Sex a part of lives of disabled

Anesta Henry,

Added 17 October 2012

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People with disabilities don’t have sex and should not have sex. Nothing can be farther from the truth, this week’s WEDNESDAY WOMAN would tell you if such ideas were expressed within her earshot. People with disabilities have all of the emotions and desires of the abled community and these feelings travel with them through life. Therefore, sex is very much a part of the lives of some members of the disabled community. Eudalie Wickham is a part-time counsellor at the Barbados Council for the Disabled, Harambee House, The Garrison, St Michael, where she spearheads individual and group counselling sessions with young people, specifically women between 15 and 25, on the topic of sexual reproductive health. “Some people are shocked when they hear that a disabled person is having sex. They open their eyes and ask how do you have sex? “Some people respond in a very naughty way and tell them the same way you do it: we turn off the lights and get into bed. “Then there are some who explain that disabled people have sexual feelings but it is just that depending on the impairment, we use different techniques . . . ,” she said. In the opinion of the counsellor who was diagnosed with a visual impairment at the age of 12, this mindset is one the reasons that “I would say 50 per cent of people with disabilities are not involved in relationships”. “While people out there need to be educated, we have to start with the members of our community from the time they are old enough to be exposed to the topic,” Wickham said. This is exactly what this mother of one has committed her time and knowledge to doing. “Through an interactive session, we discuss matters like relationships. If a male is interested in you, how do you deal with that? How do you negotiate condom use? “This programme allows young people with disabilities to feel confident about themselves, but at the same time teach them that if they are going to get involved in sexual activity, to do it responsibly. “I try my best to give them a clear understanding of their own sexuality, how to research various sexual issues so that they would know how to make informed choices so that at the end of the day they can protect their lives,” explained the 49-year-old. From her interactions and observations, Wickham, who has just proudly completed a course of study at the University of the West Indies, where she acquired a degree in social work with honours, said that she believed disabled individuals were relatively comfortable with their sexuality. However, she noted that some people experience a measure of uncertainty and discomfort in attracting a partner or maintaining long-term relationships, along with concerns about how to satisfy a partner sexually depending on the nature of their disability. “I think that the male who is involved with a woman with a disability gets a lot of peer pressure from their male friends. “Their friends would tell them things like ‘You really unfairing she’, or ‘What you doing with she? You can’t find a better woman?’ That type of mentality still exists, but the strength of the relationship will say, ‘Well, this is indeed a good woman (or a good man)’, and the relationship can [overcome] the pressure,” said the toastmistress. She added: “These relationships go through the normal stresses and strains of any relationship. What is important and should not happen is that the individual with the disability blames every problem in the relationship on their disability. Sometimes when problems occur, the partner with the disability would say, ‘This is because of my disability; if this was a different woman or a different man that would not have happened’. It might not be the disability but the person’s personality.”

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