Has the everyone just started taking crazy pills?

Just when I thought the topic of disability and sex couldn’t get more media focus, something else catches their attention. Alongside the proposal from Becky Adams to open a special “Disabled Only” brothel that I explored in my last blog there is now the story of Chris Fulton who is looking for a solicitor who will help him fight for vouchers from the NHS to pay for disabled people to visit sex workers on the state. I can’t even begin to explain why this is a non-started of an idea. But I will try…

Disabled people who have impairments that effect their mobility or their ability to carry out daily activities easily already get payments through the DLA, which is soon to change too the PIP payments. It’s our choice how we use those payments, so if a disabled recipient feels that they need to visit a sex worker they can use some of that money for that purpose. To claim that sex is a human right opens up a can of worms that might lead to many other members of our society demanding that they also have the right to visit sex workers of the NHS. I’m sure this idea will drive those people who believe the propaganda that disabled people are already getting loads of free stuff from the state into a rage. A visit to the Daily Mail online will prove me right I feel.

Of course at the minute disabled people are facing a mirriad of cuts and changes in how their lives are run. One of the biggest is the closure of the Independent Living Fund. The fund used to provide funding to cover the costs of paying for Personal Assistants, who allowed people who need help with dressing, washing and eating to living independently. These costs are now going to expected to be covered by local authorities, but there is no legal expectation for them to do so. This means that many disabled people are facing the prospect of a future in residential homes, after living their lives in their own homes totally independent. Surely this is the kind of thing that people like Chris should be campaigning for? How can you use your hooker vouchers if you can’t get dressed, washed or fed?

But even if you ignore that bigger issues, how would this work? Who says who is so disabled that they are entitled to use the voucher scheme? Would the government get in Gok Wan to cast his eye over the claimants to decide who isn’t sexy enough to get laid? Or even worse, would Atos being hired to run Sex Capability Assessments? Would you need to be assessed by a panel of Atos experts before you could claim for a freebie sex sessions?

Then would those pesky fraudsters start trying to get the vouchers even though they weren’t entitled to them? Would non-disabled people be greasing down their hair and acting all disabled in the attempt to get some free sex? Or would sexy cripples try to down play the gorgeousness as they feel they should also be entitled to some extra sex? Maybe the BBC’s Saints and Scroungers could run a sex special exposing those terrible people who are really able to get themselves sex but who have pretended to be unshagable to defraud the state.

In all seriousness, is state funded sex the real answer to the way disabled people are considered by society? I would hope that we would campaign to change the way we were thought of by the wider world. More disabled people in the media, more opportunities to find work and accessible housing and an end to the targeting of the benefits that allow disabled people to live an independent life would all be campaigns that might help a little. Now it might seem a bit like a “Giz a job” idea, but I really feel that more strong, confident and attractive disabled people in the media would help loads. It would show the non-disabled world that their stereotype of disability is wrong and create role models for disabled people. I know that I have met loads of disabled people who have told me that seeing me on the TV back in the 90’s gave them the confidence to dress up, go out and have fun. Whether we like it or not, that is how most people meet a partner. I must also admit that I used to get a lot of steamy fan mail when I was a kids TV presenter. All those mums watching TV with their kids had no problems with the idea of sex with a wheelchair user that’s for sure.

Disabled people want equality in choice and experience. Expecting the state to pay for us to have sex is so far away from this dream it hurts. On top of that it damages the way society sees us further. I want the wider society to start seeing disabled people are great protective partners and not tragic charity cases that all have to pay to get their bits felt.  So come on folks, let’s stop shouting about such silly ideas.

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Brothels for the Disabled? No Thanks!

Yesterday I did a radio phone in on BBC 3 Counties Breakfast Show on the subject of a proposed brothel that will specialise in providing a service for disabled customers. Yes, a brothel for cripples. Many of you will know that I do a lot of campaigning and work around the topic of sexuality and disability and so might imagine that I would be in favour of such an idea. However this could not be further from the truth. While I got a brief chance to air my views on the radio, I think it is really important to explain fully why I feel it could be so damaging for all of us, not just disabled people. It breaks down to three key reasons.

