Disability & Self Worth | You are not unloveable

I think most people living with a chronic illness, disability or mental health issue can relate to this quote, at least to some extent. I know I do.

I am limited by my physical disability (congenital muscular dystrophy), despite the claims by some that you can do anything if you just try hard enough. As a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user with a muscle-wasting condition, I’m afraid there are certain things I cannot do.

I am heavily reliant on others to carry out daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, locking doors, opening and closing windows and so on. I also need help with personal care tasks like getting in and out of bed, dressing and bathing. This can be undignified, thus affecting my confidence and making me feel incredibly self-conscious and utterly undesirable. After all, who wants their boyfriend to shower them?!

I HATE asking people to do things for me, as I then feel a burden, a nuisance, an annoyance. Having to ask people to simply open a bottle or a can at the grand old age of 30 is frankly embarrassing (for me).

Sometimes I refuse to speak up and request help. Call it pride or sheer stubbornness. But there are other times I have no choice. Like it or not, I have to ask, to instruct, to explain.

For the most part, I’ve managed to conceal the extent of my disability from those around me. Many people, friends included, think I am much more able and independent than I actually am. Again, put it down to pride. But there are some people I can’t hide this from. Family members, of course, but also anyone I am romantically involved with.

Due to the nature of my disability and all the added extras – care requirements, dependency, restrictions, the inability to be spontaneous – I always believed myself to be undeserving of love. I genuinely thought *think* of myself as an unnecessary burden. Why would anyone put up with me, my weak, crooked body and all of my baggage when they could choose to be with someone else?

As a result of this and a lifetime of rejection, I put up barriers and distanced myself from society; a form of self preservation. Being told repeatedly that I’m not good enough, I’m “no one’s type”, and “too much to take on” has made quite a negative impression on my self-esteem.

Now, I don’t want to ramble or get too personal. But I am slowly starting to trust and believe I am worthy of love and companionship.

They say there’s someone for everyone. The cynical part of me still questions this. But maybe, just maybe, there is.

It takes an extra special person to accept me and my care needs. To take on, without question, a pretty drastic lifestyle change. To see past the wheelchair, the crooked body, the medical equipment and the disability itself, and simply love me for me, unconditionally. To try to convince me every day that I’m not undesirable, unloveable or a burden. People like this are rare, but they are out there!

Valentine’s Special: Part 2

Dating & Disability ~ Q&A

Four men with different forms of muscular dystrophy answer questions on body confidence, dating, sex and relationships…

*Names have been changed

1. Do you identify as a sexual being?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “I absolutely identify as a sexual being. I actually have a very high sex drive and it’s an important driver in my life.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “Absolutely. I’ve always had what would be considered relatively high sex drive.”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “I wouldn’t describe myself as asexual, but I’m not a sexual being either really. The more my condition has progressed, the less sexual I’ve felt. Procedures like catheterisation and serious illnesses have made me feel like I’m not at home in my skin.”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “I believe I’m a very sexual person because I get the cravings and intense visual thoughts that consume my mind.”

2. How does your body confidence (or lack of) affect your sex life?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “My body confidence is quite good. I am aware of my limitations and the ways in which I don’t conform to the normal stereotype, but it doesn’t really bother me and I don’t think it restricts my sex life. Attraction is a very strange thing and you never know what others will find attractive. I’m sure some people will be turned off by my body, but equally someone will be turned on by certain aspects.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “It affected me more when I was younger. In fact, I remember one of the very first moments I realised I was different. On a family holiday whilst in my early teens, I was getting changed in the hotel room before going out for dinner. I saw my profile in the bedroom mirror and realised my body was not ‘typical’ – the scoliosis of my back and the thinness of my legs. This led to a lot of problems with body confidence, which I covered up with layers of fashion. It probably led to overcompensation with cultivating a colourful personality.”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “My body, especially naked, looks ‘weird’, which makes me self-conscious. I then feel less comfortable having sex because I’m aware of this. I prefer to be the clothed partner in general, because I fear losing control. I worry about things like unexpected bodily fluids. This makes me unable to relax and enjoy having sex.”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “My body confidence doesn’t have anything to do with my sex life but I’m not confident about my body whatsoever.”

