumptions. “I’ve had many other relationships since then, and my last partner, I’ve been with for 15 years.”

But when it comes to disability, consent can be tricky. Some disabilities make communication a challenge. The lack of sexual education for many developmentally disabled students means they often don’t understand the concept of consent.

People with disabilities are more at risk for sexual exploitation and abuse.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, children with disabilities also face a much higher risk of abuse. In 2009, 11% of all child abuse victims had a behavioral, cognitive, or physical disability. In fact, when compared to non-disabled children, children with disabilities are twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused. Those living with developmental disabilities are anywhere from 4 to 10 times more likely to face abuse.

Deni Fraser, the assistant principal at the Lavelle School for the Blind, a school in New York City dedicated to teaching students with visual impairment and developmental disabilities, believes it’s important for all students to understand the importance of boundaries, both other people’s and their own. Many students at the school, who range in age from 2 to 21, also have co-morbid diagnoses, making the students’ needs varied.

“It’s important for our students to know that we want them to be safe at all times,” Fraser said. “Letting them know what’s appropriate touch, not only them touching others, but other people touching them; saying things to them; for people not taking advantage of them; knowing who is safe to talk to and who is safe to be in your personal space; if there’s anything going on with your body, who would be the appropriate person to talk to; not sharing private information — so what is privacy; and the importance of understanding safe strangers, like doctors, versus non-safe strangers.”

The portrayal of disabled bodies matters.

The media also plays a part in perpetuating the idea that individuals with disabilities do not have sex. Sexuality is often viewed as unnatural for individuals with disabilities, and many disabled students internalize that. “Even Tyrion Lannister, one of the most sexual disabled characters on television, usually has to pay for sex, and even he was horribly deceived the first time he had a sexual experience,” Dominick noted. “If the media is not even saying sex is normal or natural for disabled people, and sex education is not inclusive, then often disabled people are having to learn about and understand sex on their own,” he added.

Many students with disabilities also want to see their bodies reflected in sexual education materials. “Part of the curriculum at a lot of different schools includes showing some level of video,” K said. But including a person with a visible physical disability in these videos would go a long way in helping to shatter the stigma surrounding sex and disability, she said. According to K, this would help people understand that sex isn’t only for able-bodied people.

People with disabilities make up a large part of the population. They’re the one minority group any person can become a part of at any time. Therefore, incorporating disability-related information into sexual education curriculum not only benefits students who are already disabled, but it can help students who, at some point in their lives, will experience disability. Embracing an inclusive approach and keeping bias out of the classroom would help raise awareness, create empathy, and celebrate diversity. By listening to disabled voices, we can work toward a society that values inclusivity.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Rethink Intimacy When ‘Regular’ Sex Hurts

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There’s no rule that says sex has to be penetrative.

By Breena Kerr

[W]hen sex hurts, women often feel alone—but they’re not. About 30 percent of women report pain during vaginal intercourse, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine which surveyed a subsample of 1,738 women and men ages 18 and older online.

Awareness of painful vaginal sex—sometimes lumped under the term Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD)—has grown as more women talk about their experiences and more medical professionals start to listen.

Many conditions are associated with FSD, including vulvodynia (chronic vulva pain), vestibulodynia (chronic pain around the opening of the vagina), and vaginismus (cramping and tightness around the opening of the vagina). But they all have one thing in common: vaginal or vulval pain that can make penetrative sex anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to physically impossible. However, you can absolutely still have sex, which we’ll get to in a minute.

First and most important, if you are experiencing any type of genital pain, talk to your doctor.

There’s no reason to suffer in silence, even if it seems awkward or embarrassing or scary. Your gynecologist has heard it all and can help (or they can refer you to someone who can). The International Pelvic Pain Society has great resources for finding a licensed health care provider who specializes in genital pain.

“We don’t yet know why women get vestibulodynia or vulvodynia,” Kayna Cassard, M.A., M.F.T., a psychotherapist who specializes in vaginismus and other pelvic pain issues, tells SELF. “[There can be] many traumas, physical and psychological, that become internalized and add to vaginal pain. Women’s pain isn’t just ‘in their heads,’ ” Cassard says.

This kind of pain can affect anyone—regardless of sexual orientation or relationship status—but it can be particularly difficult for someone who mostly engages in penetrative sex with their partner. The important thing to remember is that you have options.

Sex does not have to revolve around penetration.

Hell, it doesn’t even need to include it. And for a lot of people, it doesn’t. Obviously, if P-in-V sex is what you and your partner are used to, it can be intimidating to consider redefining what sex means to you. But above all, sex should be pleasurable.

“The first thing to do is expand what ‘counts’ as sex,” sex educator and Girl Sex 101 author Allison Moon tells SELF. “Many people in heterosexual relationships consider only penis-in-vagina to count as sex, and everything else is some form of foreplay,” she says. But sex can include (or not include) whatever two consensual people decide on: oral sex, genital massage, mutual masturbation, whatever you’re into.

“If you only allow yourself one form of sex to count as the real deal, you may feel broken for enjoying, or preferring, other kinds of touch,” Moon says.

To minimize pain, give yourself time to prepare physically and mentally for sex.

That might sound like a lot of prep work, but it’s really about making sure you’re in the right mindset, that you’re relaxed, and that you’re giving your body time to warm up.

Heather S. Howard, Ph.D., a certified sexologist and founder of the Center for Sexual Health and Rehabilitation in San Francisco, publishes free guides that help women prepare physically and mentally for sex. She tells SELF that stretching and massaging, including massaging your vaginal muscles, is especially helpful for women with muscle tightness. (Too much stretching, though, is a bad idea for women with sensitive vaginal skin that’s prone to tearing.)

Starting with nonsexual touch is key, as Elizabeth Akincilar-Rummer, M.S.P.T., president and cofounder of the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco, tells SELF. This puts the emphasis on relaxation so you don’t feel pressured to rush arousal.

Inserting a cool or warm stainless steel dilator (or a homemade version created with water and a popsicle mold) can also help reduce pain, Howard says. Women can tailor the size and shape to whatever is comfortable. If a wand or dilator is painful, however, a cool cloth or warm bath can feel soothing instead. Again, do what feels good to you and doesn’t cause pain.

