People with disabilities in search of sexual pleasure and better well-being

Being asexual is one of the common misconceptions about people with disabilities. On the contrary, research shows that people with disabilities have sexual desire and long for sexual satisfaction like everyone else. This applies to both men and women.

However, people with disabilities tend to have bigger difficulties in sex, physically and mentally, due to the stereotypes and lack of sex education which target their needs. Therefore, their demand of sexual assistance continues to rise. How can sexual assistance help people in need?

What is sexual assistance?

Sexual assistants, also known as sex surrogates or surrogate partners, are professionals who offer intimate support to people in need. In Switzerland, hiring sexual assistants is constitutionally considered as prostitution, which is legal and regulated. In many other countries in Europe, instead, buying and/or selling sex is illegal, as can be seen in this map.

rechtliche situation der sexarbeit in den ländern der eu

The State of Sex Work in the EU. Although not shown in this map, Switzerland is among the (blue) countries in Europe where buying and selling sex is legal and regulated. (Source: https://www.statista.com)

Sexual assistants, however, are not conventional sex workers. Usually, they are professionally trained, and thus have better knowledge and awareness to support people with disabilities in terms of sexuality. And there is another big difference: The goal of sexual assistants should not be to have clients come back to them. Rather, it is to help a person feel better about their sexuality so that they can share that confidence with another person and develop a genuine sexual relationship.

Training to become sexual assistants

Can anyone become a sexual assistant? Lothar Sandfort is a psychologist and the head of the Institute for the Self-Determination of Disabled People in Germany. The institute offers courses for sex counsellors as well as training courses for sex surrogates. In an interview with swissinfo.ch, Lothar said they do not accept everyone for the sex surrogate training course. He emphasized that the course is not meant for people with the helper syndrome who believe that people with disabilities are suffering and have to be saved.

In Europe, the European Platform Sexual Assistance (EPSEAS) supports people and organizations that offer sexual assistance for people with disabilities. They point out that professional sexual assistants should have a clear view of their limits and be able to respect them.

Partners of EPSEAS in Switzerland are Corps Solidaires and SExualité et Handicaps Pluriels (SEHP). Both organizations offer trainings to people who are interested to become sexual assistants for people with disabilities. In German-speaking Switzerland, Sexcare offers both sexual assistance services for people with disabilities and training courses for future sexual assistants. Some training participants already work as sex workers. They enroll in the training because they face a rising demand from clients with disabilities.

The video below shows a training which took place in Swiss Paraplegic Center in Nottwil. Isabelle Kölbl, the founder of Sexcare and a sex surrogate herself, provided knowledge and practical tips to participants on how to offer sexual assistance to people with spinal cord injury. That includes how to transfer a client from a wheelchair to bed.

Sexual assistance without sex

What can we expect from a sexual assistant? Sexual assistants may work alone with their clients. They could also work alongside with sex therapists. Sometimes the sexual assistants themselves are even clinically trained. Joslyn Nerdahl is one of them. She is a clinical sexologist and intimacy coach.

Although sexual assistants may have sex with the client, it does not always happen. For example, instead of having sex, Joslyn normally asks her clients many questions about sexuality before and when they meet. She discusses with them different ways to access their body. She describes the process as “body mapping” where she and her clients would go through different areas of the body and various forms of touching in order to find out what her clients are capable of, like and do not like. In an interview, Joslyn said that often her clients feel isolated and depressed due to the lack of erotic or intimate touch.

A life-changing experience for both

Cheryl Cohen Greene, a certified clinical sexologist and sex surrogate, also knows so well the power of intimate touch for people with disabilities. Her work with American poet Mark O’Brien was portrayed in the film “The Sessions” (originally titled “The Surrogate”), which won the “Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic” in 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival: the largest independent film festival in the United States. Here is the trailer:

Mark O’Brien, now deceased, was paralyzed from the neck down since he contracted polio at the age of six. In his late thirties, he began seeing a sex surrogate – Cheryl – to lose his virginity. In the CNN interview below, Cheryl recalled some memorable moments she spent with Mark, including the first time she kissed him on his chest which moved him to tears.

“He told me how much it meant to him to have that part of his body touched because he’s self-conscious about it and didn’t think anybody would do that.”

The equal need and right for sexuality

In a TED talk, Cheryl shared more about her experience as a sex surrogate. She talked about her first interaction with Mark. He told her how left out he felt about sexuality: as if being on the outside of a restaurant in front of a lodge window, looking through the window and seeing a whole group of people having a feast that he would never get to taste. Cheryl told him, “You deserve a seat at that table”.

Many people with disabilities are like Mark: they’d like to find a seat at “that table” – to enjoy the sexual pleasure like everyone else. They may or may not have a partner of their own. They may have difficulties with sexuality because of their disabilities or other factors. Through sexual assistance, they go on a journey of self-discovery where they learn to feel and express their needs. As a result, they regain not only confidence in sex and relationship, but also general well-being.

Man, woman, everybody has the need and right for sexuality. A lady with muscular atrophy goes for private intimate sessions with a man who has a side job as sexual assistant (in German).

What do you think about sexual assistance? What are your experiences and tips for intimacy and sexual satisfaction?

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After five wonderful years, it is time for me to leave the Community with this last blog article of mine to embark on a new journey. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to have been a blogger for the Community, where I’ve got to climb a lot of steep learning curves and exchange thoughts about disabilities with many kind people here. I’m glad to have met YOU through the Community in person or virtually. Take care and farewell!

Kit Wan

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