Kink and Disability for Disability Pride Month
We have a Fetish After Dark staff member who is a specialist in sex & disability. Since July is Disability Pride Month, we thought we'd have him give a very brief overview of how BDSM and kink can facilitate intimacy for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.
There are a few basic issues with sex and disability, some which are more societal and some which are practical. We will start with the more basic overview and then go into how aspects of BDSM not only makes intimacy easier for individuals dealing with disabilities and\or chronic illnesses, but that many aspects of BDSM are almost necessary to that facilitation.
Socially, the public tends to view anyone who is disabled as non-sexual. This often comes from the stigma around care. The thought process (subconsciously) often goes: "people who are disabled need care - they need care in a similar way to children - disabled people should be cared for like children". Not only is this degrading and dehumanizing to people who are adults, but it stigmatizes anyone who becomes their partner. Often, people who are with a disabled individual are seen as fetishizing their disability or are doing some form of social work. The only thing we could say about this is that the majority of the public is wrong and ableistic. Adults are adults, and when they are consenting, then they are consenting adults. Those of us within the disability and disability rights community work very hard to de-stigmatize an adult's right to consent. Even if you never become disabled or love someone who is: please, please, please do what you can to de-stigmatize their right to be treated with the dignity and respect afforded to all adults.
Practicality is where the bulk of individual work is done. Each individual deals with their disability and\or chronic illness differently, and their needs and ability may change multiple times a day. We usually start with a simple checklist to start the facilitation of intimacy, but this is in no way comprehensive or functional for all people.
Check in with your body's ability to manage pain\fatigue\stress before beginning intimacy
Be explicit in what you would both like before starting intimacy
Set your goals and expectations. (The goal of intimacy should not always be orgasm)
You may not always be able to "feel good enough" to be intimate. Instead, try to do what you can to prevent intimacy from increasing your pain\fatigue\stress. Try to set the goal to be intimate without making things worse rather than trying to feel good enough to start.
Chronic pain causes depression. Depression causes a drop in libido. If you have chronic pain, you need to address your depression. By doing so, you will improve your relationship with a partner and you relationship with yourself.
There are a lot of intimacy aids, toys, positioners, and furniture. While you may not require these, many can help with fatigue, pain, and stimulation. Be creative.
Bodies produce things. Sometimes during intimacy, people with disabilities and\or chronic illnesses lose control. Be kind and understanding.
So, how does BDSM help this?
Many would think that, apart from some bondage assisting in positioning, there's not much BDSM would do to manage disabilities or chronic illnesses. However, there are several aspects of kink and BDSM that facilitate intimacy for people with these conditions.
NEGOTIATION: Having those honest and explicit conversations to facilitate intimacy tend to not be very sexy for non-kinky folks. Well, kinksters have those sorts of conversations all the time. It's called negotiation. A major aspect of BDSM is informed consent (arguably the most important aspect of BDSM). By negotiating kink before we play, we inform and consent to all those activities. We often do this in a way that makes us excited to play, rather than making it clinical. It's sort of like talking dirty, but doing it in a way that allows everyone to know what we're going to do and to consent to it.
CHECK-INS: During BDSM, especially in bondage, we check in with each other to make sure that the helpless person is still consenting and enjoying themselves (remember that consent can be withdrawn at any time). Often, this allows them to voice a concern or discomfort that can be resolved without stopping play. For example, "the cuff on my right wrist is a little too tight", or "I need a bit more lube", or "can we go a bit easier please" are good ways that the bottom may communicate something that is bothering them that, if fixed, will allow them to continue. Disability needs can change at a moment's notice with very little warning. By facilitating check-ins, you can manage those needs. This will allow intimacy to continue without exacerbating a condition.
AFTERCARE: Kink needs aftercare (for both bottoms and tops). Often, the harder the kink, the more in-depth the aftercare. Much like intimacy with a disability, people participating in BDSM push themselves physically and emotionally, and they require a period of care. This can often be a quiet space, being wrapped up in a soft blanket, and having a restorative beverage. Kinksters who play a lot learn what works best for them. Intimacy for people living with a disability and\or chronic illness can be very intense, and absolutely can require aftercare.
NON-SEX FOCUSED INTIMACY: BDSM does NOT need to include sex. There are people who regularly have BDSM\kink relations without every engaging in anything people would see as being sex. However, it is still very intimate and fulfilling. If you have a disability and\or chronic illness, you should start expanding what intimacy can mean to you. It can be incredibly fulfilling for partners to go through this exploration and to learn what can be fulfilling.
BDSM ACKNOWLEDGES POWER: Living with a disability and\or chronic illness can be incredibly disempowering. However, BDSM acknowledges an exchange of power: for someone to give control of themselves over to another. It can be incredibly personally empowering to be on either side of that exchange. To receive control and responsibility over another is obvious, but to have the ability to give that power over to another is also empowering. Too often, those living with disabilities and\or chronic illnesses do not have any agency over their bodies. To be able to have the ability to hand that over to someone else is often a choice that is made for them. To be able to have the agency to make that choice can be incredibly empowering.
We will note that this is an extremely brief overview of how BDSM\Kink intersect and assist with sex and disability. We have a deep passion for facilitating intimacy (very bottom energy, we know), as this issue is both complicated and deeply personal to us. If you're looking to learn more or engage one of us for a speaking arrangement, please contact us.
Here is a list of some good resources we like that can help you (we're absolutely not sponsored, we just really like them):
A Quick and Easy Guide to Sex & Disability, by A. Andrews
The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability, by Miriam Kaufman, M.D., Cory Silverberg, and Fran Odette
Sex and Disability, edited by Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow
Pleasure Activism, written and gathered by Adrienne Maree Brown
Healing Painful Sex, by Deborah Coady, MD, and Nancy Fish, MSW, MPH
Vino and Vulvas - an educational series held on a variety of topics in Asheville NC facilitated by Heather Edwards, PT, CSC
Disability After Dark - A podcast about sex and disability by Andrew Gurza
Squirmy and Grubs - Shane Burcaw and Hannah Aylward are an interabled couple who document and speak on their relationship. You can also check out their extremely popular YouTube series that journals their experiences here.