3. Have you tried online dating? What are your biggest concerns/challenges when it comes to dating? Do you disclose your disability?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “I have tried online dating on and off, with a little success but mostly rejection. Every so often I would go through a period of giving up on ever finding anyone, but now I’m in a relationship. I’ve always been very upfront and open about my disability from the very beginning. It’s either going to be a problem for people or it isn’t. I don’t see the point of waiting to find out. Yes, that means I’ve had less interest, but at least I know when the interest is there it’s genuine and not going to disappear.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “I’ve dated using online methods and people I’ve met spontaneously. Being a heterosexual man, I don’t really have a type as such. I am interested in creative, intelligent and funny people. I am on my 2nd marriage and we’ve been together for 12 years. When I was younger, dating always felt more like a job interview than an enjoyable experience. I’ve been stood up, ignored and even worse. It was when I decided to change my attitude towards dating that I began to have more success. I tried to see it as a night out and an opportunity to get to know an interesting person with no expectations.”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “My wheelchair is a bit of a giveaway! I do have the conversation with potential partners about the ways illness affects me. I’ve tried online dating apps without much success. I’ve had the best luck with finding people online, becoming friends and then dating them. I worry that people would see me and think I’m not a long-term option because of my disability.”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “My dating experiences have been heartbreaking and abusive. All the women I’ve dated in the past have taken advantage and cheated on me, all from meeting online. Dating online is horrible in my opinion because of the bad experiences that I’ve had.”

4. What frustrates you most about dating?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “Having to take a leap of faith and share aspects of your life that are complicated, with someone that you barely know. It’s a big issue building trust with someone and I hate having to start from the beginning and get them used to what my life is like. With a disability like mine you can’t introduce it gradually. It’s a permanent feature of my life from day one. I also don’t like having to negotiate how to manage with carers when on a date, I usually have to discuss this with the person in advance. It’s a lot to deal with at an early stage.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “I hated the Darwinian nature of dating. A lot of potential dates would say one thing but then date a guy who was 6 foot 2 with an IQ of a house brick. Dating when you are disabled takes stubborn, single-minded determination and the motivation to press on is not always easy to find.”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “People play games. If you’re not interested in me because I’m disabled that’s fine – I’m tough enough to hear that – but I find it hard when people equivocate.”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “A lot of women are not genuine, sincere, or empathetic. They have ulterior motives that make them selfish and heartless. Most of them don’t have any morality.”

5. What do you look for in a potential partner? Do you actively seek an able-bodied/disabled partner/someone with a similar disability to your own?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “I do place some importance on looks – I have to feel physically attracted to them, and it is important to me that we can have sex. Because of my own limitations, that means the other person needs to be ‘able’ enough to compensate (recognising that I wont know whether they are until I ask someone). I do appreciate the irony of the discrimination, but this is purely a practical consideration! Beyond that, it’s all about personality. They have to be relaxed about the complexities of life, fun, and intelligent.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “I’ve dated both disabled and able-bodied women, and I’m sad to say I have faced as much prejudice from the disabled women as the able-bodied. I seem to be largely attracted to independent, strong, creative women with a sense of humour that matches my own. Body type is almost irrelevant.”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “I don’t actively seek out disabled or abled partners. The advantage of a disabled partner is them understanding where I’m coming from and us connecting on a level where we share these experiences. The advantage of a non-disabled partner would be their potential ability to help with hoisting me, which would enable us to do a lot more together than if we were reliant on PAs (personal assistants/carers).”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “I don’t really have a preference. I look for women who are positive, upbeat and have similar interests to me. Whether they are physically disabled or not doesn’t matter to me.”

6. What were/are your biggest concerns prior to losing your virginity?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “My biggest concern was doing it ‘right’ and not being embarrassed.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “My concerns before losing my virginity were always physically based. I was concerned that my shortening ligaments would mean I wouldn’t be able to physically have sex. I was concerned about the emotional effect on an able-bodied partner being with someone with a shortened lifespan.”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “Pregnancy, I guess. Disability didn’t really play into it much back then, but I was still ambulant at the time. I was using crutches and needed some support, but was a lot less reliant on a partner adapting the sex to my abilities.”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to satisfy her and would therefore be a disappointment.”

7. Do you think your first sexual experience was more challenging/awkward purely because of your disability?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “No, I think it was awkward because it was my first time and I was a teenager. I think it helps that I was with someone else with a disability, and my own limitations were not as great back then.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “My first sexual experience was with a girl who had the condition Friedreich ataxia. Therefore neither my disability or hers was of much concern from a self-confidence point of view. It was more the logistics of finding a position that worked. There were a couple of occasions where she almost ended up stuck on the floor, naked with her legs straight up in the air after to try to transfer from her chair onto my bed by herself!”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “Not really, but my condition was far less progressed then.”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “I was worried about my physical limitations and that made me more nervous than I probably would have been ordinarily. It was all over very quickly. I did not have fun. She called me prick and left, never to be seen again. So I don’t think she had fun either.”

8. What are the most common misconceptions you have faced?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “I don’t really encounter many because I include in my profile that everything works in that department. It’s a bit disappointing to feel I have to do that. Sometimes people ask what I can do and I tend to answer quite frankly. I don’t really leave much room for assumptions.

