Disabled People Like Sex Too

Among others, one British escort is helping disabled people reconnect with their sexuality

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Iakov Filimonov

Back in 1986, paraplegic model Ellen Stohl penned a letter to Hugh Hefner of Playboy magazine. She wrote, “Sexuality is the hardest thing for a disabled person to hold on to.” A few months later, she was invited to appear in an 8-page photo layout. Some protested the move. Others claimed it was a call to the fetish community. And many said it exploited handicapped people.

In the end, the move was overwhelmingly well received. Almost 10 years after Stohl appeared in the spread, Playboy invited two other women with disabilities to pose. People’s take on the decision will differ. But most can agree that the move helped close the gap between disabilities and sexuality and forced the public to partake in a conversation many opt to ignore.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to helping reacquaint disabled people with their sexuality. Switzerland’s Sexuality and Handicap charity, SEHP, encourages people with disabilities to be sexually active. France’s Disabilities and Sexualities Group continues to demand the legalization of sexual surrogates. The organization Pro Infirmis created mannequins based on the bodies of disabled people in celebration of the International Day Of Persons with Disabilities. Just last week, Vice ran a story about a Taiwanese NGO that sends volunteers to give handjobs to the severely disabled.

The subject remains taboo for many people. And while most of us can live with the philosophy “Do what makes you happy,” it gets complicated when those caring for disabled individuals protest the means by which they can reconnect with sex.

Back in 2013, courtesan Charlotte Rose won the British Erotic Award for being Sex Worker of the Year. She later appeared in a Channel 4 TV series about prostitution, called Love for Sale. She works with an organization called the TLC Trust, which funds The Outsiders, a charity that helps disabled individuals find love. While continuing to campaign for sexual equality on behalf of disabled and elderly people, Rose also works with a variety of clients, including males, females, couples and disabled individuals. AlterNet contacted her to find out more about her experience in this field.

After directing us to her sexual training website, she explained, “Before I became an escort I was really shallow. And I’ve always been really highly sexed. I’ve been in the industry since I was about 17 years old. I’ve got a bachelors degree in hospitality, I’ve worked at various businesses and nothing gave me as much pleasure as what I got in regards to helping others.”

When asked why she chose to work with disabled clients she said, “The way I describe it to my daughter is, imagine you’re at a school disco, and you’ve got a gorgeous guy in a wheelchair, and you’ve got a not-so-gorgeous guy who is able-bodied. It’s come to the end of the night: who are you going to give your goodnight kiss to? [My daughter] said, The able-bodied person. I asked why. She said, Well, the man in the wheelchair couldn’t kiss me back. I told her, that, unfortunately, is how society created a perception of how people in wheelchairs are. So, because you won’t give that person in the wheelchair a kiss, I will.”

Of course, there are those in the opposing camp. Wheelchair-bound writer Philippa Willitts wrote an article titled "Nobody’s entitled to sex, including disabled people." She asserts “It is important, then, to see that the supposed inevitability of disabled people never getting a shag is entrenched in societal prejudice. And, rather than fight this and challenge the misconceptions and the offensiveness, there are still those whose solution is to advocate for the right of disabled men (almost always) to have sex with a prostitute. So if you’re fighting for a disabled person’s 'right' to sex via prostitution, consider the thought that you are reinforcing discriminatory ideas, not liberating us.”

Willitts is right. The assumption that disabled or handicapped individuals can’t get laid on their own is both inaccurate and infantilizing. But she skims over the fact that there are those whose disabilities reach such extremes that going out and finding a partner on their own is all but impossible. In such cases, access to prostitution or sexual surrogacy can be life-changing.

Charlotte Rose says, “Nobody has the right to tell me what I can and can’t do with my body. And if I want to share it with a thousand people, then I will.”

The range of disabilities Rose works with is vast. She has paraplegic clients, quadriplegic clients, individuals suffering from muscular dystrophy, from spina bifida, individuals who cannot speak.

The subject of sex with the severely disabled inspires a number of different dialogues. Some are supportive. Others are more resistant. But to what extent should these reactions be considered when it comes to individual decisions about how to interact with sex?

Rose says, “I think anybody that thinks that just because someone is disabled they’re not worthy [of sex], they need their head checked. It doesn’t matter whether their penis is working or their vagina is working or not, the body adapts.”

She refers to a quadriplegic client of hers and continues, “If a gentleman is able to have an orgasm by his ear, who’s to say I can’t rub his ear for an hour?”

She adds, “I get people emailing me saying you know, my arm doesn’t work, or I’m (420 pounds), ‘I apologize for taking up your time by reading this.’ And it really upset me to the point that society has deemed these people as outsiders, all the ‘untouchables,’ and I just reply back, You’ve not wasted my time, I would be absolutely delighted to meet you, and as soon as I meet you I’m going to give you a massive cuddle and a massive kiss because everybody’s beautiful. And this is the one great thing that this job has allowed me to see.”

Marcel Nuss, a severely disabled father of two, is the author of I Want To Make Love, a book that details his experiences with love and sex. He writes, “Sex helps the disabled to reincarnate themselves and recover their human aspect.”

My conversation with Rose mirrors that sentiment. When discussing one client who wanted to be trained in giving better oral to women, she recalls asking him if he was interested in receiving oral on himself. He told her, “Well, I’m not going to be here long. I’ll be dying soon. I don’t want anybody to fall in love with me.” She told us, “I take that on board and I get very emotional when I come across people like that. It’s hard work to rewire their train of thought in making them believe that they are entitled to love just as much as anybody else. That pushes me on.”

Rose is on a number of lists so she can be notified when one of her clients pass, and when the funeral will be. It’s not always so dark, however; she describes some of the different therapies she uses with different clients, explaining that everything she’s learned has been through her own experiences. She says, “Textbook for me just doesn’t work.” She explains how she helps heighten sensitivity in the genitals, how levels of arousal can be measured by body temperature. She explains that in many patients, the erogenous zones change, signals change, and bodies adapt in the best way possible to continue delivering sexual sensations to their owners.

Then she talks about a client who communicates through his eyes. She explains he can have orgasm after orgasm after orgasm. It’s a pretty unique trait. She says every time she mentions this man to other clients, they get jealous. She says, “I’ll walk in and I’ll say to him, ‘So how many are we going for today? Two? Three?’ And I’ll get up to six, and he’ll look up, and I’ll say, ‘Six!? Okay, let’s make a start then, shall we?’”

But orgasm isn’t necessarily the main objective. She says, “The majority of what people want to experience is more skin on skin. You know, cuddles and kisses, and having that embrace that they wouldn’t normally have with a caregiver or parent. “

“The whole meaning of life is to live, and live it the best way you can, whether they’re able-bodied or not. And if you are excluded from those experiences because of somebody else’s choices, then damn that person who’s chosen that for them.”

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture. 

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