Several studies have shown that arousal may increase your threshold for pain tolerance (not to mention it makes sex more enjoyable). So don’t skimp on whatever step is most arousing for you. That might mean some solo stimulation, playing sexy music, dressing up, reading an erotic story, watching porn, etc.

And of course, don’t forget lubrication. Lube is the first line of defense when sex hurts. Water-based lubricant is typically the safest for sensitive skin. It’s also the easiest to clean and won’t stain your clothes or sheets. Extra lubrication will make the vagina less prone to irritation, infections, and skin tears, according to Howard. But some people may also be irritated by the ingredients in lube, so if you need a recommendation, ask your gynecologist.

Now it’s time figure out what feels good.

Women with pain often know what feels bad. But Howard says it’s important for them to remember what feels good, too. “Lots of people aren’t asking, ‘What feels good?’ So I ask women to set what their pleasure scale is, along with their pain scale. I ask them to develop a tolerance for pleasure.”

To explore what feels good, partners can try an exercise where they rate touch. They set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and ask their partner to touch them in different ways on different parts of their body. Sex partners can experiment with location, pressure, and touch type (using their fingertips, nails, breath, etc.) and change it up every 30 seconds. With every different touch, women should say a number from 0 to 10 that reflects how good the touch feels, with 10 being, “This feels amazing!” and 0 meaning, “I don’t like this particular kind of touch.” This allows women to feel a sense of ownership and control over the sensations, Howard says.

Another option is experimenting with different sensations. Think tickling, wax dripping, spanking, and flogging. Or if they prefer lighter touch, feathers, fingers, hair, or fabric on skin are good options. Some women with chronic pain may actually find it empowering to play with intense sensations (like hot wax) and eroticize them in a way that gives them control, according to Howard. But other women may need extremely light touch, she says, since chronic pain can lower some people’s general pain tolerance.

Masturbating together can also be an empowering way for you to show a partner how you like to be touched. And it can involve the entire body, not just genitals, Akincilar-Rummer says. It’s also a safe way for you to experience sexual play with a partner, when you aren’t quite ready to be touched by another person. For voyeurs and exhibitionists, it can be fun for one person to masturbate while the other person watches. Or, for a more intimate experience, partners can hold and kiss each other while they masturbate. It feels intimate while still allowing control over genital sensations.

If clitoral stimulation doesn’t hurt, feel free to just stick with that.

It’s worth noting that the majority of women need direct clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm, Maureen Whelihan, M.D., an ob/gyn in West Palm Beach, Florida, tells SELF. Stimulating the clit is often the most direct route to arousal and climax and requires no penetration.

Some women won’t be able to tolerate clitoral stimulation, especially if their pain is linked to the pudendal nerve, which can affect sensations in the clitoris, mons pubis, vulva, vagina, and labia, according to Howard and Akincilar-Rummer. For that reason, vibrators may be right for some women and wrong for others. “Many women with pelvic pain can irritate the pelvic nerve with vibrators,” says Akincilar-Rummer. “But if it’s their go-to, that’s usually fine. I just tell them to be cautious.”

For women with pain from a different source, like muscle tightness, vibrators may actually help them become less sensitive to pain. “Muscular pain can actually calm down with a vibrator,” Howard says. Sex and relationship coach Charlie Glickman, Ph.D., tells SELF that putting a vibrator in a pillow and straddling it may decrease the amount of direct vibration.

Above all else, remember that sexual play should be fun, pleasurable, and consensual—but it doesn’t need to be penetrative. There’s no need to do anything that makes you uncomfortable physically or emotionally or worsens your genital pain.

Complete Article HERE!

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Yes, I use a wheelchair and I still have sex

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Comedienne Romina Puma dispels some of the most common misconceptions around disabilities

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[D]isability and sex are two words that, for some reason in our society, do not go together. Most people assume that if you’re disabled, sex is not part of your life. Many find it hard to believe that disabled people date, have relationships or even like to have one-night stands

I’m a comedian who has muscular dystrophy. I’m nearly 40 and, while dating can be difficult for everyone, if you’re disabled, it makes it even harder – trust me. I haven’t been disabled all my life though. Ten years ago I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle wasting condition.

I am not your personal Wikipedia/Google, I have feelings.

My sex life before my diagnosis was good. I always seemed to have boyfriends on the go or be having fun with men. I’m not the most beautiful girl, but I know how to seduce a guy, which helps when you are not exactly a Victoria Secret type.

Before I became a full-time wheelchair user, I used to go out on crutches and it was still possible for me to hide the condition and get lucky. But all of a sudden, about three years ago, my condition got worse and I couldn’t walk anymore. Everything changed. Since I have been using a wheelchair, my dating experiences have become a lot less frequent.

Guys ask me all manner of questions – some I don’t mind, but others can take it a step too far. They all want to know…

“Can you have sex?”

This is a common misconception. Most people only think about sex in terms of penetration. How wrong they are. There are so many other ways to reach that goal by exploring each other’s bodies – the pleasure can be so much more. However, the answer is yes, I can and do have sex!

“Can you feel anything?”
Yes, I can! I understand that most people believe the equation: wheelchair user = paralysed = cannot feel anything. But this assumption is wrong, for at least two reasons. One is, if you see someone in a wheelchair, it does not necessarily mean that person is paralysed. Second, there are many bases to explore when having sex. It’s not only about penetration! And toys can also help.

Then we have the strange requests…

“Will you bring your wheelchair?”
No, I just use it for fun and because I’m lazy! Some time ago, I used a profile picture of me sitting sideways on my wheelchair for an online dating website. Aside from not having much luck, one guy asked me if the wheelchair was a prop. After that, I deleted my account. No point staying on that site anymore.

“How long do your batteries last?”
Longer than most men in the bedroom!

“If we have sex, will I get your disease / impairment?”<
Well, Muscular Dystrophy is genetic so no you can’t catch it.

It’s time to #EndTheAwkward

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about disability out there. I think it’s always best to ask a person about their impairment, as long as you aren’t being offensive. Most disabled people prefer to talk about it rather than let things be awkward. But it can be very hurtful when your dream guy asks you all those questions and then they disappear. I am not your personal Wikipedia/Google, I have feelings.