One issue discussed in the disability community is that of devotees. I’ve had a mixed experience. Some are only interested in getting themselves off and see the disability as a fetish. But other devotees are simply attracted to you as a disabled person, in the same way that someone might be attracted to tall people. The important thing for me is to recognise that different people are attracted to different things. It is only a problem when that attraction is the only thing that interests someone about you, or becomes an obsession. My suggestion is to be careful but open-minded, in order to open up new and amazing experiences.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “The most common misconception would be amongst able-bodied women not realising I’m a sexual animal. They would then be shocked when I started flirting outrageously with them.”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “People assume that I’m willing to be their ‘try it and see’, or that I don’t have needs, preferences, or desires in bed because (from their perspective) I’m so desperate, I’d take whatever I can get. Alternatively, it just doesn’t cross their minds that no matter how hard I flirt, they fail to realise I’m hinting at us getting together.”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “People have asked if I’m able to get an erection. I think many believe disabled people are asexual and incapable of having any sexual desire. But in reality that desire for me is extremely intense. Sometimes uncontrollable.”

9. When having sex, how do you overcome the physical limitations associated with your disability?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “Largely by depending on my partner to do a lot of the movement, and to assist in moving me into the position that works for us. We have had to experiment with different positions that maximise the amount of mobility I have, and try different toys to make things a bit interesting. I use a mouthpiece ventilator so I can still kiss my partner.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “Imagination, open-mindedness and being as sexually generous as I can. Occasionally, technology helps with the periodic introduction of a sex toy.”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “I tend to remain clothed, be the active partner, and do things for the person I’m having sex with. I don’t feel comfortable expressing my own needs, desires, or preferences at all. My limitations are more psychological. In terms of paralysis and joint instability, we use a LOT of pillows jammed round me to support me in the right place, then I stay still, and my partner moves around me.”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “Trial and error mostly. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! It’s fun to experiment with toys and household items too.”

10. In terms of sexual intercourse, what can’t you do that you wish you could?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “There is quite a bit I cannot do that I would like to, such as being able to touch my partner without having to be moved in a specific way. I’ve managed to try everything although there are certain things like anal sex that we are yet to find a good position for. We are still working on that one!”

Brian, 51, SMA: “In terms of intercourse, I wish more positions were available to me as variety is the spice of life after all. The use of my hoist helps greatly and opens up positions I otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach.”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “I wish I could have easy sex, without loads of explanation and preparation – that would allow me to have a far more normal and enjoyable sex life.”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “I wish I could do the ’69’ position – that looks fun! And penetrate her when she’s in a doggy style position. I’m only missing out a little bit though.”

11. What advice would you offer to other disabled people who are sexually inexperienced?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “It’s really about finding out what you can do and building trust and communication with your partner. Experiment with everything and don’t let things go stale. Keep trying new things, new methods and techniques.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “Decide what you want, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, be stubborn and tenacious. Cast your net wide and use the assets you feel you do have such as compassion intelligence humour.”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “Get to know your body first. Learn to pleasure yourself, learn what you like and how you like it. Experiment with toys if you can – they can often substitute for grip and reach. The better you know your body the more likely you are to get what you want out of sex.”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “Don’t get your hopes up! sex is over-hyped. To be honest, I prefer to play video games.”

13. Are there any particularly funny sexual episodes you’d like to share?

Dave, 38, Duchenne MD: “There have been a couple of times a PA (personal assistant/carer) has walked in at a terribly unfortunate moment when I am with a partner. I think sometimes they are just a little naive as to what we might be doing and knock and enter rather than knocking and waiting.”

Brian, 51, SMA: “I once had a nasty experience when my college girlfriend tried a new shade of permanent lipstick, ‘guaranteed to stay put all night’. Whilst dressing me, the morning care staff thought I had developed a nasty rash and called in the medical staff. Everyone stood around me deciding what was to be done about this nasty deep red rash on my penis. The college nurse produced some cortisone cream and when applied, she realised the mark was merely lipstick. This would have been embarrassing with one person in the room let alone three!”

Tom, 27, Unspecified Neuromuscular: “Nope!”

Steve, 28, Duchenne MD: “I know ’69’ is off limits for me because I tried it once. I can’t move around by myself when lay on a bed. So I was flat on my back and she sat on my face and almost suffocated me! All I could do was flap my hands around like a dolphin. She thought I was loving it and so just carried on.”


Click here for the GIRLS!

Valentine’s Special: Part 1

Disability & Dating ~ Q&A

Four women with different forms of muscular dystrophy answer questions on body confidence, dating, sex and relationships…

*Names have been changed

1. Do you identify as a sexual being?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “Of course! I have fully functioning sexual organs and like anyone else, I have sexual desires. Having a physical disability, like mine, does not affect either of those.”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “Yes, most definitely. We all have wants and desires regardless of our physical abilities.”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “I’ve always felt like a sexual being and desired an intimate relationship. However, throughout my teenage years and thereafter, I didn’t imagine anyone would want that type of relationship with me, so I relied on myself for any sexual needs.”

