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Amy Shiner

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Sex and Disabilities: Do You Know How to Communicate?

Posted: 12/20/11 01:57 PM ET

Pop culture has created a view, both in the kink world and the vanilla (non-kinky) world, of partners who are perfect in every way, both mentally and physically. There are stereotypes, everyone has their own views, and then reality sets in. It doesn't matter if you're vanilla or kinky; everyone has their own uniqueness and quirks. Disabilities, both neurologically and physically, do not discriminate against one's sexual orientation or preferences.

This past November at the Transcending Boundaries Conference, held in New England annually, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation called "Growing Up Queer" by Wintersong Tashlin. With his mother, Tashlin, a presenter, shaman, magician, sex-positive educator, activist, and blogger, entertained, inspired, and informed the group of the ups and downs of growing up in an atmosphere of acceptance. I have been in the company of kinksters and GLBT friends near my own age who have a few fears: that they will run into their parents at a conference, or that their parents will find out about their private lives or vice versa. Opportunities to hear both sides of the story, what a parent goes through and what the adult child went through, are rare.

The difference in my perception of the presentation and possibly that of others around me? It wasn't that Wintersong is queer, nor that his mother was standing beside him; it was time and again realizing that Wintersong, who was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome, gives a view on what is sometimes overlooked: disabilities that are not physical.

Explaining disabilities to partners ends up being stress-free or completely stressful. Disabilities, in this instance, may be temporary or permanent. If someone recently broke a bone or has a particular problem area in the body and is planning on doing some form of sexual activity that is not a "common" activity, and is interacting with someone new, having a serious conversation about limits is not only positive but trust-building. Temporary disabilities, such as a broken elbow or a third-degree burn from ramen noodles (yes, people, that can be done, I speak from firsthand experience) can limit some sexual activities. Other situations, such as being in a wheelchair, fibromyalgia, or the inability to kneel or be in particular poses, can also be seen as disabilities.

Those disabilities are usually easily proven, and if you have a partner who is into scars, then the stories that can arise from it are countless.

When one suffers from a neurological disability or one that is still being researched and has no quick fix in sexual situations, like going into a different sexual position, that is where the mindset of "I am alone" comes into play. Asperger's, Tourette's, ADHD, and even depression can become a disability in play and can affect communication. Everyone communicates differently, and some techniques do not mesh as well as others; this includes both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Is your partner feeling unusually sad or weepy recently? Is it the best time to talk about getting deeper in a relationship or adopting a pet?

Or perhaps the partner has a limited attention span, and, if you're into kink play, telling them to stand in a corner for time-out for an hour is not the best disciplinary move. As a partner once told me, why give discipline if it is impossible for the submissive person to take it? Setting someone up for an impossible goal will only lead to failure and will not correct behavior.

At the same time, for the disabled, speaking up and saying, "I don't get it. Can you explain it?" can be stressful, not only for the disabled but also for the partner. Communication can become difficult even before the reason is known. Being vulnerable to criticism is as bad as realizing you are standing naked in front of an audience. I have been guilty more than once of not telling a partner until months into a relationship that I have a disability... and of only being provoked to do so when there was a "thud." If the problem is easily remedied by me taking an honest look at how I can fix the situation, I'm happy to communicate, but if not, my private corner looks cozy and warm.

Everyone is human. Everyone has setbacks, weaknesses, and strengths, and instead of trying to do the impossible of "fixing" a disability, look toward the ability.

For more information on how to get in touch with Wintersong, his class list, or background, please visit www.barkingshaman.com.

 

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