The first is the idea that disabled people have a greater need for the services of prostitutes. This is an attitude that runs throughout our society, yet the proof just isn’t there. While I know and have met some disabled people, well disabled men, who have paid for sex, most have not. They have gone out in to the world and formed sexual relationships in the “normal” way. Ones that spanned from casual flings to long term love and flowers jobs. Not just those disabled people who could be said to have the sexier disabilities, like Paraplegics or Amputees, but people with all manner of impairments. People who have little or no ability to speak and who need 24 hour personal assistance who have had or who are in loving relationships. Yet time and time again, when the media focuses on the subject of sex and disability the story we mainly see revolves around a disabled person seeking paid sex. More than that, the prostitution industry uses this attitude to attempt to legitimise what they do and to further their campaign to legalise it.

The effect of this false belief that disabled people need the services of prostitutes more than anyone else is the second reason why I am opposed as it causes issues for the way society thinks about disability. It not only effects disabled people but everyone. For disabled people, it means they grow up in an atmosphere that makes them believe that they just aren’t sexy or potential sexual partners and for the non-disabled community it plays a part in continuing the prejudice around disability. More than that, as all non-disabled people are just disabled people before an illness or injury, it means that if they acquire a disability part of the grieving process they will have to go through revolves around the loss of their sexual confidence. I know as even though I have been disabled since birth, I went through it when my impairment changed and started using a wheelchair at the age of 15. Even before then, when I one of the walking wounded, I was unsure that anyone would want to go out with me. But when my spine collapsed and I lost the ability to gain an erection, I was positive that my chances to form sexual relationships were over. Yet I soon found I could not have been more wrong. With much of the work I do with newly disabled people this fear around them no longer being able to have sex or form relationships is a massive part of the journey they go on as they learn to put their lives back together. Much of this feeling of asexuality stems from the focus on disabled people having this deep need to pay for sex, which most people really don’t want do to. So of course you will get down about being newly disabled is you truly believe that the only way you will be able to have sex from now on is if you pay for it. Why would your partner want to stay with someone who is now that lacking in the sexy stakes? I also think that this attitude leads to the need that there is for paid sex. If you grow up or become disabled so assured that the only way you’ll ever experience sex is to pay for it, then that is what you will do. Thus the need for this proposed service is fuelled by the attitude, so it becomes self fulfilling.

Lastly, the idea that there should be a special place for disabled people who do want to use the services of prostitute is also wrong. The law states that any new business should ensure that the goods or services that they provide should be accessible to disabled people, so any brothel that opens should be open to disabled people. Not just one specializing in cripple sex. You shouldn’t have to travel to Milton Keynes, or where ever it might be sited, if you want a paid sex experience, but you should be able to pop down to your local knocking shop. Remember that currently brothels are illegal, so if the law is changed and they can be opened then all brothels will be new businesses. So to comply with the law every single one of them should be fully accessible. If they aren’t you can sue them! Thus getting you get your paid sex for free… tee hee.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing that disabled people should not visit prostitutes. I want disabled people to have the right to choose how they live their lives, so if you want to pay for it then fine. But I refuse to stay silent as yet again this option is held up and the only choice for disabled people. No disabled person is so unattractive that this is their only solution to their needs, and if that is how some people feel then we should all be fighting to do something about that. We should not be fighting to make a world where it’s easier for disabled people to pay for sex as they feel they can get it no other way, we should be fighting for a world where disabled people are seen and see themselves as viable sexual partners. During my career I have made several programmes and written loads of articles on the subject of disability and sex, and have met with quiet a few disabled people who paid for sex. Almost all them have said that the experience eventually left them feeling empty and depressed as there it was only sex. At the end of the day what we all really want is an emotional bond, friendship and companionship. Sure orgasms are nice, but sex is always best in a loving relationship and why shouldn’t we all have the chance at that?