Laura, 24, Limb Girdle MD: For years I actually didn’t see myself as a sexual being because I hated my body and I truly believed that no one would ever want to be with me. It wasn’t until I reached my twenties and craved intimacy that I actively searched for a sexual partner.

2. How does your body confidence (or lack of) affect your sex life?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “I would say that my lack of body confidence is the only thing that affects my sex life. From the age of 16, I’ve struggled with social anxiety which stems from the dislike of my body and the way my disability has ‘deformed’ it. I have such a fear of rejection that I have missed many opportunities to start relationships (casual and serious). Therefore, my sex life has been affected. This issue was actually one of the reasons my last relationship ended. I pushed away my partner to the point that he couldn’t deal with my constant queries and need for reassurance. I was a nightmare!”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “Body confidence issues and insecurities definitely held me back from experimenting sexually. I’ve only had one sexual partner and he is my fiancé of the past 7 years, despite having two previous long-term relationships beforehand.”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “I have very low body confidence and some days I really hate how I look. But it has never really affected my sex life. I always find the first encounter with someone new quite stressful and it gives me a lot of anxiety at the thought of someone seeing my wonky body. But no guy has ever said anything negative – quite the opposite!

I’m now in a long-term relationship with someone who fully understands my body hang-ups. He’s patiently trying to improve my body confidence and even if I don’t believe it, it’s pretty awesome having someone telling me I’m beautiful at least once a day.”

3. Have you tried online dating? What are your biggest concerns/challenges when it comes to dating? Do you disclose your disability?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “All my dating experience has been via online apps. Every date I’ve been on has actually been really positive and I’ve met some nice people. As most girls/guys find, it can be hard to distinguish who is genuine or not when talking to people online, and it can also be hard to figure out their intentions. This can be even harder when a disability is involved, but I choose to disclose my disability in my bio. I only write a short sentence, usually something sassy like, ‘yes, I do use a wheelchair’. I also make sure I show at least one full-body photo. This relieves the anxiety of telling someone and also means that whoever messages me already knows about my disability. However, I do sometimes receive disrespectful or patronising comments but I love challenging them.”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “Most of my dating experiences have been using online platforms. Coming from a sheltered upbringing, meeting people at bars and clubs just didn’t seem realistic. I actually prefer online dating as it forces potential dates to see the best of you (unlike face-to-face where they often judge you on your disability).

I did go through a rough patch with dating sites, whereby if I mentioned in my profile the fact I am a wheelchair-user, most guys would open with, “Hi, I’m not being a dick but can you still have sex?”

I do believe sex is part of a healthy relationship but when guys put so much emphasis on that and that alone, it leads me to think they all want the same thing. For this reason I stopped disclosing my disability in my profile, and told them only after chatting for some time. Some accused me of leading them on, but to me this suggested they have a major issue with dating someone with a disability.”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “I’ve been dating a long time. Excitingly, I got my first boyfriend at school (Year 7), and I thought I was winning. It lasted a whole 3 days and we didn’t even get as far as holding hands.

It wasn’t until I moved away to university that I wanted to date, so I started to try online apps. During those 4 years, I only had a handful of dates and none went anywhere – although I did eventually get my first kiss aged 18.

I really started to date when I moved to London. I met all my dates online and I was quite surprised how many people wanted to go out with me. Most didn’t progress beyond the first date, though some were a lot more successful. I did feel vulnerable but that’s normal for anyone meeting someone they’ve talked to over the internet.

I made my disability obvious on my profile. I’m not saying it should be, but it can be a big deal for potential partners, and I didn’t want to waste my time with guys who couldn’t deal with it. My most successful dates never mentioned my disability in messages, it was just accepted.”

Laura, 24, Limb Girdle MD: I never had the confidence to approach guys in a conventional way. And so all my dating experience has been initiated online. It’s somehow easier to get to know people online before meeting in person. That way, they aren’t immediately confronted with my disability (which I think tends to intimidate most able-bodied guys). However, I have always included photos of myself in my wheelchair on dating profiles.

4. What frustrates you most about dating?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “The most frustrating thing I find is effort. That sounds terrible but when talking to someone new, it takes a while to answer questions they may have and inform them correctly. This then comes with the fear of scaring them away or being rejected because of it.”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “Not knowing when best to disclose my disability and the anxiety over their reaction. As for the date itself, I worried about them seeing me struggle with something physical as I don’t want to be perceived as weak.”

