Sex In Relationships
‘People with disabilities think that no one wants to have sex with them, so when someone is “kind” enough to want to, they themselves shouldn’t lay down many conditions. They are ready to go that extra mile…But I don’t ask people to compromise.’
Deepak Kashyap, counsellor
‘It’s ‘When you have a problem in your sex life, it is important to find common ground between the two of you and to do what works for both of you.’
Prabha Nagaraja, Director Programs, TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health)
How important is sex in a relationship?
Says counsellor Deepak Kashyap, ‘Sex is very important in a romantic relationship. Because even though every label is open-ended, every label has some meaning to it, because of which it is called that. For example, all of us humans are very different from each other, yet we refer to all of us as humans. That means there is a thread which goes through all of us, which identifies us to that word. In the same way when we are forming concepts like relationships, and even more specifically romantic relationships, one of the most important elements of romance is sex. And that is probably the main differentiating factor from other kinds of relationships, like friendship, parent-child relationship, mentor-mentee etc.’
How important sex is depends on the importance attached to it by you or both of you. For some couples it could be 80 percent of their relationship, for others it could be 20 percent. For someone it could be important because it results in pregnancy, for someone else it is important because it gives pleasure.
Do not think that sex is not for you because of your disability. There are many ways of getting creative (link having sex), despite an impairment. At the same time, don’t let someone push you into having sex before you are ready. Sometimes women with disabilities feel grateful for any sexual attention they receive, and bend over backwards to please their partners. Sex can be many things, but it is not necessarily a tool to express gratitude. Rather, it is a source of mutual pleasure to be enjoyed when you are ready to do so.
My partner wants me to do things that I am not comfortable about. What do I do?
If your discomfort is related to your disability, it’s best to find a way to bring it up. For instance, if you can’t hold a position for long, or have a bowel or bladder control problem, try talking to your partner. You can find ways to work around it together.
If your discomfort is psychological or emotional, you may need to think this through more deeply. Maybe you think a particular act is ‘dirty’, like oral sex. In societies where sex itself is seen as dirty, this is eminently possible. But there is nothing dirty about a sexual act as long as it’s consensual and safe. The trick is to find out what you are comfortable with and go with that. Don’t do something out of the fear of being abandoned, out of pressure, or out of a feeling of gratitude.
It can be confusing to explore your sexual boundaries – or the fine line between accommodating your partner, and the limit to which you can stretch. Says counsellor Deepak Kashyap, ‘You need to decide first how much you value your partner, and then decide whether you are willing to push your comfort levels a little. Because what happens is that when you are with a partner, and they ask you to do a sexual act which you don’t like, then you need to figure out how much you are willing to push your boundaries. Because you need to be “giving” in sex as well. But giving to a point till you do not feel that you are being pushed to a limit. As long as you think that it is within your limit, and you have never done this before, it is something you can try.
In psychology we call this the “price of admission”. No relationship is easy, it all comes with adjustments. Adjustments here and there, because not everyone is going to behave like we want them to behave. Not everyone is going to like what we like. There are two words: adjustment and compromise. Adjustment is when you are trading equal value – when your boyfriend is of a higher value than your discomfort. But it becomes compromising when you give a higher value for a lower value – you are dating this boy for only two weeks, and he is asking you to do this, and your discomfort levels are of higher value than the boy in your life. In this case if you give in, that will be compromising. I do not ask people to make compromises. What you need is adjustment. We make adjustments in every aspect of life, and then I don’t know why we shy away from making adjustments in sexual areas.’
I think my disability is affecting our sex life, and our relationship is also affected. What can I do?
Depending on how your impairment affects the way your mind and body works, your ability to perform sexual acts and your desire to have sex can be affected by different factors. For example, if you suffer from chronic pain, it can be hard to think about anything else, including sex. Or if you are on medication, there could be side effects that affect how sexual you feel. If your partner has recently become your caregiver, both of you may be uncertain where the line between caregiver and sexual partner should be drawn. Perhaps there are certain sexual positions that you and your partner used to enjoy before you acquired your impairment, which you can’t do anymore. Because sex is generally an important part of a romantic relationship, any changes or shifts that impact sexual intimacy – irrespective of disability – can be difficult for both partners. This shared frustration can manifest in other areas of your relationship.
For the situation to resolve itself, there has to be a willingness on both sides to work through a sexually rough patch. Communication is the key. You can work through this by discussing your feelings, concerns, and possible solutions. Discussing how you will separate the time your partner spends as your caregiver and the time the two of you spend sexually may be one place to start. If you experience fatigue, low energy, or drowsiness with medication, plan to have sex during the times you are feeling most awake. Did you know that sometimes the best cure for pain is distraction? Reaching a sexual climax can relieve extreme pain for many women. Or if you are having trouble with certain sexual positions, there are many more that it’s not too late to learn! Remember, all couples – whether or not one of them has a disability – keep reinventing their sex life to find new ways to please each other. And though it will require some effort, you and your partner can do the same.