I know I could be described as lucky when it comes to this subject. I am happily married, and have had a succession of beautiful girls in my life before I met “the one”. I am definitely always being told how lucky I am as I come across as confident, and recently my good friend Julie Fernandez told me I was overtly sexual, which was a bit of a shock to me. You see I might appear to be all these things, but I have all the same hang ups and insecurities as everyone else. Don’t forget I can’t get a hard on so conventional sex is out for me. So I do understand why some disabled men might feel the need to pay for it. It’s just that this subject is bigger than personal need. It says something about disability that I refuse to accept and do not want the society I live to take as truth. Whatever our impairment, disabled people can be and are sexy, sexual and superb potential partners. And focusing on the minority who bang on about paid sex being their only option hurts us all, and does nothing to further disabled people’s lives.

A final issue I might raise is that if this special needs brothel (catchy name huh?) does open will all the people who work there be fully trained to work with disabled people, will it be able to find full liability insurance in case of something going wrong and will it have the ability to cater for all disabled people, spanning the full gamut of their physical and mental needs?

At the end of the day, if you want to visit a brothel you should be able to. I just feel that the idea of a special one for disabled people won’t work, will do more harm than good to those how use it and does nothing to make the world a better place. It might sound a bit optimistic and utopian but I thought that is what campaigning is all about. I don’t want to work in the real world, I want to work towards making that world better. Allowing this brothel to open just won’t do that in any way.

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Sex: Are We Really So Different?

I read the article “Sex: some facts of life” by Kirsty Liddiard in the April issue of Disability Now with great interest. I once trained to go into social work, with the aim of working with newly disabled people. I also recently decided to change my studies from a Psychology degree (to one in English and Creative Writing) after finding that the medical model is still being taught as the only way of describing disabled people’s identity. It was really encouraging to see someone examining the issue of disability and sexuality from an academic approach. With Kirsty being a trained sociologist and disabled herself, I hoped that the article would finally confront the issues disabled people face around sexuality and relationships in a rounded manner. However the piece actually seemed to blame any problems disabled people might have on disability itself and how society sees the disabled, without any broader conversation.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have an experience all of the issues covered in the article, from abusive relationships through poor body image to a lack of confidence over a change in the way my body functions sexually, and fully appreciate how each one can deeply effect someone’s identity and ability to form successful relationships. My own journey to the place I am at now, in a very successful and happy relationship with someone who loves me the way I love them, was a long and painful one. I also appreciate that the way I feel about my disability has had a serious impact on that journey, and is still key to my psyche and effects how I really feel about my own attractiveness. But I do not agree that these issues are something that disabled people face alone.
 