Laura, 24, Limb Girdle MD: Honestly, the rejection! Online dating can be brutal, particularly for girls in wheelchairs! It takes a lot of determination to pick yourself and try again. But the effort does pay off in the end.”

5. What do you look for in a potential partner? Do you actively seek an able-bodied/disabled partner/someone with a similar disability to your own?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “In a potential partner I look for someone who is open-minded and doesn’t take life too seriously. Someone who is honest, empathetic and obviously gives good cuddles! I wouldn’t say I actively seek an able-bodied person but dating somebody with a disability as severe as mine obviously adds difficulties.”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “I’ve always wanted a partner who has some form of disability. I have always valued and sought the emotional support and connection it would offer. It wasn’t until I stopped looking that I found someone who fit the bill completely. It was important to me that I found someone who could understand me.”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “While I have dated disabled people, my preference was always for someone without a disability. In particular, I didn’t want to date someone with care needs like myself. I think alone time with a partner is really essential and I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where a carer always had to be around.”

6. What were/are your biggest concerns prior to losing your virginity?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “Apart from the typical concerns, I had additional worries. Positioning was the main one. I was worried about discomfort and being considered ‘boring’ due to my physical limitations. I was also concerned that the person I lost my virginity to wouldn’t be patient with me.

I had no idea what positions were possible and so trusting the person to be patient with me was a must. Being vulnerable was also a concern. When I’m in bed, I have no escape, meaning that anyone could easily take advantage of me.”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “My biggest concerns were not being able to do certain positions without my partner doing most of the work, and being unable to sexually satisfy him due to my muscle weakness.

Now several years on I’ve realised sex is more about creativity and trust, with those two things you can achieve almost all your sexual desires. Plus it isn’t all about intercourse. My only concern remaining is that my partner may one day prefer an able-bodied girl and get tired of thinking outside the box to make certain sexual activities possible.”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “I think my biggest concern was the uncertainty and not knowing my body’s limitations. I had no idea if I’d be able to get into a good position to have sex. I was also concerned whether I’d find the right person who would be patient enough to work together with me.”

7. Do you think your first sexual experience was more challenging/awkward purely because of your disability?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “I would actually say no. For anyone, having sex for the first time is awkward. It’s all new feelings and sensations that no one can prepare for and sharing something intimate and new with someone. The only challenge I had was finding an easy position, due to my lordosis, but I was prepared for that.”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “It was more awkward purely due to my anxiety over what their reaction would be to my limitations in the bedroom. We didn’t talk beforehand, which I regret as it may have helped me relax, but I was embarrassed by the things I thought I would struggle with regarding intercourse in particular.”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “It was definitely more challenging and awkward. Looking back, I regret it happening when it did and with who. Despite dating quite a few different people prior to losing my virginity, I didn’t think any guy would want to have sex with me. When he did, I felt like I couldn’t say no because I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity to experience it again. I was lucky though that it was his first time too.

The whole thing was awkward. In an attempt to be romantic, he picked me up off the sofa and carried me to the bedroom but the flat corridors were super tight so he whacked my head on the door a few times. Then my floppy, bendy limbs made it difficult for him to get me undressed. The awkwardness carried on until I was re-dressed and back in my wheelchair.”

8. What are the most common misconceptions you have faced?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “The main one is that I can’t have sex, full stop. On dating apps and on nights out, I am constantly asked if I can have sex. The sad thing is, some people are genuinely shocked when they learn that I can. Another misconception is that sex with a disabled person can be boring. Or that the disabled person is fragile and can be broken. These are both totally inaccurate.”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “That I am asexual because I’m a wheelchair-user or I have no sensation and therefore there’s nothing in it for me. I AM sexual, I do enjoy sex in a loving relationship (never been a one night stand kind of girl) and I CAN feel!”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “While online dating, I was often asked if I could have sex. Quite a few people I dated assumed I was paralysed and so I they would question if I had any sensation.”

9. When having sex, how do you overcome the physical limitations associated with your disability?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “I overcome physical limitations by being honest with my partner. I’m always upfront with what I may need help with but also what I don’t need help with. It’s good to talk about challenges that may arise but also not to dwell on them. I sometimes just find it easier to mention things when actually getting into it. Talking and worrying too much can ruin the mood completely.”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “I did a lot of research into sexual positions for wheelchair-users. This coupled with knowing my own body’s limitations gives me a good sense of my capabilities in bed. In the areas I knew I’d struggle, my adaptive personality takes over and we just get creative using the ceiling track hoist. Oral, mutual masturbation, sensual massages etc are just as satisfying as intercourse.”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “I think having the right partner is key. If you’re not comfortable with them, it makes overcoming obstacles really difficult. You need to be with someone who you can be fully open with about your desires and that person needs to be willing to work within your limitations.”