I am part of Scope’s #EndtheAwkward campaign which raises awareness about how awkward the nation is when it comes to disability. Most recently I contributed to the charity’s A to Z of sex and disability . Research by the charity revealed that the majority (67%) of Brits feel awkward around disabled people, and as a result they panic, or worse, they avoid contact altogether. They also discovered that only 5% of people who aren’t disabled have ever asked out, or been on a date with, a disabled person. I really do hope campaigns like this will encourage people to see the person and not their impairment, and will help everyone feel less awkward around disabled people.

67% of Brits feel awkward around disabled people

It’s frustrating that most people cannot see passed my wheelchair. I have not changed. I am exactly the same person I was before I started using it. I just get tired way more than I did 10 years ago. In my stand-up shows as a comedienne, I try and change people’s perceptions on sex and disability as much as I can. I’m still waiting for someone in the audience to help me try all the positions in the Kama Sutra but can you believe it – I haven’t had any takers yet!

So I’ve now come up with a plan B – masturbation and sex toys. If guys don’t want me anymore what can I do? I still need to have sex. For me having sex is the best thing ever. It makes me feel better and more confident. Two years ago, I bought my first toy; a very basic rabbit. After that, I tried several other toys, until I finally found the right one for me. Believe me, so far I can easily survive without men. Better to be alone than with someone who does not appreciate me for who I am!

Complete Article HERE!

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‘Why won’t you have sex with me?’ A real look at disability and relationships

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Louise Bruton’s Dublin Fringe Festival show examines our ignorance and prejudices, and takes a real look at disability, sex and relationships

Louise Bruton: ‘We all have our dry spells. We all get heartbroken . . . all the emotional things, they’re all similar to everybody else.’

Louise Bruton is on her way to buy Buckfast ahead of a visit to a friend’s festival on Inishturk island. Standard. Bruton is a writer and journalist who rose to prominence with her website Legless In Dublin (leglessindublin.com) detailing accessibility issues and reviews of venues and events. As a wheelchair user, she has managed to harness a way of communicating that undercuts preconceptions, prejudices and presumptions.

Bruton is blunt and hilarious. A pinned tweet on her Twitter account is a series of photos of her hugging and dancing with Grace Jones.

But there are also rage-inducing snippets of the reality of being a wheelchair user. Sample line: “Last one on the train in Heuston. Not a staff member or ramp in sight. Doors have been closed again. Guess I live here now.” Hard to stomach, but so necessary. Bruton calls this ridiculousness out.

It’s a meditation on disability, sex, relationships, and the misconceptions of non-disabled people hold about the sex lives of disabled people

Her latest project is a show for the Dublin Fringe Festival, excellently titled Why Won’t You Have Sex With Me?, which plays September 8th-11th at the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar, Dublin. It’s a meditation on disability, sex, relationships, and the misconceptions of non-disabled people hold about the sex lives of disabled people.

In the show, she’ll talk to the audience – “there will be a lot of interaction with visuals” – and it will also deal with sex and relationships in general.

Bruton hopes that people might leave the show checking themselves a little, wondering if they’ve ever been that person who has figuratively (or literally) “patted someone on the head, or spoken about them in front of them.”

The Fringe show is also inspired by how the media attempts to tap into the “issue” of sex and disability.

A while ago, after the Guardian ran a piece about disabled people and sex – something Bruton identifies as an “evergreen”, annual story – a couple of journalists from Irish outlets contacted her asking if she would be up for discussing the “stigma” associated with having sex with a disabled person.

We all have our dry spells. We all get heartbroken . . . all the emotional things, they’re all similar to everybody else

“That came in as a very loaded question,” Bruton says, “assuming that there is a stigma. And if there is a stigma, I’m unaware of it. I think it’s pretty unfair to blame anything going on in your love life purely on the fact of a disability. I think that kind of erases everything else about you.”

Bruton sees that story as just another entry point for discussing other people’s relationships and sex lives. Those kinds of articles, she thinks, feel like they use disability as leverage for voyeurism, “I just think it’s a really lazy way to be kind of a pervert about it!”

“We all go through the feast or famine spells when it comes to sex and dating. That’s something that applies to everyone. In the week those journalists contacted me – what if I was going through the famine time? Do I tell them that? ‘Nothing’s happening for me right now, I’m in the famine stages!’ It’s challenging that, pointing out how ridiculous those articles are. They’re done on an annual basis. There’s no evidence to support that our love lives are any different just because we’re disabled.”

“The way this is framed in the media,” Bruton says, “is that if you’re disabled and you’re not having sex, you’re going to die alone, and if you’re disabled and you are having sex, then you’re some sort of a freak or a fetishist.

“You’re put in these two categories, whereas I’m like ‘we’re the same as everybody else’. We all have our dry spells. We all get heartbroken . . . all the emotional things, they’re all similar to everybody else. The elements that do make it different or difficult, have been created by non-disabled people.

“That is the physical structure of society, where we don’t get into every single pub with everybody else in it, or nightclubs that everybody else is in. There’s also the fact that non-disabled people have a very wrong and archaic view of disabled people. They’re looking at us as if we’re completely different, whereas we go through the exact emotions as everybody else.”

Bruton is the type of person who is up the front at gigs, and when she arrives at parties, the energy in the room fizzes. Her busy social life creates the opportunity for a lot of encounters.

“People will come up to me anyway, because I’m in a wheelchair, and they’ll be like, ‘what happened you?’ And I don’t really want to go into my entire personal history and tell them, because it’s none of their business. I know a lot of my male friends who are in wheelchairs, a lot of people come up to them and very specifically ask them does their penis work.

There’s a manipulative attitude that people have towards disabled people

“I didn’t realise how bad it was for guys. That’s just not what you ask anybody. That is such a juvenile thing, firstly, and it’s just really rude as well.

“It seems to be that men are put on the spot in a much more invasive way,” she says. “People I know who are disabled and are in relationships, they have mentioned times where they’ve felt unsure if their partner is comfortable with them being disabled, and that has gone on for years.”

Bruton says that there seems to be a general feeling that disabled people “should ‘take what you can get’” when it comes to sex and relationships.

“There’s a manipulative attitude that people have towards disabled people – ‘you’re lucky to be getting anyone at all’ – and if you’ve any relationship issues, it’s like ‘you should be glad they’re going out with you’. It might create this fear that they [disabled people] mightn’t have many options so they might have to ‘settle’. Nobody should ever feel that settling is an option.”

