Whether you’re starting a new relationship or have been with a partner for a long time, it can be hard to push past the awkwardness of a conversation about sensuality, sex, and intimacy. In fact, a 2020 survey commissioned by the condom brand Durex found that about one-third of adults feel uncomfortable talking about sex with their partners, and one-fifth would not bring up the subject at all in a relationship.
This topic becomes extra sensitive when one or both partners have limited mobility, such as from a temporary or permanent disability, a recent surgery, or mature age. Then the topic of sensuality is not only colored by the social stigmas around sexuality, but also by delicate attitudes toward mobility and body image. Most people, disabled or not, worry about sex and sexual performance, and these sentiments are perfectly normal.
It’s no secret that there are old-fashioned, outdated attitudes about sex and disability out there. Many misconceptions exist in society, and the ones around disability and sexuality are frustrating, insulting, and inaccurate. Some of these myths include the idea that a person with limited mobility doesn't need or can't have 'real sex.' You may be inclined to avoid sex or limit your opportunities to have sex if misconceptions and misinformation are influencing your life, or if you have caretakers or shared living conditions that make it trickier.
So, how can we change the negative perceptions about those with limited mobility and sensuality that still exist in society and within ourselves? Whether you are in a new relationship, have recently developed some mobility limitations, or just aren’t feeling as sensually satisfied with your existing partner, the answer is communication.
While it can be tough to have a new conversation with your partner, everyone has the right to feel loved and show love in return.
#1: Believe you deserve a fulfilling, sensual life
As a human being, you have innate desires for intimacy, closeness, affection, and yes—sex. Much of the intimidation to initiating a healthy conversation with your partner comes from within. If you do not initiate a conversation, you are “saying no to yourself” before your partner has the chance to answer, guaranteeing that the answer will be no. Having any sort of limited mobility does not change your sensuality or desire to express it.
If you are nervous about how your mobility affects your sex life, it is always okay to explore it on your own first before bringing in a partner. Experimenting with self-touching, toys, and aids can be a way to grow confident and specific in your needs before vocalizing them to a partner.
#2: Have the conversation before you get intimate
While sometimes things progress spontaneously, typically you are your partner are thinking about intimacy before anything new happens. Having this talk ahead of time relieves a lot of pressure.
This gives you more room to be open and deliberate in your decisions without the heat of the moment changing your judgment. If you have the talks before becoming physically involved, cuddling, or having sex, you will both be more prepared for each other's needs and boundaries, and you'll probably feel more confident (which is sexy). Respect, trust, and communication will be the foundations of this confidence.
Plus, because you've previously broken the barrier of sensual conversation, you'll probably be able to communicate your wants and desires more effectively during intimate moments themselves. You can use this list of 11 questions for ideas to kick off the discussion about intimacy.
#3: Set expectations
Consider your expectations before you have the conversation. Decide what intimacy means to you, what you want and don't want, and how ready you are for it. Resources like this intimacy inventory list might provide some food for thought as you determine what you would and would not like to try, and online blogs can share others’ stories and experiences navigating this conversation.
With your partner, you should feel comfortable and safe. This means trusting them by sharing your needs, and building trust with them by listening attentively. Share your feelings and watch how they react. Remember, you do not have to discuss everything all in one conversation; you can share what’s comfortable for now, and have future discussions as more feelings and desires bubble up.
You might find that you each have different boundaries. It's critical in any relationship to recognize that you and your partner may be ready to undertake things at different times, and each go at your own pace. If there is something that is a “hard no” for you, do not give in to pressure. Gently explain why it’s a problem, so that your answer is grounded in your feelings rather than your partner hearing a simple “no.” However, be open to compromise and experimentation; if there is something you aren’t sure about yet but is not a hard limit, showing that you’re open to trying can go a long way.
Remember that physical intimacy is not just about sex. Intimacy with a partner can be meaningful with holding hands, stroking your hair, putting an arm around you, massages, a hug, or just a kiss. There might also be different boundaries between what feels comfortable in public versus at home.
#4: Check in occasionally
What you and your partner like might change over time during your relationship. This is perfectly normal for all couples, regardless of age or mobility. As you share more of your personal and emotional selves with each other, you might find that your physical selves also bond in different ways.
#5: Feel comfortable and confident
We all want to look and feel our best in front of others, and luckily these days many lingerie and intimates shops make bras and underwear for all body types and ranges of motion. For example, Springrose’s adaptable bra is designed specifically for those with upper mobility restrictions to be comfortable, supported, and beautiful.
Adaptive lingerie like this has soft fabrics, adjustable straps, and can be put on while laying down, sitting, or standing—making it ideal for wheelchair users or anyone with limited mobility. Lingerie and undergarments are not simply clothes like any other, but are intimately tied to the wearer’s self-confidence, sensuality, womanhood, and feeling powerful. Springrose is proud to set new examples for how adaptive lingerie can fit every woman without compromising on beauty and style.
#6: You know your body best
You know your body better than anybody else—how it moves, feels, and reacts. Partners may share suggestions or ideas about what activities will work best for you. Suggestions are useful, and thinking about intimate positions with others is enjoyable, but the final decision must always be made by you.
You don't have to do anything a partner advises if it doesn't seem comfortable or safe for you and your body. (You don't have to do anything a partner proposes, period). Even if it's not precisely what you’re used to, there's always more than one method to experience intimacy together. Try to work together to come up with boundaries, positions, fantasies, and paces that will satisfy both of your needs.