This chapter covers alternative and adventurous ways of expressing sexual intimacy with yourself and others that include kink, roleplay, costume and exchange of power and vulnerability. Disability does, of course, affect the ways in which you’re able to have sex – but the good news is, kink can provide you with virtually infinite alternative ways to connect sexually with a partner and with yourself.
These are practices that are growing in popularity among a wide variety of people for fun, for intimacy, for self-expression, and may be especially valuable for people looking to find new ways to be sexual or new ways of thinking about sexuality.
Below are some definitions of words that will be used throughout this section and are commonly found elsewhere in relation to exploring sexual intimacy.
Ableism is a system of behaviours, practices and beliefs that place non-disabled people in favor over disabled people. This can manifest in rude comments, actions or inaction around accessibility. Ableism is also quite prevalent in the sexual arena, with people often asking things like, “Do your genitals work?” or “Can you get it up?” when encountering disabled people. We need to be aware of what ableism is, and how it can play a role in our sex lives as disabled people.
Kink is an umbrella term encompassing an almost infinite range of human sexual interests. Any non-conventional sexual activity, desire, or fantasy may be considered a kink. Although what is considered non-conventional can vary a lot from place to place and from culture to culture, broadly speaking, many kinks focus on feelings other than sexual pleasure (e.g. pain, tickling, humiliation), activities not commonly considered sexual on their own (e.g. biting, slapping, tying someone up), or body parts other than the genitals, butt, and breasts (e.g. feet, hands, ears), roles we play in relationships, and even the way we dress (e.g. leather, latex or high heels). At its heart, kink is about making feelings, bodies, and items that are not traditionally sexual into items of desire or pleasure.
BDSM is an acronym for a specific type of kink including some of the best-known and most popular kinky interests: bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism. A kinky play session is sometimes called a scene within the BDSM community, or sometimes just play. Scenes may or may not involve sex.
A dominant, or “dom,” is a person who likes taking control and having power during scenes, while a submissive, or “sub,” is someone who enjoys being directed or controlled and giving up their power to a partner. A switch is someone who is sometimes dominant and sometimes submissive. Play involving dominance and submission is sometimes called D/s (the “s” is lowercase to denote the submissive’s lower status in the dynamic) or power exchange.
A top is someone who performs the main action(s) of a scene and/or gives sensation (e.g. administers a spanking), while a bottom is someone who receives sensation in a scene (e.g. being tied down and tickled). It’s important to note that not all doms are always tops, and not all subs are always bottoms; a person can receive sensations while remaining in control, or give sensations at the request of their dominant partner. A side is someone who is neither performing action or receiving action, but is one who may alternate between both roles, or just prefers to watch, as their energy levels and disabilities allow. A side can also be someone who prefers not to engage in penetrative sexual activity. Defining oneself as a side can make sex more accessible, particularly for individuals who cannot engage in penetrative play as a result of spasticity or pain due to disability.
As a sexually active person with a disability, you may find it especially helpful to be sexually communicative, explaining to partners exactly how your body works and how you like to be touched – and these communication practices are also not only useful in the world of kink, but expected and normalized. If you find it challenging to be proactive and vocal about your sexual needs and desires, kinky play is a great way to work on those skills.
Kink also offers ways to be sexual that doesn’t require orgasm or other activities that we tend to think of as “sex.” Fetishes are sexual attractions to traditionally non-sexual things – whether body parts like breasts or feet, wearing leather or latex, or playing with balloons. Fetishes are one of the oldest expressions of kink, and the subject of whole subcultures, such as Leather, with organized roles, aesthetics and competitions. Whether or not leather turns you on, it can be liberating to learn that even things like admiration of a particular aesthetic or pride in dressing up in a particular way are part of the wide world of ways to be sexual. For many in the kink community, dressing up in leather or latex and attending a kink event IS the main event. When we realize that sex isn’t limited to creating an orgasm for yourself or a partner, it gives us the freedom to find a way to be sexual that works for us.
In a lot of my life I wasn’t given a choice; the type of care I get, what I can and can’t do independently, etc. This was me actively making a choice. I’m going to do this porn. Wear these leathers. Portray myself like this. It was my way of actively choosing to embrace my disability and my sexuality.” – Andrew
While Kink offers community, open mindedness and lots of sexual exploration, some people fetishize disability in non-consensual ways that can be exploitative. If you’ve been visibly disabled on the internet for more than a few months, you may have encountered a disability “Devotee” or “chair chaser” names for people who fetishize disabilities or disabled people without their consent, ask intrusive questions and come across as creepy, uncomfortable, and dehumanizing. That said, respectful Devotees exist and many people, disabled or not, find it sexy or empowering to be desired for exactly who they are.