10. In terms of sexual intercourse, what can’t you do that you wish you could?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “There are some positions I wish I could do that are off-limits. The majority are adaptable but taking the lead would be fun. I can do that to some extent but not completely. Being spontaneous is also something I wish I could do – being able to jump into bed with someone without the whole process of hoisting and undressing. Also, having privacy and secrecy is something I’d like.”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “I can’t do certain positions unaided because my trunk muscles are too weak for me to be on top. I get frustrated at times with the restrictions of the ceiling hoist. But there are loads of other positions, so I don’t feel I miss out just because 1one or two are not possible.”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “There’s so much I can’t do, but the main thing I wish I could do isn’t a sexual thing. I really wish I could roll over by myself and give my boyfriend a hug and a kiss in bed without him having to help. In the past, I did feel like I was missing out on things but with the right partner, I don’t anymore. We’re in a really happy and loving relationship and even if I can’t do much in bed we still have a great time!”

Laura, 24, Limb Girdle MD: Obviously, as a full-time wheelchair-user there are things I can’t do, like doggy-style and being on top. But I find that you just have to be creative, have fun and laugh through the awkwardness! I do so wish I could masturbate but I don’t have the strength in my hands.”

11. What advice would you offer to other disabled people who are sexually inexperienced?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “Don’t over-think things. It can be easy to think about all the difficulties you may face or embarrassing moments you may have but don’t let that have a hand in you missing out on sexual relations. On the other hand, make sure you trust whoever you’re intimate with. Even if it’s a one night stand, ask some trigger questions to get an idea of how they will treat you. But honestly, just have fun. Sex is great and everyone deserves to experience it.”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “Communication is essential. Think outside the box, use props for support and be open-minded. Practice, practice, practice and have fun.”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “Get used to having to communicate your needs, don’t just expect your partner to guess what you can and can’t do in bed. It’s also important to communicate what your likes and dislikes are. But probably my most important piece of advice is, don’t rush into things. There’s so much pressure on people to lose their virginity that it can make you feel like a loser if you haven’t had sex. It’s not for other people to dictate when the right time is. If someone comes along who wants to have sex with you, don’t do it just because you think you should.”

13. Are there any particularly funny sexual episodes you’d like to share?

Becky, 22, SMA Type 2: “My ex and I always struggled to find time alone together, due to the fact I share a room. We had to take advantage whenever possible, especially during the honeymoon period! We had a few spare minutes in my van (an advantage of having tinted windows!) and so I started giving oral as he unbuttoned my shirt. Suddenly he told me that my PA was getting closer and quickly sat in the passenger seat, making sure he was decent. He totally forgot that I couldn’t button my shirt back up until he looked back at me, his eyes wide, as my PA opened the door. He quickly moved in front of me, blocking me from her view as he buttoned me back up. We just pretended that nothing had happened and the PA still doesn’t realise!”

Amy, 30, Congenital Muscular Dystrophy: “My first time was in a hotel room in Birmingham. Little did we know the walls were paper thin and a family with young children were next-door. The following morning, I overheard the parents complain of a couple going at it so loudly the night before, it kept their kids up! I was mortified while my partner thought it was hilarious.”

Sarah, 27, SMA Type 2: “My boyfriend and I were on the sofa watching TV when my PA said she was popping out for a couple of hours. Clearly we wanted to make the most of this time alone. While he could undress me just fine, the re-dressing was slightly challenging. When my PA came back she said, ‘what the hell has happened to you clothes?!’”

Laura, 24, Limb Girdle MD: “Me and my then partner tried to use the hoist so that I could be on top. But as soon as he released the straps, I fell on top of him like a sack of potatoes and squashed him. But we laughed a lot!”


Coming Soon: Disability & Dating ~ The Boys!

Interview | Amin Lakhani: The Dating Coach on Wheels

Are you lacking in confidence and social skills? Do you suffer from low self-esteem, struggle to form meaningful relationships or find dating too nerve-wracking a prospect?

Well, if you haven’t already heard of him, allow me to introduce Amin Lakhani, the ‘Dating Coach On Wheels’. With hints, tips, and tailor-made “no bullshit” advice, he could be just the answer you’ve been searching for.

Amin, from Bellevue, Washington, has a progressive form of Muscular Dystrophy called Charcot Marie Tooth Syndrome, which presents in overall weakness, particularly the hands and legs. Now 29 years old, he has been a wheelchair user since the age of 15.

He excelled academically, achieving two Ivy League University degrees within four years, progressing onto a successful career at Microsoft. Nevertheless, the Self-confessed “nerd with poor social skills” felt lonely and insecure, with only a few friends and no dating experience.

Finally, at the age of 23, Amin hired a dating coach whom he worked with for around four years. This enabled him to totally transform himself, his relationships and his life.

