Leandra Vane is a sexuality writer and speaker – her groundbreaking blog The Unlaced Librarian covers body identity, relationship styles, sex and disability, kink and book reviews. When she offered to write about disability and sexuality for the Hot Octopuss blog we couldn’t have been more delighted. Here she talks about how she learned what works for her in bed, despite the discouragement of some in the able-bodied world.
“I can work with what I have. It’s getting the rest of the world to understand that’s tricky.”
“I was born with a physical disability. I cannot feel about half of my body. In my life my body has been stitched, stapled, fused, and pinned. I need leg braces to walk. I need catheters to empty my bladder. Because of my latex allergy I have developed paranoia in regards to bandages and party balloons. Luckily there are polyurethane condoms.
Yes, the physical factors of my disability have certainly impacted my sex life. But after many years of experimenting and trying new things I have found that my body is still willing – eager, even – to give me pleasure. I can work with what I have. It’s getting the rest of the world to understand that’s tricky.
I have always been a highly sexual person. As soon as I started having sexual feelings, around age 13, I have read erotica and nurtured a deep love of sexual fantasy. I wanted to share my interests with others, but I quickly learned an open dialogue of sexuality was strongly discouraged, especially for a knobby teenager with too-big glasses and a visible disability. Adults around me wanted me to be a nice girl, an inspirational figure for those who weren’t living with “challenges.” Peers of my age would often asexualize me and I found a comfortable place in the pack as “one of the guys.” I grew up in a conservative community and no one was supposed to talk about “dirty” things like sex anyway. So even though most of my friends and adults around me were being sexual, no one ever really spoke about it.
“I became fixated on the ‘right’ way to have sex”
Because I didn’t want to break the taboos of my community and social circles, I kept a lot of secrets and did my absolute best to fit in. I already had a visible disability, so I felt I had to work extra hard to be “normal.” Though I would grow up to be a kinky, bisexual woman in an open relationship, I fought hard against these inclinations during my teens and early 20’s because I didn’t dare cross the line drawn by polite society and invite criticism over the way I was living my life.
Because of this I became fixated on the “right” way to have sex, which in my mind was heterosexual, penetrative sex as part of a long-term relationship. I didn’t want to explore the ways in which my body would feel the best or the relationships that would be the most fulfilling. I just agonized over fitting myself into a certain standard, a standard that was keeping me from getting close to those I wanted and suffocating my true sexual desires.
A defining episode in my journey in sex and disability took place right before I turned twenty when I went to a doctor to look into getting a prescription for birth control. I was not yet having penetrative sex, but I was more or less thinking ahead. During the exam that went along with the appointment the doctor told me that because of my body (I have a birth defect that affected my spinal cord) and the fact that my cervix sits low, that penetrative sex would probably be painful for both me and my partner. I was devastated. Since I had not had penetrative sex, I had no evidence that sex would not be painful and I was too embarrassed to seek a second opinion. In the months after this diagnosis I felt as though I was having an out-of-body experience. I was numb and angry and didn’t think anyone would want to be with me if they could not have penetrative sex with me.
“My mind and body are just not satisfied with penetrative sex”
This time in my life really showcased the fact that I was living my life for the approval and satisfaction of the people around me and I was making decisions with little regard to my own well-being. I realized then that if I were going to be happy I would have to live my life in a way that was not in step with so-called polite society. And I would have to embrace a sexuality that was creative and not bound to the standard of penetrative sex.
Fortunately for me, about a year after that terrible doctor’s appointment, a very loving and patient partner came into my life. We started experimenting with both penetrative sex and sex that included toys, sensation play, and mutual masturbation. I went to a different OBGYN doctor and was assured that my cervix was fine and aside from perhaps experiencing some discomfort during deeply penetrative sex, I should enjoy sexual positions that did not penetrate as deeply. Which I have found is true.
Though I do have penetrative sex, my sex life is not founded on it. My mind and my body are just not satisfied with penetrative sex. What does satisfy my body, you ask? Well…
“I am capable of ‘thinking myself off'”
First and foremost, fantasy plays a huge role in my sexuality. I have found I am capable of “thinking myself off” in that I can have an orgasm by thinking sexual thoughts alone. I relied on my “mind trick” for masturbation for a very long while – I did not begin masturbating with touch until I was in college.
Fantasy is still important for me even if the goal is not orgasm. Reading and writing erotica is sensually satisfying and can really help set the mood. Along with viewing pornography, reading different genres in erotica can give you ideas for things to try, or let you vicariously experience things you may not want or be able to try.
Sensation play and kink are also crucial to my sexuality. Since I cannot feel many parts of my body, I have developed erogenous zones in some unique places – the most unique, perhaps, being the crook of my left elbow. By experimenting with different textures and sensations, I can discover different ways to give my body pleasure. Playing with bondage, light pain play, and role play scenarios cater to a fantasy-centered sex drive as well as allowing me to incorporate my entire body in sexual play.
“Sometimes we just need to look in a different direction”
Finally, I do enjoy using many different types of sex toys. Whether they vibrate or are used for impact play, my sexual experiences are often enhanced when I include toys. Even when I don’t orgasm, I find my body echoes sensations that are very satisfying after I play with sex toys, either with a partner or solo. Sex toys also allow me to have a sexual relationship with myself, and though I do have partnered sex, I need to masturbate to stay in tune with how my body is feeling and have the private space to explore ideas I might want to try later.
In confronting my need for a sexual experience that is varied and creative, I have also been able to step out of rigid social roles. I have grown as a bisexual person, a femme with a disability, a kink lover with fetishes, and a sex-positive lady who is open to many types of relationships.
We can change the way we interact with society when we change the ways we treat our bodies, toward an experience of pleasure, health, and confidence. Sometimes we just need to look in a different direction.”