What Can I Learn from Getting Adventurous?
While your disability can change the way you have sex, kink is something everyone can explore, offering a wide variety of alternative ways to explore and connect sexually with a partner or yourself. Kink is known for its diversity of subcultures and interests which often are a response the constraints of mainstream “vanilla” sex. This can open up many more options for people to be sexual in ways they can best participate that brings them pleasure, especially for people who have physical or sexual differences that make “vanilla sex” difficult or impossible.
As we’ve defined it, “kink is about making feelings, bodies, and items that are not traditionally sexual into items of desire or pleasure,” which offers all kinds of people, including those with physical disabilities or sexual differences, opportunities to be sexual. A woman with a cervical spine injury who enjoys having the dominant role with a willing partner, a gay man with MS who enjoys the community and aesthetic of Leathermen, a non-binary person with spasticity finds bondage is a great way to relax into sex with a partner, a woman with Spinal Muscular Atrophy feels her sexiest in latex. There are as many reasons for getting adventurous through kink as there are people practicing it. Kink is a great way to incorporate discussions of disability, care and consent into your sexuality.
Many parts of kink don’t require much mobility or strength, creating some great opportunities for people who have physical disabilities to experiment and find sexual pleasure when their bodies don’t do what non-disabled bodies do. For example, power exchange is a type of BDSM that involves role reversal – such as a disabled partner with an able-bodied partner or, alternatively, letting your partner take control – opportunities that can be very empowering and don’t require any particular skill set or mobility.
The kink community can also be wonderfully welcoming toward people of differing body types and disabilities, especially since kinky people are themselves already part of a subculture so they’re used to challenging norms. Kinksters are also quite open to toys or equipment that make sex more fun (or even just different from their norm) and so tend to be more open to whatever setup or equipment that you might need to have a fun and safe sexual experience, usually without the stigma some in the vanilla world have about vibrators, sex furniture or prep time. It is important to note, that no matter how open the kink and BDSM community can be, there is still a lot of ableism in these spaces; both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, many public kink spaces – such as dungeons and sex clubs – still aren’t physically accessible to people who can’t do stairs. However, some are, and many kink groups host dungeon parties in usually non-kinky spaces for rentals (such as community halls, hotels or cruises) and you can also create your own play space at home.
“In a lot of my life I wasn’t given a choice; the type of care I get, what I can and can’t do independently, etc. This was me actively making a choice. I’m going to do this porn. Wear these leathers. Portray myself like this. It was my way of actively choosing to embrace my disability and my sexuality.” – The Bump’n Book of Love, Lust & Disability
What Do I Need to Know?
A common framework kinky people use when planning and executing their scenes is RACK, which stands for risk-aware consensual kink. This idea emphasizes the need to know how risky a particular kinky act or scene will be, and what those risks are. It’s always better to be over prepared than underprepared – which is why, for instance, bondage fans keep safety shears nearby incase of an emergency. RACK also emphasizes consent, which is just as vital for kink as it is for sex. BDSM without the full, informed, and ongoing consent of all participants isn’t really BDSM; it’s abuse.
RACK and Disability
Being risk aware is nothing new for many disabled people – if you have spinal cord injury, you’ve probably had risk awareness drilled into you during rehabilitation. Understanding the risks of pressure injuries and shoulder injuries is an everyday part of living with an SCI, but still you might sit in a harder seat on a mono-ski or stay up all night in your chair to attend a concert understanding (and minimizing) the risks as much as possible to live the life you want. Risk awareness and kink is similar in that it acknowledges that there are risks inherent with things you want to do, and even an essential part of the thrill, and it is minimized through awareness, study and practice.
Being risk aware for people with disabilities getting into kink just requires an understanding of the risks you face that are specific to your disability and the activities you want to do. For example, most people with paralysis have impaired or absent sensation below the level of their injury and also circulation issues that cause legs and feet to swell, so your choice of bondage ropes, handcuffs, costumes etc need to be chosen with some forethought to avoid constricting the legs, to avoid hard edges that cut into skin, and reduce shear and friction.
To establish consent and risk-awareness, kinky people often have a conversation called a negotiation before planning a scene, so that everyone involved can get on the same page about what’s going to happen, what the risks are, and what safety measures will be implemented. For people with chronic health conditions or disabilities, a pre-scene negotiation is also a good time to discuss any accommodations you’ll need, or any aspects of your condition that your partner(s) should be aware of. It is also important to talk about any emotional needs that might arise. For many disabled people, they may not get to experience sex as often as their non-disabled counterparts, so a lot of feelings may come to the surface during the scene, and it is okay to talk about them.
