Words by Mona Chatskin Interview with Rosie Jenes Art by Joanna Leucuta
“I don’t need a guy to tell me I’m sexy, because I know I am.”
Within our twenty-first century, western lifestyles, sex positivity and sexual liberation have never been advocated more highly. But, does this same sexual inclusiveness extend to individuals with a disability? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost one in five Australians reported living with a disability in 2015. Of those figures, 78.5% have a physical disability. As so many Australians are living with disabilities, it is integral that their voices are included when discussing sex. It’s also important that as a wider community, we understand that at the end of the day, sex is sex – no matter whether you’re able bodied or disabled. Rosie, spoke to us about the importance of recognising individuals with disabilities in this ever-changing discussion about sex and all that comes with it.
What kind of disability do you have?
I have a disability called spina bifida which is a neural tube defect. Basically, its spinal cord damage. It causes me to have no feeling in my feet and also incontinence. I use a wheelchair and walking sticks to get around.
Do you feel like it’s hard for you to express your sexuality?
When I was a teenager and everyone was starting to pair off, I found it hard to express my sexuality. I use to go out with my able-bodied friends to underage dances in skimpy clothes, in the hopes that it would attract the attention of a boy. But, when I did they’d see my walking sticks and disappear. That was really hard on my self-esteem. Nowadays I don’t need skimpy clothes. I know that my sexuality is a part of who I am. I don’t need a guy to tell me I’m sexy, because I know I am. But, by having no one with a disability portrayed in the media as “sexy” or beautiful, it makes it really hard to believe one’s self is sexy.
Has it been awkward for you to engage sexually with a partner?
Yes. I never thought I would ever have the confidence to have a sexual relationship with someone. I’ve never found it easy to talk to boys, let alone let them know about my bladder and bowel issues. When I have one night stands, I just go to the toilet beforehand, take off my pad and pretend that I don’t have any issue with incontinence.
Have your partners been able to fulfil your needs physically and sexually?
I’ve had two boyfriends and telling them about wearing pads, and about having a bladder and bowel that doesn’t do much, has been the most awkward and hard thing I’ve ever had to do. But, neither of them cared or made me feel bad for it. They knew it was my normal so it became their new normal. We would just put down a towel when having sex and it’s not a problem. Both partners have been able to fulfil my needs sexually. I’ve learnt that communication is the key. I don’t have full sensation down there so foreplay is really important to me. As for physically, there is a fine line between being helpful and turning into a carer. Like most disabled women, I like to be as independent as possible. I find that when you are dating an able-bodied person they sometimes find it hard to understand that.
Do you feel like your disability makes people dismiss your sexual needs?
It can go either way. People will either think that you are asexual and that you don’t or “can’t” have sex. Or, they think that your disability is kinky and then we are overly sexualised. I think being disabled scares most people, so it’s hard to even find someone to be sexual with. Even other people with disabilities worry about “how it’ll work” with another disabled person.
How do you think your disability has influenced your sexual relationships?
It has made me more self-conscious and awkward when talking about incontinence, but it has also shown me the importance of communication and that if it’s right, the person you are with does not care. At the end of the day, they like you and want to be sexual with you.
Is the dating scene difficult for you with your disability?
Yes, personally I’ve found dating hard. In this day and age of internet dating with swiping left and right, I find that either every guy just swipes yes, and then sees the disability. They either don’t chat to me, or ask me questions about my disability and not about myself. Also, in real life I find that when I go out I don’t have the confidence to chat to someone, and the only guys that come up to me are drunk and just want to high five me. They aren’t interested in me in a sexual way.
Has masturbation become an important part of your sexuality?
Masturbation is a part of my sexuality, but I find that because I don’t have full feeling, it’s not an important part of my sexuality. Although there are some really good vibrators out there!
Have there been any funny or awkward stories from your sexual adventures you’d like to share?
The only awkward stories I have begin and end with poo, and as you can imagine it’s a great mood killer.
People with disabilities can have a fantastic sex life no matter what the disability, and we make great partners. We are all sexy in our own way.