A non-disabled person Bruton interviewed as research for the show said that if they ended a relationship with a disabled person, they would be afraid it would be because of the disability, and not a personality clash. “There’s a lot of double takes going on in people’s minds,” Bruton says, “you really are questioning how things are being perceived by other people.”

The superficiality of online dating causes issues, Bruton says. “Because the way that dating has changed – because online dating is such a big part of it now – there is a superficial element to dating now more than ever. You’re basing things on three photos and one sentence that describes your entire life.

“I’m hesitant in the online world . . . I don’t shy away from having my wheelchair in photos. The guys are immediately like ‘why are you in a wheelchair? What happened you?’ There’s no way to brush that off politely. I’ve tried.

“In real life you can say ‘oh I’ll tell you another time!’, but in a message on your phone, they find that rude, or don’t know what to say next.”

If you’re so concerned with taking advantage of someone with a disability, you should be concerned about taking advantage of all other people

As part of the making of the show, Bruton interviewed non-disabled people about disabled people, sex and dating. One word kept repeating. “The word ‘vulnerable’ came up a lot,” Bruton explains. “This is mostly men who said this. Men felt that if they were to date or have sex with a woman with a disability or a man with a disability, they would somehow be taking advantage of a vulnerable person.

“So that goes back to that old-fashioned idea of disability that we weren’t in the same schools, we were sent away to homes to live and be looked after. That idea stuck with people…

“We’re no more vulnerable than the next person. Of course there are different levels to disability. But generally, if you’re so concerned with taking advantage of someone with a disability, you should be concerned about taking advantage of all other people. There’s a lot of hypocrisy with it.”

Something that has been said to Bruton has been the idea that, “‘it takes a very special person to go out with someone who has a disability’.

“The way I interpret that, is that means you have to be a carer almost, instead of being a boyfriend or a girlfriend. I think that’s at the back of people’s minds – they think they’re going to have to look after the person, rather than just spending time with them.”

I think a lot of people see relationships as a status thing

Regarding her own experiences, a not exactly infrequent one is strangers inviting themselves to discuss aspects of her personal life with her – asking if a friend is a boyfriend, or manufacturing a love story out of nowhere. “A lot of people go straight into asking if you’re in a relationship. I think a lot of people see relationships as a status thing, that you can only be truly accepted if you’re loved in that way.”

When Bruton was on crutches before using a wheelchair, she sometimes experienced guys freaking out and backing away when they realised she didn’t just have a sprained ankle or a sports injury. “Maybe they thought I was lying to them or something. Like I was tricking them. That was the vibe I got, that I had lied to them to get their attention.”

At this point, she realises there is an advantage to being able to identify such shallowness from the get-go. It’s like an extra layer of insight to character judgement that non-disabled people may not have, “It’s a really key indicator. Someone else, it could take them a few months to find out if they’re an asshole or not, but I can find out in a second.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Big Bowel Blues

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Name: Perth Guy
Gender:
Age: 50
Location: Perth Australia
Hey Dr Dick,
I am going to have surgery to fix Diverticular Disease by removal of the sigmoid colon, which may result in a temp or perm stoma (Colostomy). If it’s a permanent colostomy bag I know they basically remove your rectum, so no more anal sex. If it’s a temp stoma/colostomy bag can you still have anal sex? (whilst you rectum is “disconnected from the colon) If they are able to reverse it later and connect the transverse colon to the rectum is it still possible to have anal sex? I don’t know who to ask this very strange question – its not a question you can ask around ” do you have a colostomy – do you have anal sex?”

[H]ey thanks for your message, Perth Guy. Sorry to hear you’re feeling poorly. For those of us unfamiliar with diverticular (say: die-ver-tick-yoo-ler) disease, it affects the large intestine, or colon. It’s caused by small pouches that form, usually on the wall of the last part of the large intestine — the sigmoid colon. These pouches are called diverticula, don’t ‘cha know.

The terms ostomy and stoma are general descriptive terms that are often used interchangeably though they have different meanings. An ostomy refers to the surgically created opening in the body for the discharge of body wastes. A stoma is the actual end of the small or large bowel that is arranged to protrude through the abdominal wall.

I know it’s difficult to find helpful information about sexual concerns, like butt fucking, when facing a radical and disfiguring medical procedure like a colostomy. Our culture has such difficulty talking about sex even as it applies to healthy folks, it’s no wonder we fail those of us who are sick, maimed, or disabled. I did, however, find a resource for you, Colostomy Pen Pals. http://www.ostomy.evansville.net/ocncolostomy.htm

I suspect that you’ll not readily find the specific information about anal sex that you are looking for on that site. But here’s where you can do yourself and all your fellow ostomy patients a good turn. I want you to march right over to Colostomy Pen Pals and any other ostomy resource you might find online and just come out with it. Just like you did when you wrote to me. You know that if you have a concern about anal sex post surgery, there are a shit-load of others (you should pardon my pun) out there who share your concern and interest and may have first-hand information to share.

Probably, there a lot of other folks who are too timid to ask or share about this concern. So instead of stewing in your isolation and lack of information, why not take the initiative and break open the topic yourself. If you’re gonna wait around for someone else to broach the issue, when you won’t, you’re gonna die waiting, my friend.

And if you think the information you are looking for will come from the medical industry, you really have to wake up and smell the coffee, my friend. The best resource you’re gonna find is gonna be others in the ostomy community. Those folks, who are similarly challenged as you, will be the front line of the information you seek. But like I said, if you fail to put out there what you want, you can be sure no one is gonna spoon feed it to you.

So while it is true what you say: “its not a question you can ask around to the general public do you have a colostomy – do you have anal sex?” It is a very appropriate question to be asking the ostomy community. And if you find resistance in that community for bringing this pressing sexual concern there, stand your ground, darlin’!

And just so you don’t think I’m ducking the question, my experience with ostomy patients suggest that it may very well be more of a question of wanting to have anal sex post surgery, than the ability to do so. I guess you’re just gonna have to wait and see for yourself. Keep me posted and I’ll keep our audience posted on this too.