It’s a good idea to have a safeword, which is a word or phrase that, when spoken by anyone present, will call an immediate end to your scene. The best safewords are uncommon, easy to say, and easy to understand, such as “pineapple” or “unicorn.” Some people prefer to use a “stoplight” system, in which saying “yellow” means “please slow down/check in with me” and saying “red” means “stop the scene immediately.” If your scene will include any activities that make it hard for you to vocalize, such as having a ballgag in your mouth, you may want to establish a safe-signal instead; for example, you could shake your head “no” from side to side, or tap your partner’s arm 3 times, if you want to end the scene.
If you’re playing with pain or other strong sensations, you may want to use a numerical scale as a communication tool. It’s much easier for a top to flog their bottom at the right intensity, for example, if the bottom tells them, “That last hit was an 7 out of 10 on my pain scale, and right now I’m only up for a 5 at most.”
While being “risk-aware” may seem like a lot of work with a disability, Kink is all about negotiating pleasure, sensations and control, so this prep work isn’t that out of the ordinary. It’s all about getting the prep work done so you can fully be present in the moment when it’s time. With a little practice and exploration Kink can offer a whole new array of options for sexual pleasure for you and your partner.
“Currently I can have pleasure without pain, but when I’m experiencing disability-related pain during sex, I will distract from the pain by adding a pain element elsewhere that is not disability-related (biting, spanking etc). This helps me to keep ‘in the moment.’ – Kelly
Considerations relevant to spinal cord injury and similar forms of central nervous system paralysis may include:
- Review any toys, equipment or surfaces you plan to use to make sure they are safe for parts of your body you can’t feel; If using toys, equipment or outfits that are new to you, test them out solo first to make sure they don’t create pressure, friction or constrict circulation on areas you can’t feel first. This is also a good time to see if you need any adaptations to make sure you can get the best use of out of them.
- Avoid bondage on areas that you have no sensation or in situations where you aren’t able to check your skin or respond to re-position your body. If you want to lean into a more submissive role, make sure your partner is aware of exactly how to care for your body before you start to play. Another way to allow you to let go during the scene, but maintain the freedom to make adjustments for your comfort and safety is to incorporate safe words for different purposes. For example, red could be a safe word for when you need to stop, no questions; yellow could be a safe word for when you just need a short pause to check on your body, reposition, etc. Early in your adventures, it’s smart to establish regular check ins as part of your scenes/play just in case you get carried away – this way you and your partner can stay on the same page.
- Incorporate skin checks as part of aftercare routine or tasking a partner with the job of inspecting parts you can’t feel – as a part of play or perhaps as a submissive responsibility; setting up scenes or playtime only on safe mattresses or beds.
- Go slow when trying new things and positions. Adding extra toys and equipment can sometimes make moving around harder, and you want to ensure your body is comfortable especially if restraints are involved.
- If you have disabilities that affect mobility, it’s always best to mention them ahead of time. If you have spinal rods and can’t bend a certain way, or if extending your legs a certain way can trigger spasticity, it’s best to mention it in advance, just so you can avoid it in your scene or ensure you have practices like safe words or regular check-ins to make sure that positions work for you as you play together.
- With spasticity, it is important to also prime a partner that you may have unexpected spasms or movements that do not coincide with what you are feeling. For example, if you are excited, you may spasm and push your partner away due to the strength of the spasm, and it may look like you are uninterested in the action taking place. Talk to your partner about what spasms look like, and it’s okay to be real honest about that.
If you have had symptoms of AD in the past or anything that can be triggered by certain sensations, it’s important to take the lead in communicating this to your partner in advance, or playing in an environment where those triggers can be reduced, and avoiding the triggers. For example, if your AD tends to be triggered by pain below your injury level, like an ingrown toenail, you could focus those activities only where you have sensation.
Kinky play can be pretty intense, both physically and psychologically, which is one of the reasons most kinky people engage in aftercare, the practice of caring for your brain and body so you can smoothly transition back into “real life” after a kink scene. This may involve addressing or calming any challenging emotions by talking about what just happened, replenishing your electrolytes and hydration level with sports drinks or snacks, treating any bruises or injuries that occurred during the scene, or whatever else feels nourishing and helpful at that time. Aftercare may also include having your partner help get you dressed and placed safely back in your mobility device.
People with SCI or other conditions that affect bladder control often restrict fluid intake before sex in order to prevent leaks, so aftercare is a good time to replenish those fluids, and. It’s also a great time to check your skin and circulation with your partner, and monitor for any of your personal signs of concern such as spasticity or higher blood pressure so you can identify and address anything that needs addressing.
I felt broken, different and like I was simply pretending, hiding, trying to fit in to a world I had no place in.
What Can I Do About It?