He’s popular, makes friends easily, has been on over 40 first dates, enjoyed sex and fallen in love. Now the Dating Coach on Wheels, image consultant and motivational speaker is returning the favour.


1. You became a wheelchair-user at the tough age of fifteen. How did this affect your sense of self and your personal relationships?

I didn’t mind so much at first because I have a huge family and a lot of support. In fact, it was pretty cool because I had this brand new wheelchair and I no longer felt exhausted all the time. Up until that point I could walk a little but I always used elevators and I sort of grabbed hold of the walls and furniture so that I didn’t fall.

But as soon as I started High School I felt different from my peers. I didn’t know anyone else who used a wheelchair, so the fact that I stood-out from the crowd made me really self-conscious. I was lonely, alienated and my relationships became strained because I wanted the impossible: I wanted to get rid of my wheelchair and be the same as everyone else. But of course, that could never happen.

I did have a few school friends but I never had a girlfriend, and was left out of all the usual teen dating etiquette. No girl ever wrote on my locker.

I felt unattractive and thought I had nothing to offer a girl, so I shut myself down. If ever a member of my family asked why I wasn’t dating, I would use the excuse that I was too busy for all that.

2. Where did you get the idea to seek assistance from a dating coach, and why did you choose that route?

I had tried online dating – the likes of ‘OK Cupid’ and ‘Plenty of Fish’. I was really thorough with my research and looked up what I should and shouldn’t be doing. I was enthusiastic and did everything right according to my research. I was, on paper, a catch. Or so I thought. I was a grade-A student, a high-achiever academically, I had a great job at Microsoft. But it just wasn’t working out for me and that made me feel hopeless. I think my downfall was the fact that I tried to hide my disability from my online dating profiles. I never showed pictures of my wheelchair and never mentioned it. I basically listed my achievements but failed to inject any personality or humour. Had I done this I think I would have been met with a more emotional response. Any response.

I look back now and cringe, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Ultimately it led me to search online forums which is where I found the guy who would become my dating coach. I was 23 at the time and he was doing a workshop called, “Conversation Secrets”. It was then that I decided to get his advice.

Amin Lakhani before his makeover

2. You say a turning point for you was being told, by your dating coach, that you will never blend in but that’s okay; rather you should make yourself stand-out from the crowd. Why did this realisation have such an impact on you, and why do you feel disabled people should aim to stand-out rather than fit in?

Yeah, that really did make an impression on me. I learnt that if you don’t like something you should change it. And, if you can’t change it, you should change your opinion of it. It’s true, disabled people are memorable because of their disability. It does make us stand out. But that isn’t a negative thing.

I do think disabled people should embrace their individuality and dress to grab positive attention. People are going to look at you anyway. By nature, humans are curious and we all check each other out – disabled or not. So, make people look at you and remember you for the right reasons. Make them remember your outfit or your style. If you put the effort into your self-image, you look good and feel good about yourself, people wont pity or feel sorry for you because they wont be focused on your disability.

I also learnt, from my dating coach, that being in a wheelchair gives me free rein to talk to any girl in the world. No one is going to slap, punch or snub a guy in a wheelchair, right? So effectively, I could approach any girl I like and just start talking because even if she’s with a guy, he’s unlikely to feel threatened by me. It’s all good practice!

4. You clearly pay a great deal of attention to your appearance – the signature bow tie, a pop of colour and an overall minimalist, classy aesthetic. How did you develop your personal sense of style and why do you feel this is so important?

I believe you attract what you project. So, if you want to attract a punky type of person, it’s probably a good idea to shape your image around that look. I now look completely different from how I used to. I changed how I dress and style myself according to the type of girls I’m attracted to. We all need to embrace our individuality, consider what we wear and how we wear it. If we don’t feel good about our own appearance, it affects our confidence.

Amin Lakhani now!

5. Much emphasis is placed on sex, and for some disabled people this can be a cause for concern. How then would you coach someone whose disability prevents them from participating in the physical act of sex?

Okay, first of all, sex isn’t everything, it’s just a small part of what a relationship is. It’s more important to talk, flirt, connect and feel comfortable in each others company.

With regards to sex itself, I have clients explain their difficulties, circumstances and challenges to me. It’s all about individuality. Every disability is different therefore it’s important to consider everyone’s specific situation.

I have two main points:

Firstly, I ask what the client wants. Do they want someone to support them to participate in sex? Or do they want their partner to support them in the act? Either way, it’s essential to do your research and maybe find out from others with the same physical limitations how they approach sex.

Secondly, you’ve got to make it sound fun and exciting for your partner. Tell them what you want in a flirtatious way and make it sound hot and kinky rather than practical. Remember, you’re giving a gift to this person – to your partner. It’s a hugely intimate thing you’re asking and you’re entrusting your body to them.

