Can sex be enjoyable if you’re disabled?

imageAs a French ethics panel opposed the use of so-called sexual assistants for the disabled, Hollywood continues to forge ahead with the controversial film, “The Sessions,” which portrays the sexual awakening of a 38-year-old paralysed man and his relationship with his sex therapist.

Indeed, people have the same sexual urges whether they are disabled or not. We all – literally and figuratively – deserve a happy ending.

Here is Jürgen’s * story…

Truth uncovered: Sex and disability

Jürgen * has a complete tetraspasticity, his hands and feet are also restricted. As every man, he has a need for sexuality. However, one has, unfortunately, not many opportunities with such a disability. For a long time, his desire remained unsatisfied. Until he met Catharina.

Catharina König has been a trained sexual assistant for about four years now. On her website, she offers subtly “Touch – Massage – Meeting”. What may seem a little esoteric is virtually the only way to experience “sensual and sexual needs” for many of her customers. Or the “missing chance for action so far”, as the 50-year-old sexual assistant says.

Uncertainties in dealing with sexuality

How much sensuality has a paraplegic person? Can a man with multiple sclerosis have an erection? And does a mentally disabled person have sexual needs? There is a lot of uncertainty in the society when it comes to disability. Even more if sexuality is involved. The subject is a taboo even for many parents of disabled children. They can barley leave the role of the watchers, the protectors – even if their children have reached adulthood.

The thought of their son or daughter having sex embarrasses them and is often unimaginable. Sex may also mean reproduction, and thus also transfer – if it is a hereditary disability – of defective genes, which is usually not approved. Or the children are not thought of being able to be potential parents.

Can my disabled child have sex?
A self-determined life, however, also includes sexual self-determination. So Jürgen phoned Catherine, while he “was afraid of his own courage.” They had a longer conversation because for Catherine, it is very important to talk in advance and also during the actual meeting. True candour an essential thing to the sexual assistant.

Finally, they agreed on a date. It had cost him much strength to overcome his fear but today he is glad. The first, for him “very exciting”, meeting with Catharina, Jürgen can still remember very well. “After what felt like eternity, I could finally lie in bed next to a beautiful, tender and open-minded woman. As tenderly as my hands could, I was allowed doing anything, without being called back. ”

First sexual experiences
What he experiences with Catharina helps him a lot more “than all my fantasies” – even though not everything is allowed. Tongue kisses and sex or oral sex is usually excluded. Jürgen does not delude himself and considers sexual assistance a lasting solution for “people with such a complex disability” like him. However, he advises other affected people to consider carefully in advance whether they can afford the costs on the long run.

Sex for money. No wonder that sexual assistance is quickly brought in connection with the reputation of prostitution. To distinguish from that, the ISBB (Institut zur Selbstvestimmung Behinderter e.V, English: Institute for self-determination of disabled people) in Germany speaks of “surrogate partnership” or “sex surrogate”, so a kind of substitute partnership in which the sexual act does not stand in the centre but the time spent together.
Not (only) pure sex
This agrees with Catharina. What concerns her primarily is “creating a space for experience”, where wishes of her clients can develop. For example, “experience, try, sensing, being in contact with each other, tenderness, physical contact, proximity and nudity, perhaps even first sexual experiences”. Thus a so-called “physical self-esteem” can be built, which could also positively affect daily life.

Catharina’s openness also applies out of her appointments. She deals “offensively with the topic”. Additionally to positive reactions, there are also many reactions like “I could never do such a thing.” Because most people have little idea of her work she describes her job carefully. She occasionally exchanges with colleagues, runs workshops and lectures. She also complains that in institutions for people with disabilities, although the need for sex is seen, there is still a lack of practical implementation.

Deal open-minded with the “double taboo”
How controversial the topic is shows the project of the Swiss organisation for disabled people ‘pro infirmis’: In 2003, the organisation offered an education as sexual assistants, but they felt compelled to cancel the project in the same year, as it was “not supported by a broad base of organisations and individuals”. This was reflected particularly in a massive drop in donations.

The project was carried out by a different institution, and there are similar projects in Germany and Austria, too. The ISBB for example, offers training for prospective sexual assistants, which already Catharina attended and now, she bears the name “sexual assistant ISBB”. In Austria, the LIBIDA Sexual Assistance by Fachstelle.hautnah carries out the education of sexual assistants in Kalsdorf.

To participate in the training, no advanced special training is needed. The training itself is not classically structured but more a supervision. About half a dozen sexual-assisting operations of the training participants will be carried out in teams of two. Afterwards, they reflect their experiences, partly in the context of ethical, legal and practical issues. In brief, learning by doing, under supervision.

Disabled people are self-determined people

Does such an offer promote a dependency between the sexual assistant and the handicapped client, as some fear? Fact is: There is a demand for such offers. Whether one uses the offer, is everyone’s own decision. And Jürgen has an answer: It is important to approach the sexual assistants “with dignity and empathy” but “not fall in love with them if possible “. He is already longing for the next meeting.

* Name has been changed