According to the last U.S. census, roughly one in five adults lives with a physical disability of some sort. This might include chronic pain, lost limbs, paralysis, spinal cord injuries, or any number of degenerative ailments or chronic illnesses. Of course, people with physical limitations are still people. They have daily responsibilities, preferences in food, music, literature, sports teams and their own personal take on what turns them on.
A Sex Educator Tells Us About Sex Ed for People With Disabilities (and Why We Need It)
Not surprisingly, however, sexuality often gets ignored by many mainstream health and wellness professionals. In helping patients adjust to mobility issues, pain and discomfort, or lack of motor control, sexual health can get lost in the shuffle.
Sex educator Robin Wilson-Beattie helps patients overcome physical limitations to pursue sexual experimentation and fulfillment. There's clearly a huge need for what she does. Even the goliath site PornHub has precious few disability-friendly offerings in its Sexual Wellness Center.
Meet a Sexual Health Educator
Wilson-Beattie is a writer, speaker and consultant who works with a variety of patients and groups to get her message out. At its core, one could describe her message as one of inclusion, adaptation and understanding that great sex is "not all about penis-in-vagina." She presents her message in huge lecture halls to members of hospital or clinic staff, educators, social workers, and to individual clients.
Robin Wilson-Beattie was kind enough to answer a few questions for Kinkly. I learned a lot about what she does and how many people she helps. Unfortunately, though, I learned that she is also subjected to rampant misunderstanding about her work. A sex educator is not, for example, a sexual surrogate (someone who engages in sex acts with clients). They are also not prostitutes, call-girls, escorts, or paid companions.
What Does a Sexual Health Educator Do?
Wilson-Beattie has real-world experience in dealing with physical limitations, and has personal experience in the kink community. Her experiences allows her to help patients who want to pursue sexual expressions outside of mainstream vanilla fare. This might include bondage, dom/sub, fetish play and dungeon safety, or it might involve helping clients discover what works best for them.
The work that disability-specific sex educators do helps patients in myriad ways. First, it discusses sexual health in a non-shaming context. It also acknowledges that sex is a vital, integral part of life - not a luxury, and not something anyone should be expected to do without if they don't want to.
This work often builds on the adaptability at which people living with limitations already excel. It wouldn't occur to me to incorporate a wheelchair into a dom/sub relationship. Yet, after hearing about such a couple, I marvel at their resourcefulness. Ditto the couple whose experimentation led them to balance pain with kink. When you live each day compensating for a non-working limb or limited motor control, pioneering new ways to get off with your partner is an awesome bonus.
How is Sexual Health Counseling Different for Those With Limitations?
Finding new ways to express love or to give and experience pleasure is a journey that can't always be undertaken alone. Sex educators help clients learn to find and set boundaries, to explore safely, and to engage in frank and open discussion with partners. For some, this may begin with something as basic as defining what sex is for a particular person. Surprisingly, the answer doesn't always involve penetration, procreation or even orgasms.
Most of the basic concepts of Wilson-Beattie's work are extensions of what most people learned as general, healthy sexuality. Understanding your own body, consent and asking your partner questions rather than making presumptions are all good ideas for everyone, but they are particularly vital for those with disabilities. A patient might be into masochistic play, for example, but may also deal with chronic pain. That would change the typical dynamic of this sort of play, but is an easy fix with open discussion between partners.
What Is the Most Powerful Sex Organ?
Another familiar concept that sex educators use is that the most powerful sex organ is the brain. Our attitude, focus, confidence and awareness are all at least as important to a healthy sex life as the rest of our bodies. Again, this well-known wisdom that anyone can apply is even more essential to the sexual health of anyone devising new ways to overcome a physical limitation.
Access is another vital issue when living with a disability. Wilson-Beattie tells me that "most issues people with disabilities talk about are linked to access." Representation and inclusion are also enormous issues as well - perhaps too enormous to go into at length here. Suffice it to say that while there's a long way to go, intersectional sex educators have opened up new sexy avenues for patients. Still, there are many doctors who don't even bring up sex with their patients even when it seems obvious that there could be an issue.
Getting the Word Out
Another exciting part of what Wilson-Beattie does in her work involves lecturing on disability-inclusive sex education and disability awareness for medical and social work professionals. We already know that there are no national standards for sex education in the United States. We hope getting the word out about the need for it will change the conversation in the coming years.
Within the last 10 years, sex advocacy groups and projects like SexAbled have emerged to help people of all stripes explore safe, healthy sex lives that push all the right buttons. If you're near a big city, a friendly group of like-minded individuals might be closer than you think.
If you are looking for input or support dealing with a physical limitation, Wilson-Beattie suggests reaching out to local groups in your area. These can be found on the internet, or via referral from a doctor or counselor. Choose a group or provider where you feel comfortable, listened to, and respected. Remember, talking about personal or intimate details is part of the program. Feeling nervous about attending a meetup or new friendly space? Bring a friend or two with you - then you'll have someone to giggle with if it gets boring.
Wednesday Lee Friday is an eclectic writer of fact and fiction. She has worked as a reptile wrangler, phone sex operator, radio personality, concierge, editor, fast food manager, horror novelist, and she owns a soap shop. She prefers jobs that let her sleep during the day. Everybody knows all the best art and literature happen at night! Wednesday's work has appeared in Women's Health Interactive, Alternet, Screen Rant, The Roots of Loneliness Project and Authority Magazine.