Note: this article is based solely on my personal observations and experiences. I am not a therapist, so feel free to seek professional advice if you find it necessary when dealing with the subjects below.
With a reminder
from fellow blogger Allen Rucker
and all of the Oscar hype surrounding The Sessions
, it's probably fairly common to find other people who are paralyzed besides me reflecting on how great it would be to have Helen Hunt
making their life better when it comes to romance and sex. I separated those two terms on purpose, because I don't believe that they are necessarily linked; it is possible to have a romantic relationship without sex. At least that is what I've been told by some longtime married couples who express their love for the world to see, but will admit privately that they don't need the sexual component to make each other happy.
Sexuality was an important part of me before I became quadriplegic in 1988. As a single adult in the prime of my life, lessons learned about romance and lovemaking were not erased when my neck was broken. If anything, the forced immobility of the rehab hospital gave me plenty of time to ponder how sex could continue, and surprising physical reactions to the touching of the nursing staff lent promise to what might follow.
There was an attempt to retrain us about sex after paralysis while still in the hospital setting. Two meetings of our spinal cord injury support group that included those who were already out on their own involved presentations by a sex therapist. There were so many questions being asked by the men that the second session was restricted to female patients only, as otherwise they couldn't get a word in edgewise.
Experimentation continued after I returned home, learning what still worked and didn't, and finding new and unusual impacts of a spinal cord injury. It was during that period (which actually still continues today) that I was alerted to a 1992 movie called The Waterdance
in a newspaper article written by my friend and film critic, Jeff Shannon
. Somewhat surprisingly, that movie also starred Helen Hunt in the role of helping a newly paraplegic lover deal with his sexuality. That's probably when I became a huge fan of Helen Hunt.
In another parallel to The Sessions
, the screenplay for The Waterdance
was also based on the experiences of, written, and the movie was directed by, a man who was paralyzed: Neal Jimenez
. Those who are seeking Hollywood's interpretations about sexuality and disability should check out both of those movies as well as Coming Home
, which starred John Voight and Jane Fonda in Academy Award-winning roles.
During the past 25 years I've learned that the intensity and passion of pre-disability can continue, but it requires a change in focus on our parts. No longer does my life revolve around the missionary position and striving solely for that magic ejaculatory moment. The entire human body is a wondrous erogenous zone, and can benefit from touch and reactions we might not even feel. Loving is about giving, sharing, listening, encouraging and prolonging the special moments when a couple is isolated from the distractions that life can bring.
For those still seeking partners to share those moments, the key goes beyond our disabilities. People are naturally sexual, but we often fail to take the time to develop a comfort zone that allows potential partners to look past our more obvious attributes (wheelchairs, prostheses, canes, etc.) to discover the craving and loving beings beneath our modified exteriors.
In that regard, don't overlook opportunities to share these activities with other people who are disabled. They likely have a heightened understanding of our situation, and often couple that with the same or higher level of desire for an intimate relationship.
The same keys that work for the rest of the world should work for us. Taking the time for actual romance is important, as are eye contact, communing, dressing or acting in a manner that puts the 'sought after' one at ease. Take your time. There's a big difference between divulging our desires up front and slowly revealing our abilities and intentions.
Above all, be honest. If you're not sure of your needs or capabilities, provide plenty of time and opportunities to mutually explore boundaries at a relaxed pace. Keep it light, and be prepared to lower your sights a bit when necessary; after all, if a person is worthy of being a love interest, they'd probably be an excellent friend too.
© 2013 Michael Collins