6. You have talked candidly about sex and your own personal experiences. Why do you feel it is important to share this in order to help others?

Yeah I think it’s helpful for me to talk about my own experiences with my clients. It enables us to relate to each other. I’ve been through the same struggles myself and so I can identify in a way that an able-bodied dating coach couldn’t.

I offer advice that is sometimes unconventional. For example, I tell people it’s okay to feel like shit when you get rejected or things don’t go to plan. But you’ve then got to keep going, get out there and try again. All experience is beneficial.

7. It’s fair to say your target demographic is men. Why is this? Do you think men struggle more than women with confidence and making themselves attractive to others?

Obviously as a guy myself, I can relate more to men, although I have had more female clients recently. I have a wealth of dating and relationship experience that allows me to relate and identify with male clients especially.

There is definitely a gap for guys. They just don’t know how to get in the drivers seat. Women want them to take control but in order to get their guy to that place, they themselves have to take control. So a lot of the time I’m trying to help guys take charge.

8. Can you please explain your working methods?

As a dating coach I help people build their skills to make themselves more attractive to others. It’s not just about sex and dating, but also forming meaningful relationships and friendships, too.

For the most part I communicate with clients through video calls and we also Email in between. The length of time I spend with a client depends very much on what they want me to help with, and how hard they are willing to work to achieve their goal. I spent up to a year working with one particular guy who is actually able-bodied. He was incredibly reserved in social settings due to a lack of self confidence, and was looking for more than just a few pointers.

9. What is the one question you are asked most frequently, and what advice do you give in response?

Men want to know how to ask a girl out and how they can tell if she likes him. I tell them there’s no way to really know for sure if a girl likes you back. You’ve just got to rip off the band aid and go for it.

Women mostly ask how to find a guy who’s interested in more than just sex. My response is to learn to say no! Take your time and make a guy work for it. Don’t give it up on the first date as it leaves a bad impression. Inevitably the guy would assume you give it up to all guys just as easily, and that’s not what men want ultimately. We love the chase and value what we’ve worked hard for.

10. What are your top dating tips for those who are particularly nervous or lacking in confidence?

It’s okay and totally natural to be nervous. I still get nervous going on a date for the first time. It takes courage and courage leads to nervousness; everyone feels it. You’ve just got to do it. No matter what, you have to try. We all have to go through awkward stages and you will probably look back and cringe at yourself and your failed dates – I know I have. But again, that’s okay.

I also recommend bringing up your disability early on, but in a humorous way. Don’t try to hide it, but at the same time, don’t disclose everything in great detail. You don’t need to be 100% emotionally okay with your own disability. We’re all a little insecure about something. Just put your best foot/wheel forward so you can find the people who prioritise things other than their partners physical abilities. These people are a rare breed, so it will take work (and inevitable heartbreak) to find them.

In terms of date conversation: Pauses, I think, are actually a good, powerful thing. They can be sexual and flirtatious, allowing you to lock eyes and check each other out. I am consciously quiet for extended periods when I go on a date. During these pauses I look my date up and down and make it known that I’m checking her out. This lets her know I like her and will probably make her giggle and flirt in return.

Remember not to talk too much and don’t attempt to fill the silences. It can be exhausting as it’s impossible to process all that verbal information quickly.

Do ask questions, but not just typical introductory questions. Become interested in your date and respond to their answers. If they answer a question very briefly, realise that perhaps they don’t want to talk about that particular topic. Dig deeper into what they do want to talk about and tap into their interests.

11. Do you think there’s a limit to who you’re able to coach, and have you found any of your clients to be especially challenging?

Oh yeah absolutely. It’s all about motivation. If a client isn’t motivated or willing to do what it takes and work hard for it, they won’t get results. At the end of the day, they need to trust me and do what I tell them, no questions asked. I can’t do the hard work for them.

12. Where do you see your career taking you and what more do you hope to achieve?

I’m kind of happy where I am right now. I really just want to help more people.

I enjoy writing but mostly I love making videos, talking and being myself on camera. So, ideally I’d like to be more active on Youtube. There’s something about being recorded that’s more effective than someone reading something I have written. In a video, you’re hearing my voice, seeing my mannerisms and humour. You’re receiving the information exactly how I want you to. You just don’t get that through writing.

I feel like I was born to do the work I do. All of my personal struggles have been for a reason. I now have a sense of purpose and can make an impact in a way that I couldn’t if I were able-bodied. In that way, my disability is beneficial.


I’d like to thank Amin for taking the time to talk with me.

Please do connect with the Dating Coach on Wheels on social media:

Website

Youtube

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook


*This article can also be found on the Disability Horizons website.

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