Finding a partner is said to be the most difficult thing for many disabled people. There seem to be so many hurdles to overcome, it is called “The Big Step”.
Image by David Steinberg, www.davidsteinberg.us
1) You need to love yourself before others will love you. That means accepting your disabilities and being comfortable in who you are. Not loving yourself or accepting your disability will make you very insecure, and you will find yourself putting up barriers and driving people away.
2) You need to feel even better about yourself by being really good at the things you are good at, so that you shine out as someone with hidden depths, confidence, and satisfaction in life.
3) You need to be comfortable and happy with your body, including sexually. This means exploring your erotic potential through masturbation and becoming happy with the pleasure you give to yourself, putting a smile on your face and a twinkle in your eye.
4) Your pride in your body should be reflected in the way you present yourself to others – always clean, no smelly breath or stains on your clothing, and your own style of dress. Make a statement about your personality
5) Having lots of friends helps a lot. They will keep you on the loop, savvy, active, and hopefully they will introduce you to people they know who might be potential partners. They will also be there for you when you get rejected, so you can hopefully laugh it off.
6) Being in touch with other disabled people on a level whereby you can discuss problems, especially sexual and emotional problems, is very important. You can support each other to challenge people and things that hold you back or prevent you having fun. You can swap notes on how assertive to be in social situations where you are put down or excluded.
7) Meet more people through work and play. If you don’t have a job, try volunteering, and if you don’t belong to clubs, join some.
8) Don’t let others squash you – look at Mat Fraser and other role models and know you can be successful too.
9) Move out of your parents home and become independent.
10) Join Outsiders and get involved with our work.
People who have been disabled from birth have often gone through really painful rejections as teenagers and are doubly nervous of it happening again. Try reading some books on how to succeed. Ask your friends to help.
Outsiders is a club specially for physically and socially disabled people to find partners. It works better than online dating because everyone is vetted and everyone is accepting of disabled people. There have been many successes. Many relationships started off long distance, progressing from letters to phone calls to visits to long stays to moving in together.
We at Outsiders have noticed that disabled people often flounder around with pipe dreams and enjoying themselves socially until they are about 30 years old. They may even be avoiding other people with disabilities, not wishing to be typecast. Only at 30 (or a decade or so later), do they think seriously about finding a partner and join Outsiders. Disabled people who form relationships earlier than this, often find that the relationship is very difficult, even abusive in some ways, and they need to find a happier lifestyle.
Gay disabled men complain about rejection more than everybody else, because the gay scene tends to be lookist, with everybody wanting young, cute boys or fit, muscular hunks. Straight men complain that they get rejected by women. Disabled women complain that they can’t find exciting, sensitive, respectful boyfriends. Disabled lesbians seem to fare best of all, except for the fact that the lesbian scenes are quite tricky to negotiate and relationships sometimes tend to become sexless quite quickly.
Pitfalls of dating
One of the biggest pitfalls is wasting loads of money. There are people out there who will come on a date just for a free dinner or lunch. Nightclubs are expensive and not good places to find a loving partner. Some people join pen-pal clubs and dating clubs, and write lots of letters enclosing a photo and a stamp, never getting a reply. Others join expensive introduction agencies and dating agencies that are really only catering for rich, good-looking ablebods (or people who aspire to be such) and get nothing for their money.
Another pitfall is eternal failure. Perhaps you are asking the wrong people out, because you are not very good at assessing who is suitable and who is interested in you? Perhaps you bore people to tears when you take them out, droning on abut yourself and your problems or boasting about things that don’t interest them? Perhaps you smell? If you smoke, remember your clothes will reek of stale smoke, so ensure you wear clean ones. Perhaps you didn’t explain all there is to know about your disability and they are freaked out? Finally, if this is the first time they have ever been seen out with a disabled person, perhaps they are freaked out by the way others are reacting – staring, moving away, whatever? This is something you need to speak about and laugh about in advance. You need to handle the situation better. Learn by your mistakes. Most of all, you have got to accept that although many people won’t pick a disabled person as a partner, the one who chooses you is more special than the rest.
Finding a good selection of suitable people
It’s sensible to find people who have the same kind of energy levels, are the same height, like the same music and enjoy the same things. But not many people are sensible when it comes to love.
As well as Outsiders, it’s good to join local groups that cater to hobbies you enjoy or activities you believe in. Working alongside people is a really good way to start a relationship.
People with sensory impairments cannot see or hear if someone is flirting and fancying them and are at a great disadvantage. Try to go out with friends who will tell you what you are missing out on.
If you are sexually interested in someone you meet, make this clear from the start by showing your interest – not following them around or staring at their tits or crotch, but by flirting, by asking them more about themselves (which will make you seem very attractive) and asking them out. Don’t continue if you are getting rebuffed. Learn how to walk away.
On the other hand, if you feel they like you a lot, just make sure that you don’t become too pally in a non-sexual way (See “How to initiate sex when you are disabled”). Many disabled people find that other people find them “safe”, i.e. not a sexual threat, and become very close confidants, depending on your support but perhaps not offering much back.
Asking someone out
The best way to ask someone out is to engage them in conversation to find out what they would really love to do in the next few days, and then invite them to it. Or at least invite them to something you both enjoy. Decide on something that doesn’t cost too much.
You can ask someone out whether you are male or female.
You might be better off taking them somewhere you know personally, to be sure it’s accessible and not too noisy or crowded. It’s lovely to just go to the beach, a river, mountains, a park or a pond; it doesn’t have to be the movies, a gallery or a restaurant.
Be clear that this is a date, be clear about when and where, and confirm just beforehand that they are still up for it.
First and foremost, have fun. If you are driving make sure you don’t get lost. Never talk about yourself unless asked. It’s OK to admit you are nervous. Shower your date with compliments. Don’t worry about not having anything to say – just ask them about themselves and what they think about things. Dwell on things that seem to make them happy when they speak. If you can see, engage in eye contact. Use their name during conversations. Never make overt personal comments or mention sex on the first date. Feel it in the air but don’t make assumptions. Enjoy the attraction and flirt but, at the same time, reassure. You never know, it might actually happen!
If you have specially adapted eating utensils or use a straw to drink, better to bring them and be as self-sufficient as possible, so you can concentrate on your date rather than struggling with food and drinks.
If you have a speech impairment or need feeding and taking to the lavatory, take a friend / PA who can understand your speech and feed you rather than expect your new date to manage on their own. Don’t expect someone who is not used to your speech to understand you. Watch to see if they have understood before continuing.
Don’t get drunk. Never talk about past relationships, your mother or your spell in prison or the mental hospital. Keep everything light, funny, positive and the start of something beautiful.
Dr Tuppy Owens
Outsiders and Sex and the Disability Helpline
Outsiders the website features leaflets, our book Practical Suggestions, copies of our magazine INSIDE which updates Practical Suggestions and resources. Our club is a self help group for physically and socially disabled people to find partners. www.outsiders.org.uk Our group the Sexual Health and Disability Alliance campaigns for the sexual rights of disabled people, formulates policies and runs a conference.
Sex and Disability Helpline 0707 499 3527 11am – 7pm weekdays. Sexdis@outsiders.org.uk
Facilitating Sexual & Relationships by Dominic Davies http://www.bentvoices.org/cultureclash/daviessarfp.htm
Healthy Place website with a host of good tips and information on sex and disability which are most easily found through the sitemap. http://www.healthyplace.com/communities/sex/index.asp