This is a guest post by Tracy Todd. She writes beautifully, honestly, and insightfully about life in general and life as a quadriplegic at her blog, tracytodd.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter here.
*One quick note: comments on this sexuality series are getting kicked into my spam folder a lot. I’m going into that folder and approving them more than once a day, so if you post a comment and get told it’s spam, or simply don’t see it right away, that’s likely the reason. You’ll see it posted just as soon as I get to the spam folder to make corrections. Sorry for the hassle!
At 28 I had a successful teaching career, was happily married with a gorgeous ten-month-old son. A tragic car accident changed the course of all of our lives. I was left paralyzed from the neck down. A year later I was divorced. That was 13 years ago.
After being alone for more than a decade, I fell in love with a wonderful man and a poignant part of my existence was reawakened – my sensuality. It is a miracle because in my world love can be elusive. But, if it does happen, one can be assured that it is pure magic.
Most people react with jaw-dropping astonishment when hearing that a man – a sane and fully functioning one at that – is interested in me as a woman.
Everyone’s response is the same – he must be a very special man.
Bravely, I agree, with a smile. He is remarkable in that he has the unique, and rare, ability to look way beyond my wheelchair and see me for the person that I really am.
Facing any type of permanent disability, or even serious temporary injury, is too traumatic for most people to comprehend. Disabilities immediately evoke fears of abandonment, rejection, loneliness and frustration because that is just human nature. But, deep down inside I’m screaming: “Why does he have to be the only special one? Couldn’t it be me who is special enough?”
I have first-hand experience of what happens when one bases a relationship purely on the physical. It will eventually crumble because no human is guaranteed a life without encountering health issues like serious illness or injury, financial problems, family troubles, spiritual or philosophical differences, social dilemmas or disability. Any relationship without a spiritual and emotional connection – depth and meaning – will not survive any of life’s curve-balls. I hadn’t even thought that until my accident and consequent divorce – just to give you an indication of what a shallow life I was obliviously living.
Most people automatically assume that because I am paralyzed I am unable to have sex. That is because society has fallen into the classic – and all too common – trap of defining intimacy between two people who love one another deeply as “sex” which in my mind is “animal-like genital intercourse”.
It’s simply taken for granted that I would not be able to fulfill any man’s sexual needs and therefore would not make a suitable life partner. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many marriages fall apart because a fully functioning partner has the inability to connect physically with the other. Thus my abilities – or seemingly lack of – hold no relevance.
One cannot imagine the terrible derogatory remarks and comments I have had to endure as a direct result of these misconceptions. It just proves how ignorant and prejudiced our society really is. Sex for a quadriplegic is not impossible.
Also, no one can tell me what my body can and cannot feel. The feeling may not be exactly the same as before but, I’ve learned to recognize other sensations and signs, becoming more in tune with my body.
I managed to let go of what I thought sex was supposed to be and consider what it can be. Together, we learned to respond with a spirit of exploration rather than (for me) a sense of loss. Besides, discovering new and interesting ways of “doing it” could offer a brand-new spark to any relationship.
There are acceptable alternatives. Real intimacy is a way of expressing an innate part of who I am. I learned that kissing, cuddling, talking and fantasizing are not compromises. These “alternatives” have more erotic potential than most people care to explore or even acknowledge.
My sexuality is about so much more than just a stereotyped, and often overrated, physical act. Being an athlete in bed has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of a committed relationship. My value extends far beyond my ability to use and feel my genitals. It should be a combination of my personality, my passion for life, my intelligence, my opinions, my sense of humor, shared interests, my heart and my light that is attractive. Those lasting qualities are most certainly what I look for in a soul-mate.
I believe that real intimacy is a basic human need. Just because I am paralyzed it does not mean that I do not have exactly the same needs as everyone else. I still need to feel attractive, to be loved, touched, hugged and kissed.
Isn’t it amazing how there was a sudden interest in my love life immediately after my accident by, mostly curious, people and a tremendous amount of concern for my husband’s needs – without any consideration whatsoever of what my needs were in that domain?
Importantly, my new relationship taught me that there is a whole new language out there – just like English, Spanish, German or French – called Sex Language. I’ve realized the importance of speaking Sex Language and all couples should be doing it.
Talking throughout our lovemaking helps to focus on the moment – and one’s imagination can obviously help make the experience far more pleasurable. Being intimate taught me the importance of using one’s mind as well – as opposed to only relying on the physical body – in order to benefit from the entire sensual experience. A woman’s most powerful sexual tool is her mind.
We all have different intimate needs, wants, desires and fantasies and one should be able to discuss those with your life partner no matter what – otherwise, what’s the point? I always thought that the “language of love” was a cliché but now I realize – and fully appreciate – how crucial it is to an exclusive intimate relationship.
Generally, society does not like to associate themselves – particularly not romantically – with people who do not appear physically whole. Ironically, I consider myself to be a far more whole person now than what I ever was.
After all, I’m still a woman. I’m still in touch with my sensuality. That is reason enough to celebrate.