Good luck

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What it’s like to be a male sexual surrogate

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The Sessions looked at the work of sexual surrogates

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[F]or most adults, sex is an activity that can bring joy, frustration, contentment or disappointment – the full range of human responses. But for a few people, the very thought of sexual contact with another human being causes such anxiety that they can never get close to the act.

For them, psychosexual therapy is usually a good choice. And in a few cases, this can involve a particular form of therapy: use of a sexual surrogate.

Sexual surrogates are trained and professional stand-in partners for men and women who have severe problems getting to an intimate/sexual relationship. Normally, the client will be undergoing counselling with a psychosexual therapist, and then, in parallel with that, will have ‘bodywork’ sessions with a surrogate partner.

Andy, 50, is a psychosexual therapist who also worked as a surrogate for a number of years. Clients tend to be aged from their mid-thirties to around fifty and most came to him through word of mouth. “Some people have never experienced sexual intimacy,” he explains. “I had one client who had never gone beyond kissing.” Others have experienced abuse and have negative connotations around sex or have physiological problems.

“I would usually do between six and ten monthly sessions of three hours each. The first sessions would be about getting comfortable being in a room with a man. So I will say, ‘So you’re in a room with a man, how does that feel for you?’ And perhaps it reminds them of being a teenager so we’ll talk about what that teenage part of them needs – to be more confident, say.”

Although the sessions would build towards penetrative sex, it would be a long way down the line. But some clients want to take things too quickly, he says. “If they want to rush into sexual intimacy or penetration then I’ll slow them down and ask them where that comes from. Most of them do need to slow down because they’re rushing into what they think is the goal of sex.”

After a few sessions, Andy would bring touch into the sessions. “I would ask them what sort of touch they would want to receive. And they might like to receive some sort of massage, fully clothed or partly unclothed. Sometimes we would sit opposite each other on the sofa and find out what happens in her system if one of us leans closer. Does she get excited? Does she want to run away? Does she want to reach out and have more contact?”

Once the client was comfortable with touching, nudity would be introduced. “I might do an undressing process where I would invite them to take off one piece of clothing and each time to name a limiting belief that stops them really enjoying and celebrating their body and allowing pleasure in it. ‘One thing that stops me is my belief that I’m unattractive and my bum’s too big.’ They would take off that piece of clothing and that belief. Then I would offer feedback about what I see, so, ‘Your breasts feel very sensual and feminine to me’.”

Sexual surrogacy has been operating in Britain for a few decades, introduced from America, where it was also the subject of the Oscar-nominated film The Sessions, based on the true story of partially paralysed polio survivor Mark O’Brien and Cheryl Cohen-Greene, the surrogate he worked with to overcome his problems.

While most surrogates are female working with male clients, there are a handful of male surrogates in Britain who work with female clients. Male surrogates tend to be mid-thirties and older.

For many men, being hired to act as an intimate partner for a woman they barely know would be a strange situation. So how did Andy feel during these sessions? “Sometimes it was quite challenging, sometimes engaging, sometimes arousing,” he recalls. “And client reactions were very varied too. Some would feel ashamed, sometimes emotional or physical discomfort. Or they would feel excitement and confidence. It was moment to moment – it’s like how you feel in a relationship, you feel many things.

“It’s an interesting line to walk. There are many clients that I have worked with who I really liked and I enjoyed the work with them both sexually and emotionally but I’m also aware that I’m not there to be in a relationship with them.”

He is glad he did the job but it did cause him difficulties, not least in relationships with his own partners, whom he always made aware of his work. “I supported many women through a very challenging and sometimes life-changing process,” he says. “But I found that ultimately it took too great a toll – energetically, physically and emotionally. I was putting myself in situations of intimacy with a client that I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen. And I found that draining. I would sometimes ask, ‘Why did I do that to myself?'”

Overall he believes they key to sexual surrogacy involves being realistic about what will come of it.

“I think surrogacy is to be entered into with as much self-awareness as the client can muster,” he says. “While it can point them in the right direction, it’s not the answer. Ultimately, they have to find confidence within themselves. It can be a step on that journey.”

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A new way to think about dementia and sex

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There’s an urgent need for a new ethic of dementia care that supports the facilitation of sexual expression.

By and

[P]ersons living with dementia don’t have sex. Or they have weird sex. Or they have dangerous sex, in need of containment.

When it comes to dementia and sexuality, negative language and apocalyptic warnings abound. The aging population has been described in the media as a “rape case time-bomb.” Health practitioners often respond in punishing ways to sexual activity in residential care. And the sexual rights of persons living with dementia are largely ignored within residential care policy, professional training and clinical guidelines.

As critical social researchers, we argue that a new ethic of dementia care is urgently needed, one that supports the facilitation of sexual expression.

Practitioners and administrators often hold negative and judgmental attitudes about dementia and aged sexuality

Our research at the University of Toronto and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network investigates embodiment, relationality, ethics and dementia. We are motivated by a shared concern about the reductive focus of dementia care on basic physical needs, and our desire to foster a more humane and life-enriching culture of care. We have explored how the sexualities of persons living with dementia are poorly supported in long-term residential care settings such as nursing homes.

Sex and dementia in the media

When we see persons living with dementia and sex linked in the media, it tends to be in high profile cases of

Institutional policies, structures and practices must support sexual expression.

alleged abuse. One example is the legal trial of Henry Rayhons, an Iowa lawmaker found not guilty of sexually abusing his wife who at the time was living with dementia in a nursing home. Another example is the wider investigation into sexual assaults in nursing homes in Ontario.

Vital as such investigations are to the safety of residents in long-term care, we rarely see sexual expression valued or as fundamental to human flourishing.

Our research has explored how these negative representations of the sexualities of persons living with dementia are also found within long-term residential care settings such as nursing homes.

Practitioners and administrators often hold negative and judgmental attitudes about dementia and aged sexuality. When faced with sexual activity, they can intervene in threatening and punishing ways. And long-term care policies, professional training and clinical guidelines tend to ignore the sexual rights of persons with dementia.

The problem with biomedical ethics

The sexualities of persons living with dementia are considered troubling partly because long-term care polices are shaped by biomedical ethics. This ethical approach relies on four core principles: autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice. These principles support intervening in residents’ sexual expression if it will cause harm to themselves or cause harm or offence to others.

