dubble on dating 001: representation, vanilla sex, and feeling like a burden

Audio: Read by Keely Shannon

In the first instalment of ‘dubble on dating,’ dubble artists, editors, and writers are discussing their disabled dating experiences.

How does being disabled shape your dating life?

Stephanie (Visual Artist): As someone with endometriosis and various other chronic pain diagnoses that affect my pelvic floor, I have a difficult time dating because sex is painful for me. Having endometriosis means I have to be completely upfront with the people I date about the fact that I can’t always have sex, and if I do it’s going to require a LOT more extra work to make it enjoyable for me. I’ve learned the hard way to communicate up front with partners that this is going to be what’s expected of them from me. Sadly I’ve had relationships end because I couldn’t perform sexually often enough or in the ways my partner wanted me to. 

Emily (Founder and Editor-in-Chief): As someone with an invisible disability I appear non-disabled to potential partners unless I tell them or they ask about my scars. However, I definitely have internalised the idea that being in a relationship with someone like me is a burden (hello NYTimes article about Crohn’s Disease). While my logical brain knows this isn’t true, and my boyfriend has never been anything but lovely about it and repeatedly told me I’m wrong, it still sits there in the back of my mind.

Sarah (Visual Artist): Disability taught me pain and in turn, empathy.  I stopped looking at men as my enemy and as people to trick and get away from. I learned that tricking wasn’t protecting me, it was hurting others and myself. Tricking wasn’t allowing them to give me full consent because their consent was based off of me fawning and protecting. It allowed me to understand feelings, feelings that became important not to hurt so they don’t hurt as I do. When I did that, love from and to a partner came after. Disability gave me… Love.

Many non-disabled people make assumptions about if and how disabled people have sex. How have these assumptions affected you?

Uhura*: The idea of ‘vanilla’ sex has always pissed me off because some of us can’t get into complicated positions or hold certain positions for long! My sex isn’t boring because of chronic pain!

Saavik*: Adding to Uhura’s point – the idea that if we are sometimes less energetic in bed that means we’re lazy. I just have fatigue and arthritis!! 

Uhura: I internalised this so bad and only really got over it a couple of months ago, because of the idea that you have to be so energetic constantly, have sex really often, friends talking about sex and me being like ‘but how can you physically manage to go for so long!’ And thinking something was wrong with my relationship, but turns out I just needed to be physically very comfortable and supported! 

Saavik: I really feel that! For me, I just have different sex from when I’m well to when I’m flaring, and TBH it probably has led to having better sex. Both I and my partner have to be aware of how I’m feeling in my body, not just in terms of pleasure but everything. It’s more thoughtful, there’s more communication, and we’re more present. 

Also, having a partner that’s going to have sex with you and then rub your belly after to help with the pain… beautiful. And actually really hot – I think a lot of non-disabled people could probably learn from the interaction between care and sex disabled people have.

As Hannah Shewan Stephens wrote last week, there are plenty of awesome sex and relationship influencers in the disabled community. Where do we still need more representation?

Samir (Life Editor): I’d like to see more representation of aromantic/asexual disabled people. So often people assume that disabled people don’t date or have sex because they’re disabled, but some of us don’t have romantic/sexual relationships for totally unrelated reasons (and it’s not sad). I often feel strange talking about my identities since I worry that it plays into the trope of the undatable wheelchair dude (of course, all the wheelchair-using guys I know of who want to date, do).

Keely (Poetry & Fiction Editor): I fall somewhere on the asexual spectrum and I agree! more asexual/aromantic representation in general is so needed, and in my time online I haven’t seen many people who are asexual/aromantic and disabled. 

The conversations happening online around seeing disabled people as sexy and as people who can and do participate in sex are so important, but it’s also important to acknowledge that some disabled people aren’t interested in romantic or sexual relationships.

Samir: Yes, exactly! I think that there’s extra effort to have representation of disabled people who have and enjoy sex because that’s seen as something that’s more lacking, but the thing is, stereotypes of disabled people not being able to have sex or partners or whatever is not remotely the same as actual representation of disabled people who aren’t sexually or romantically attracted to people.

That’s all for today, but check back next month for more relationship questions answered. In the meantime, you can check out our Art Director Sabrina’s essay about dating while deaf.

Do you have any relationship questions you’d like us to answer on future instalments of ‘dubble on dating’? Email them to [email protected] and have a happy Valentine’s day!

*Some people have been given Star Trek names to preserve their privacy.

About Author

Samir (he/him) lives in North Carolina, USA with a bright green wheelchair and a little black dog. When he's not writing for dubble, he edits for the narrative justice organisation Pollen and literary magazine Decolonial Passage.