A key factor to being able to begin the task of looking for love is self confidence, and this is an area that effects everyone in our society. We only need to consider the huge growth in the number of people undergoing cosmetic surgery to understand that issues of confidence have an impact on members of society that we disabled people might see as examples of “physical perfection”, and that this is not what they see when they look in the mirror. Most sociologists and psychologists agree that low confidence around body image is a growing problem throughout our society, effecting both sexes. However much we might see our issues with body image as being more valid or obvious, the truth is the emotional and psychological impact of low self confidence is the same for anyone who suffers from it.
This lack of confidence can lead on to forming unhealthy relationships, which the article also covered. But yet again the stories of every one of the people interviewed could just as easily be those of non disabled people. I spent many years of my 20’s in a relationship with someone who abused me, both verbally and physically, and they went on to repeat this behaviour with their next partner, who has not disabled. I used to feel that it was my disability that caused this person to act the way they did, and this led me to stay in an unhappy relationship so long, but I now understand that is incorrect. While my lack of confidence was tied to my disability, it was the confidence issue itself that made me stay. The same goes for anyone stuck in an abusive relationship.
A deeper factor in disabled people’s lack of confidence can be due to a difference in the way our sexuality functions or our inability to have sex in a “normal” manner. While I was disabled from birth, my sexual function changed when my spine collapsed at the age of 15. This led me to spend most of my adult life wrecked with self doubt about my ability to satisfy my partners sexually and to what would happen if anyone found out about what did and didn’t work in the trouser department. So I spent years lying to everyone I knew and praying any ex’s would keep my secret. When I met my wife, being with her gave me the confidence to “come out” about the way my body worked. When I did so in the most public manner possible (i.e. on TV) I found that nearly everyone of my male friends sidled up to me at some point and admitted that they to suffered from serious sexual dysfunction issues. The fact that Viagra is now taken as a recreational drug demonstrates how big this problem is for all of male society. I do not feel informed enough to discuss the issues faced by those people who might need assistance when having sex, but can see how that might effect not only how you feel about yourself but how you approach sex entirely. I do know that it is normally these people who are expected to use prostitutes if they ever want to have sex.
Thankfully the article did finally dispel the idea that sex with a prostitute is a solution for disabled people, especially men, who are seeking sexual experience. There are many people who campaign for legalising prostitution who use disabled people as an excuse for their argument, yet it should be obvious that it will be an empty experience whether you are disabled or not. For anyone lacking self confidence, visiting a prostitute can only reinforce these issues. No one will feel better about themselves if they feel the only way they can experience love or sex is to pay for it. But there is more than one way of paying for it. I once was in a relationship with someone who expected me to pay their rent, buy their clothes and cover all costs when we went out and seemed to think that was fine as they gave me sex. It made me feel cheap and made me mistrust prospective partners too. If I hadn’t met my wife I don’t know what kind of barsteward I might have become. I also know from those non disabled friends who have visited a lady of the night that they have exactly the same experience of emptiness afterwards.
We now come to the issue of fetishism. I spent most of the 90’s partying on the fetish scene and will admit I found the acceptance and tolerance I was met with really liberating. I even spent a short time going out with someone who admitted they “dug the wheelchair”, if you get what I mean. I left the whole world because as it became more accepted by the wider society, the ignorance of the wider society bled into the attitude this underground scene. Once people understood that a disabled person wouldn’t be in a fetish club if they couldn’t have sex, what ever type of sex that might be, but I eventually found myself explaining on a nightly basis that my wife and I could have sexual relationship (on a nightly basis if we wanted).
Just because I spent time in the world of fetishists, that doesn’t mean I have no understanding of why so many disabled people find the whole thing offensive. No one likes the stereotype that the only people who might want to have sex with them could be called perverts. Back when I was part of the London fetish scene I filmed an item for Channel 4’s “Freak Show” series that I hoped would explore the subject of disability and fetishism in a serious yet light hearted way. Instead it was edited to imply that my wife was only with me because I was disabled, so I know how hurtful this idea can be. It especially upset my wife, as she had actually said that she loved all of me and my disability was part of what made me, me. Never trust a TV producer and their editor. The crazy thing is I admit that I chatted up my now wife partly as I saw she had a scar all down her right arm. I think scars are really beautiful and the way she paraded it so openly said something great about what kind of person she was. But does that make me a devotee of her and her scar, or is it just another facet of how perfect she really is?
All of this is OK and it is only my own opinion, but does it help us find a solution to love, sex and relationships? Well I hope it does. If we as disabled people realise that all of the issues we face around the subject are the same as those faced by everyone, whatever the cause, then we should hopefully feel able to enter the world of love on a more level playing field. Yes we do have our own issues to face, but the way they effect us emotionally is not so different to the way the rest of society’s issues effect them. All I know for sure is many of my non disabled friends are desperately looking for the same thing we are all chasing, a happy and loving relationship and they wouldn’t care if that was with someone who disabled or not. At the root of this whole subject is the fact that self doubt is part of the human condition and how we cope with it makes us who we are. So let’s stop seeing disability as a barrier to love, and instead embrace it as part of what will make us a real catch.
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