However, this approach sets the bar for practitioners’ interference excessively high. It can restrict voluntary sexual expression by residents living with dementia in nursing homes.

Biomedical ethics also ignore the performative, embodied and relational aspects of ethical reasoning. It assumes that people are rational autonomous beings. It also assumes that self-expression, including sexuality, results only from cognitive and reflective decision making. Given that dementia involves progressive cognitive impairment, persons living with dementia may be unfairly discriminated against by this approach to sexual decision making.

A duty to support sexual expression

We use a model of relational citizenship to create an alternative ethic in which sexuality is seen as embodied self-expression. It is an ethic that recognizes human beings as embodied and embedded in a lifeworld. And one that views sexuality as an important part of being human.

Social and leisure activities supportive of the development of intimate relationships are essential within nursing homes.

This new ethic broadens the goals of dementia care. No longer do health professionals just have the duty to protect persons with dementia from harm. There is also a duty to support their right to sexual expression.

We argue that institutional policies, structures and practices must also support sexual expression. These should facilitate sexual rights. We must also introduce education for health professionals and the broader public — and policy initiatives to counteract the stigma associated with sexuality and dementia.

Social and leisure activities that are supportive of sexual expression and the development of intimate relationships are also essential within nursing homes.

Of course, protection from unwanted contact or sexual harm is still important. However, freedom of sexual expression should only be restricted when necessary to protect the health and safety of the individuals involved.

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Sex and parenthood for people with disabilities

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By Kristin Linton

Do people with disabilities have sex? Should they marry and have children?

As part of a research project, Emily Hops, a graduate of CSU Channel Islands, and I interviewed eight college students with disabilities about their general experiences with intimacy and sexual health last spring.

Each student expressed his or her own internal struggle with whether or not they should bear children themselves.

One said, “Is it selfish to have a kid? Even if your kid doesn’t have a disability, are you putting that burden on that kid to one day take care of you because you have a disability?”

Some students shared stories about professionals, even teachers, who dissuaded them from developing intimate relationships with others.

Even though California passed the Healthy Youth Act of 2015, which mandates adapted sex education for students with disabilities, I wonder if we have fully embraced the sexual rights of people with disabilities — especially considering California’s dark past with something called the “eugenics movement.”

Eugenics is essentially selective breeding in order to increase the occurrence of desirable inherited characteristics. California was a leader in the eugenics movement, which resulted in the sexual sterilization of 20,000 people in the state between 1909 and 1979. Seventy percent of those sterilized without their consent had various disabilities, spanning from schizophrenia to a casual diagnosis of being “feeble-minded.”

With a total of 60,000 sterilizations across the U.S., California was responsible for a third of all the procedures. Castrations and tubal ligations were common procedures performed. Some even argue that the U.S. led the way for Nazi Germany’s mass use of sexual sterilizations during the Holocaust.

Along with sexual sterilization laws in the eugenics movement came laws prohibiting marriage between people with disabilities, with the assumption being that reproduction was the reason for marriage.

California passed an annulment law, which specifically stated physical or mental capacity and consent as reasons for deeming a marriage null and void.

While there were other reasons that a marriage could be annulled, physical and mental capacity as well as lack of consent were the only reasons that involved third parties, such as parents or physicians.

These third parties could argue that either the bride or groom was “physically incapable of entering into the marriage state” or “was of unsound mind” at the time of marriage, and the marriage could be annulled.

If third parties were aware of a couple with disabilities planning a marriage, those third parties could make an argument about the incapacity of the bride and/or groom before the marriage date and shut it down altogether. In the early 1900s, 28 percent of marriages were annulled on these grounds.

The law is still on the books. Although rarely enforced today, these reasons for annulment remain in the wording of California Family Code Section 2210.

Not only is marriage annulment due to disability still lawful, but our history of perceiving people with disabilities as “asexual” beings still lives on today.

My hope is that we can learn to appreciate all people with disabilities as sexual beings with full sexual citizenship in hopes that they themselves do not question their own rights as human beings.

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3D-printed sex organs help blind students learn about sexual health

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3D-printing technology is letting blind students experience comprehensive, accessible sex ed for the first time ever.

3D-printed sex organs help blind students learn about sexual health

By Katie Dupere

[A]dvocates and researchers collaborated to create more than 18 3D figures that model sex organs during a various states of arousal. They range from a flaccid penis to a dilated vaginal opening, allowing students to “feel” their way though sexual health lessons.

While it may be a NSFW (let alone not-safe-for-school) endeavor, these models are game-changers for blind students who often need to learn about sexual health through verbal instruction alone.

Sex ed classes overall often rely on dull videos and static illustrations, and while that type of stale education is a disservice to all students, it presents a unique problem for blind students.

“That approach does a blind student no good whatsoever because they, of course, cannot see the pictures and videos.” Dr. Gaylen Kapperman, a professor at Northern Illinois University who was involved with the project, told Mashable via email.

Studies show that 61% of blind adults or those with low vision say their vision status had a negative impact on the way they were able to participate in sex education.

It’s a gap advocates and researchers at Benetech, a nonprofit organization specializing in tech for good, set out to solve by creating these models of various penises and vulvas.

“3D models are the only types of models that make any sense to blind people,” Kapperman said. “Many people believe that if you provide raised-lined 2D tactile pictures of sex organs that blind people will be able to generalize this information. [That approach] makes no sense whatsoever for blind persons.”

But these models don’t only break sex ed barriers for blind children. Researchers say the models could make the instruction more meaningful for sighted kids, too.

The project’s goal is to eventually provide open-source 3D printing files for teachers. This means school districts would only have to finance the materials and printers to make the models.

Many experts predict the technology will become a staple for schools anyway. Once a school district owns a printer, 3D printing is a low-cost way to create models for classroom instruction, making it ideal for schools on a budget.

A sizable 90% of blind students attend school with sighted children, relying on modified lessons to fully absorb material. But there are only about 61,700 blind students in the U.S. Buying commercial models of genitalia already on the market can cost up to $500 per model — something low-funded schools would likely be reluctant to do, especially when only a handful of blind students may ever pass through their district.

To develop prototypes, Benetech partnered with LightHouse for the Blind and Northern Illinois University, where the models were first tested on blind college students. The project was funded entirely by a private Benetech donor.