Roleplay and power exchange are fun ways to explore the psychological side of kink with a partner. Some common archetypes in kinky roleplay scenes include master and servant, professor and student, doctor and patient, or boss and secretary. You can borrow roleplay ideas from movies, TV shows, romance novels, porn scenes, or whatever else inspires you. You can incorporate your injury/disability into the scene if it excites you, but you certainly don’t have to – for example, submissively-inclined people may enjoy being “taken care of” in a medical roleplay, or being tied into their wheelchair with bondage rope. On the other hand, some find role-play an opportunity to parts of their personality that don’t come out a lot – for example, people who live with the help of caregivers or receive a lot of medical treatments may enjoy the chance to call the shots, or vice versa.
Some people who live with chronic pain find that sadomasochism helps ease their symptoms, because of the endorphins released during this type of scene. It can also feel empowering to choose to receive a specific type of pain, if you live with a lot of unchosen pain.
Most people with disabilities are familiar with the idea of being poked and prodded in a hospital setting. Medical play – for example doctor/nurse-patient roleplay can be unpleasant or too close to home for some, but it can be empowering to play with the discomfort of past experiences from a place of enthusiastic consent. Medical play also offers an opportunity for people who have a lot of experience with medical treatment to share their expertise; familiarity with real life medical settings can be a practical entry point into kink.
Sex toys can make it much easier for people with disabilities to explore a broad range of fantasies and sensations. For example, positioning aids such as Liberator sex furniture and positioning aids can be helpful if you’re unable to maintain certain desired positions on your own. Some of these cushions and furniture also aid in some kinds of kink by incorporating soft rings and tethers for bondage play. Many modern vibrators, such as the We-Vibe Moxie panty vibe and Lovense Edge 2 prostate stimulator, have Bluetooth functionality and can be controlled remotely from your phone. The Unicorn Collaborators, a Canadian leather gear company, makes harnesses that enable you to strap a dildo onto your thigh or fist, which can be helpful for tops who want to penetrate their partner(s) in different ways. The Bump’n Joystick is also a great new addition to the sex toy market, and is a toy specifically created for people with limited dexterity and hand limitations.
Leather, latex, neoprene and other unusual materials are commonly seen in a Kink context. These materials have textures and appearances that offer visual and physical stimulation in the form of costumes, implements and toys. People with latex allergy should be aware that latex is in a lot of BDSM costumes, toys and implements, and make sure to check product labels before purchasing or using someone else’s equipment. It might be easier to develop a latex-free collection of your own and just use those when playing with others so you can ensure that you aren’t accidentally exposed. Latex is also present at most large Kink events, where it’s commonplace to see kinksters decked in latex from head to toe. It’s a good idea to understand how sensitive your latex allergy is and how it affects you before going to an Kink event, or ask local kink organizations about latex-free events if you need to avoid any latex exposure.
Some partners seemed curious about the idea of roleplay, but my real-life experiences kept me from fully engaging…
My Role & Who Can Help Me?
If kink appeals to you, start pondering what kinky activities you’d be willing to try, and discuss your fantasies with your partner(s). Many beginners like to use communication tools like a Yes/No/Maybe list or an online sex quiz to start these important conversations.
Other kinky people in your community, especially those with disabilities, can be an invaluable resource when learning about your newfound kinky sexuality. Many kink groups hold “munches,” casual social gatherings that usually take place at restaurants or bars, where kinky people can go to meet each other and chat. These events are a low-pressure way to connect with your local kink community. You can often find them by searching FetLife.com, the kinky social networking site, for groups and events near you. FetLife.com also has a few great forums about kink and disability where you can ask questions and learn from others.
If you’re lucky enough to have a doctor and/or therapist who is kink-aware and kink-positive, they may be able to advise you on what is and isn’t safe for you to do. The website Kink-Aware Professionals is a good starting point for finding a kink-savvy practitioner, depending on where you’re located.
In summary, kink opens up countless new avenues for creating a fulfilling and exciting sex life for yourself and your partner(s). It doesn’t necessarily require a high level of physical ability – just openness to adventure, willingness to communicate, and awareness of the risks involved. Here are some additional resources to check out:
Getting Adventurous Resources
Scarleteen.com has a great guide for people who use wheelchairs and want to explore kink. Disabled sex educator Grayson Schultz has also written a helpful guide for partners of kinky or kink-curious disabled people.
The Disability After Dark podcast, hosted by disability awareness consultant Andrew Gurza, covers a broad spectrum of disabled people’s sexual practices and desires, including those on the kinkier side of the spectrum.
The Bump’n Book of Love, Lust and Disability - Andrew Gurza Jess Tarpey Katy Venables (physical book, e-book and audio book)