Q: My fiancé and I had a blockbuster sex life, but then he almost died and became disabled. It’s been almost two years since we had sex. He hates his body and is too embarrassed to be sexual. He refuses therapy. How can I help him accept his body enough to be sexual again? –Sexless in Seattle
A: I, too, have a partner who was rendered rather suddenly disabled, so I feel you. Part of the issue with acquiring a disability is the shock of this happening to you at all; it did happen to you, too, in a way, so I hope you realize that you could use some support as well. Another common issue to confront is a radically changed body image, which has deep implications for sex; how we feel about our bodies is often a core part of sexual comfort. Then there’s a person’s conception of gender roles, sexual potency, and sexual “normalcy.” It’s probably safe to say that his body no longer matches the story about sexuality and masculinity he’s accepted all his life.
There are a couple of things he needs to do in order to re-occupy his body as a sexual being, starting with our preconceived notions of what sex is. Sex is anything and everything we experience as such; orgasm doesn’t reside in the genitals, and we can be orgasmic from different kinds of stimulation on other parts of our body. The body your partner had pre-disability brought you both a lot of pleasure, but we don’t need bodies like that to experience pleasure and sexual feelings. Sex is not the only way to experience and express intimacy, but it’s a significant path for many. Does he allow himself to feel pleasure in being touched? Can you caress, massage, stroke, and pet him? Does he touch you back? If so, you’re getting somewhere. If not, or if he doesn’t let you get sensual with him at all, it’s a sign that he’s not yet ready to open himself to more.
There are resources that address sex and disability, though not as many as are needed. If your partner is on disability, you may be able to reach out to a social worker and ask for their support. I included a section on disability and sex in The Sex & Pleasure Book, but the go-to book on this topic is The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability, by Miriam Kaufman, Cory Silverberg, and Fran Odette.
He needs therapy, both to address his self-image and to focus on sexual pleasure and intimacy. You’re describing a man who likely lives with a lot of anger and/or depression, which is fair enough. But what’s he going to do to open the door to a better quality of life? Consider getting therapy yourself, even if he won’t go. You need support and intimacy, with or without him.
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Top photo: Theory of Everything
This article originally appeared in the October/November 2016 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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