Now in the second phase of the pilot program this spring, the models will make their ways into the hands of middle school and high school students — the target demographic.

By the end of the 2017 school year, researchers hope to have feedback from students on the current prototypes. Then they’ll release files with detailed printing instructions for classroom use.

Benetech plans to offer pre-printed models to accommodate schools without 3D printers, for a fee much lower than commercial models.

“It is our hope that these models will be an effective teaching tool for teachers to communicate sex education in a way that works for students who are blind and visually impaired,” said Dr. Lisa Wadors Verne, program manager of education and partnerships at Benetech.

Complete Article HERE!

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Women with HIV, after years of isolation, coming out of shadows

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Patti Radigan kisses daughter Angelica after a memorial in San Francisco’s Castro to remember those who died of AIDS.

By Erin Allday

Anita Schools wakes at dawn most days, though she usually lazes in bed, watching videos on her phone, until she has to get up to take the HIV meds that keep her alive. The morning solitude ends abruptly when her granddaughter bursts in and they curl up, bonding over graham crackers.

Schools, 59, lives in Emeryville near the foot of the Bay Bridge, walking distance from a Nordstrom Rack and other big chain stores she can’t afford. Off and on since April, her granddaughter has lived there too, sleeping on a blow-up mattress with Schools’ daughter and son-in-law and another grandchild.

Five is too many for the one-bedroom apartment. But they’re family. They kept her going during the worst times, and that she can help them now is a blessing.

Nearly 20 years ago, when Schools was diagnosed with HIV, it was her daughter Bonnie — then 12 and living in foster care — who gave her hope, saying, “Mama, you don’t have to worry. You’re not going to die, you’re going to be able to live a long, long time.”

“It was her that gave me the push and the courage to keep on,” Schools said.

She had contracted HIV from a man who’d been in jail, who beat her repeatedly until she fled. By then she’d already left another abusive relationship and lost all four of her daughters to child protective services. HIV was just one more burden.

At the time, the disease was a death sentence. That Schools is still here — helping her family, getting to know her grandchildren — is wonderful, she said. But for her, as with tens of thousands of others who have lived two decades or more with HIV, survival comes with its own hardships.

Gay men made up the bulk of the casualties of the early AIDS epidemic, and as the male survivors grow older, they’re dealing with profound complications, including physical and mental health problems. But the women have their own loads to bear.

Whereas gay men were at risk simply by being gay, women often were infected through intravenous drug use or sex work, or by male partners who lied about having unsafe sex with other men. The same issues that put them at risk for HIV made their very survival a challenge.

Today, many women like Schools who are long-term survivors cope with challenges caused or compounded by HIV: financial and housing insecurity, depression and anxiety, physical disability and emotional isolation.

“We’re talking about mostly women of color, living in poverty,” said Naina Khanna, executive director of Oakland’s Positive Women’s Network, a national advocacy group for women with HIV. “And there’s not really a social safety net for them. Gay men diagnosed with HIV already historically had a built-in community to lean on. Women tend to be more isolated around their diagnosis.”

There are far fewer women aging with HIV than men. In San Francisco, nearly 10,000 people age 50 or older are living with HIV; about 500 are women. Not all women survivors have histories of trauma and abuse, of course, and many have done well in spite of their diagnosis.

But studies have found that women with HIV are more than twice as likely as the average American woman to have suffered domestic violence. They have higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse.

What keeps them going now, decades after their diagnoses, varies widely. For some, connections with their families, especially their now-adult children, are critical. For others, HIV advocacy work keeps them motivated and hopeful.

Patti Radigan (righ) instructs daughter Angelica and Angelica’s boyfriend, Jayson Cabanas, on preparing green beans for Thanksgiving while Roman Tom Pierce, 8, watches.

Patti Radigan was living in a cardboard box on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco when she tested positive in 1992. By then, she’d lost her husband to a heart attack while a young mother, and not long after that she lost her daughter, too, when her drug use got out of control and her sister-in-law took in the child.

She turned to prostitution in the late 1980s to support a heroin addiction. She’d heard of HIV by then and knew it was deadly. She’d seen people on the streets in the Mission where she worked, wasting away and then disappearing altogether. But she still thought of it as something that affected gay men, not women, even those living on the margins.

Women then, and now, were much more likely than men to contract HIV from intravenous drug use rather than sex — though in Radigan’s case, it could have been either. IV drug use is the cause of transmission for nearly half of all women, according to San Francisco public health reports. It’s the cause for less than 20 percent for men.

Still, when Radigan finally got tested, it wasn’t because she was worried she might be positive, but because the clinic was offering subjects $20. She needed the cash for drugs.

She was scared enough after the diagnosis — and then she got pregnant. It was the early 1990s, and HIV experts at UCSF were just starting to believe they could finesse women through pregnancy and help them deliver healthy babies. Today, it’s widely understood that women with HIV can safely have children; San Francisco hasn’t seen a baby born with HIV since 2004.

But in the 1990s, getting pregnant was considered selfish — even if the baby survived, its mother most certainly wouldn’t live long enough to raise her. For women infected at the time, having children was something else they had to give up.

And so Radigan had an abortion. But she got pregnant again in 1995, and she was desperate to have this child. She was living by then with 10 gay men in a boarding house for recovering addicts. Bracing herself for an onslaught of criticism, she told her housemates. First they were quiet, then someone yelled, “Oh my God, we’re having a baby!”

“It was like having 10 big brothers,” Radigan said, smiling at the memory. Buoyed by their support, she kept the pregnancy and had a healthy girl.

Radigan is 59 now; her daughter, Angelica Tom, is 20. They both live in San Francisco after moving to the East Coast for a while. It was because of her daughter that Radigan stayed sober, that she consistently took her meds, and that she went back to school to tend to her future.

For a long time she told people she just wanted to live long enough to see her daughter graduate high school. Now her daughter is in art school and Radigan is healthy enough to hold a part-time job, to lead yoga classes on weekends, to go out with friends for a Friday night concert.

“Because of HIV, I thought I was never going to do a lot of things,” Radigan said. “The universe is aligning for me. And now I feel like I deserve it. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I deserved anything.”

Anita Schools, who says she is most troubled by finances, listens to an HIV-positive woman speak about her experiences and fears at an Oakland support group that Schools organized.

Anita Schools got tested for HIV because her ex-boyfriend kept telling her she should. That should have been a warning sign, she knows now.

She was first diagnosed in 1998 at a neighborhood clinic in Oakland, but it took two more tests at San Francisco General Hospital for her to accept she was positive. People told her that HIV wasn’t necessarily fatal, but she had trouble believing she was going to live. All she could think was, “Why me? What did I do?”

It was only after her daughter Bonnie reassured her that Schools started to think beyond the immediate anxiety and anger. She joined a support group for HIV-positive women, finding comfort in their stories and shared experiences. Ten years later, she was leading her own group.

She’s never had problems with drugs or alcohol, and she has a network of friends and family for emotional support, she said. Even the HIV hasn’t hit her too hard, physically, though the drugs to treat it have attacked her kidneys, leaving her ill and fatigued.

Like so many of the women she advises in her support group, Schools is most troubled by her finances. She gets by on Social Security and has bounced among Section 8 housing all over the Bay Area for most of her adult life.

Schools’ current apartment is supposed to be permanent, but she worries she could lose it if her daughter’s family stays with her too long. So earlier this month they moved out and are now sleeping in homeless shelters or, some nights, in their car. She hates letting them leave but doesn’t feel she has any other choice.

Reports show that women with HIV are far more likely to live in poverty than men. Khanna, with the Positive Women’s Network, said surveys of her members found that 85 percent make less than $25,000 a year, and roughly half take home less than $10,000.

Schools can’t always afford the bus or BART tickets she needs to get to doctor appointments and support group meetings, relying instead on rides from friends — or sometimes skipping events altogether. She gets her food primarily from food banks. Her wardrobe is dominated by T-shirts she gets from the HIV organizations with which she volunteers.

“With Social Security, $889 a month, that ain’t enough,” Schools said. “You got to pay your rent, and then PG&E, and then you got to pay your cell phone, buy clothes — it’s all hard.”

At a time when other women her age might be thinking about retirement or at least slowing down, advocacy work has taken over Schools’ life. She speaks out for women with HIV and their needs, demanding financial and health resources for them. In her support group and at AIDS conferences, she offers her story of survival as a sort of jagged road map for other women struggling to navigate the complex warren of services they’ll need to get by.

The work gives her confidence and purpose. She feels she can directly influence women’s lives in a way that seemed beyond her when she was young, unemployed and directionless.

“As long as I’m getting help and support,” Schools said, “I want to help other women — help them get somewhere.”

Billie Cooper is tall and striking, loud and brash. Her makeup is polished, her nails flawless. She is, she says with a booming laugh that makes heads turn, “the ultimate senior woman.”

For Cooper, 58, HIV was transformative. Like Radigan, she had to find her way out from under addiction and prostitution to get healthy, and stay healthy. Like Schools, she came to understand the importance of role-modeling and advocacy.

Cooper arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1980 — almost a year to the day before the first reports of HIV surfaced in the United States. She was fresh out of the Navy and eager to explore her gender identity and sexuality in San Francisco’s burgeoning gay and transgender communities.

Growing up in Philadelphia, she’d known she was different from the boys around her, though it was decades before she found the language to express it and identified as a transgender woman. But seeing the “divas on Post Street, the ladies in the Tenderloin, the transsexual women prostituting on Eddy” — Cooper was awestruck.

She slipped quickly into prostitution and drug use. When she tested positive in 1985, she wasn’t surprised and barely wasted a thought worrying about what it meant for her future — or whether she’d have any future at all.

“I felt as though I still had to keep it moving,” Cooper said. “I didn’t slow down and cry or nothing.”

Transgender women have always been at heightened risk of HIV. Some studies have found that more than 1 in 5 transgender women is infected, and today about 340 HIV-positive trans women live in San Francisco.

What makes them more vulnerable is complicated. Trans women often have less access to health care and less stable housing than others, and they face higher rates of drug addiction and sexual violence, all of which are associated with risk of HIV infection.

Cooper was homeless off and on through the 1980s and ’90s, trapped in a world of drugs and sex work that felt glamorous at the time but in hindsight was crippling. “I was doing things out of loneliness,” she said, “and I was doing things to feel love. That’s why I prostituted, why I did drugs.”

She began to clean up around 2000, though it would take five or six years to fully quit using. She found a permanent place to live. She collected Social Security. She started working in support services for other transgender women battling HIV. In 2013, she founded TransLife, a support group at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

“I was coming out as the activist, the warrior, the determined woman I was always meant to be,” she said.

Cooper never developed any of the common, often fatal complications of HIV — including opportunistic infections like pneumonia — that killed millions in the 1980s and 1990s. But she does have neuropathy, an HIV-related nerve condition that causes a constant pins-and-needles sensation in her feet and legs and sometimes makes it hard to walk.

Far more traumatic for her was her cancer diagnosis in 2006. The cancer, which may have been related to HIV, was isolated to her left eye, but after traditional therapies failed, the eye was surgically removed on Thanksgiving Day in 2009.

The cancer and the loss of her eye was a devastating setback for a woman who had always focused on her appearance, on looking as gorgeous as the transgender women she so admired in the Tenderloin, on being loved and wanted for her beauty.

Rising from that loss has been difficult, she said. And she’s continued to suffer new health problems, including blood clots in one of her legs. Recently, she’s fallen several times, in frightening episodes that may be related to the clots, the HIV or something else entirely.

Since Thanksgiving she’s been in and out of the hospital, and though she tries to stay upbeat, it’s clearly trying her patience.

But if HIV and cancer and everything else have tested Cooper’s survival in ways she never anticipated, these trials also have strengthened her resolve. She’s becoming the person she always wanted to be.

“A week before they took my eye, I got my breasts,” she said coyly one recent afternoon, thrusting out her chest. Behind the sunglasses she wears almost constantly now, she was smiling and crying, all at once.

Aging with HIV has been strangely calming, in some ways, giving her a confidence that in her wild youth was elusive.

Now she exults in being a respected elder in the HIV and transgender communities. She loves it when people open doors for her or help her cross the street, offer to carry her bags or give up a seat on a bus.

Simply, she said, “I love being Ms. Billie Cooper.”

Complete Article HERE!

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