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Disability and Relationships: Answering Questions, Busting Myths

htlcyhtlcy Posts: 132Member Pioneering

Continuing our sex and relationships theme, today we have a post about disability and relationships and the questions and myths around this.  The content may not be suitable for younger members.

Relationships: they can be a very complex thing. I don’t believe they’re an easy subject for anyone to navigate. From explosive, emotion-fuelled fireworks upon the first meeting, to the deepest, darkest bouts of heartache, relationships – particularly ones between you and a partner – can be some of the best, or worst, features of the human experience.

I’ve been quite fortunate to have several relationships. I’ve also experienced my fair share of heartache. But – despite this – I have found myself faced with some rather insensitive questions relating to relationships when one – or more – of the individuals are disabled.

I’d be lying if I said disability doesn’t complicate relationships. As with many things, disability has the potential to make things a little trickier. For instance, my partner is able-bodied. On the weekends, he has the energy to go on long walks, or endure busy days out. For me, on the other hand, I’m almost always far-too fatigued from the working week to do much more than go out for dinner, do the obligatory household chores and watch some rubbishy television.

But, apart from being a little sleep-and-pain-filled than most, the time I spend with my partner is just as fulfilling and rewarding as for anybody else. In the spirit of illustrating this, I’m going to bust some disability-related relationship myths. And yes, I really have been asked these questions, sometimes multiple times.

woman smiling to camera

You have a boyfriend/girlfriend [delete as appropriate]? Don’t they mind you being disabled?

Well, no. Because they’re a decent, non-ableist human being. And, whilst we’re on the subject, I think I’m a pretty good girlfriend, actually. Disabled individuals deserve love and support just like anybody else.

 

But you’re disabled. Don’t you think your boyfriend could do better?

Yes, I have had people say this to me. I’m never really sure what they expect me to say in response. This is just so incredibly insensitive: why would cerebral palsy make me any less attractive? This is one of those questions that is so incredibly harmful. We internalise these thoughts, and it takes time to undo them. I am just as worthy as the next person; I just wish I’d have realised this sooner and stopped listening to people when they said this sort of thing.

 

Can you...you know...be physical with each other?

Funnily enough, disability doesn’t erase those sorts of feelings. And besides, what’s it to you?

 

So your boyfriend must be disabled, too?

No...there isn’t a rule that states that disabled individuals must partner up with other disabled individuals. If it happens, it happens. And – shock horror – disabled individuals are just as diverse and beautiful as everyone else. There’s this awful idea that disability negates beauty, which of course, isn’t true at all. I’m really fed up of hearing questions like this because it masks so many ableist views. And – most importantly – why does it matter?

 

You’re going on a date: are you going to tell them you’re disabled?

I see this question so much on online support groups and forums. It shouldn’t really matter if somebody is disabled; f you like them, you like them. I’m usually upfront about my disabilities. I am proud of who I am, and know my disabilities are just another wonderful facet of my individuality. Asking somebody this is like saying ‘shouldn’t you warn them?’. It’s our choice to tell others: and, in my opinion, if an individual doesn’t like me – disabilities and all – I’m far, far better off without them.

 

So, there you go. A snapshot of some of the rude, ridiculous questions I’ve come up against when considering relationships and disability. It’s hard to believe that in 2017 we’re up against such ableist, intolerable views. If you’ve ever fallen foul of asking some of these questions, I’d like you to take the time to think about what it is you are saying. Considering that the disabled population is the largest minority group globally, isn’t it time we challenged these views and began to be more sensitive when discussing such issues? Relationships – with all of their ups and downs – happen whoever you are. And they’re wonderful, disability or otherwise.


Have you been asked awkward questions about your relationship? How do you respond to them? How does it make you feel? Share your experiences with us now.

Replies

  • Sam_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 7,732Administrator Scope community team
    Thanks so much for such a great post @htlcy

    Some people do ask the most ridiculous and inappropriate questions!! I know it is a different thing, but someone once asked my husband what it was like to have an indian wife... firstly, I am British, secondly, my heritage really bears no relevence to our relationship, thirdly, RUDE!  

    He also has people telling him in a jolly fashion how he must love curry...

    Since my surgery, it definitely seems to make people think they can ask me about my sex life!! I don't mind talking about things in the right context, but sometimes they just come out with the rudest questions!
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • 1BentSpine1BentSpine Posts: 12Member Connected
    In going on online dating sites, the first question I used to get once I told the fellow about my disability, was whether I was able to even have sex.  That kind of told me they were really only interested in the ntimate aspect of a relationnship, which is really sad.
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Posts: 689 Listener
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  • MarkmywordsMarkmywords Posts: 398Member Pioneering
    Sam_Scope said:

    I don't mind talking about things in the right context, but sometimes they just come out with the rudest questions!
    It seems to me @Sam_Scope, that a small minority don't see the disabled as real people but as something "other."

    The same thing was and is done to ethnic minorities too.

    Very small toddlers also see others as just scenery in their universe of one. I think it's more than co-incidence ;)
  • Sam_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 7,732Administrator Scope community team
    Hi @htlcy,

    I've never had a boyfriend and girlfriend relationship, I'm not sure whether it's because of my personality or my autism. When I asked someone out in the past they always thought I was having a joke and got laughed at.

    All the people I know who have this type of relationship have a desire to have sex but I do not like the idea of having sex. Even though I was conceived by my parents having sex I think sex is disgusting, I don't mean any offense to anyone, this is just my opinion.

    Due to all others I know wanting to have sex I don't see myself having this kind of relationship. Something that my best friend said that confuses me is he loves sex because it's disgusting! He agrees sex involves rude and dirty activity and that's why he likes it. He has the same opinion as me.

    I don't know anyone else who doesn't want to have sex like me. On a fictional show there's a character called Sheldon Cooper who appears to have autism like me, he is not willing to have sex with others just like I'm not willing to.

    How many people in the real world don't like the idea of having sex but would like a boyfriend and girlfriend relationship?
     

    @PSHEexpert can you offer any thoughts to @DannyMoore ?
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • insomniachistinsomniachist Posts: 1Member Listener
    great article. very on point. i've been disabled my whole life and asked all of these questions multiple times. i think it really boils down to it's different for everyone. no one disability or ability is the same for everyone. i've been with amazing men and had amazing sex and it has nothing to do with me but just society's ability to accept it
  • PSHEexpertPSHEexpert Posts: 168Volunteer community adviser Pioneering
    Hi @DannyMoore!  Sorry for not responding yesterday as I was off delivering training all day.  I work in my day job at a college for young people aged 16-25, lots of whom are on the autism spectrum.  Listening to your feelings and opinions about sex, I don't think that's odd at all, and you might be interested to know that there are definitely others who feel this way, who may or may not be on the autism spectrum.  Not having an interest in sex is usually described as being asexual, and it's perfectly normal as a part of the diverse spectrum of sexual expression (or non-expression!).  Some people who are asexual still enjoy masturbating, but never want to share that experience or their body with anyone else.  Some don't have those feelings either.  What some people may not realise, though, is that being asexual doesn't necessarily mean you are automatically aromantic - so you may want a romantic relationship with someone, but not want to have sex.  That sounds like what you're describing - and just because it's not as common, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  There are others who want romantic and partner relationships, but non-sexual ones.

    I know that there are networks and communities online of people who fall into the asexual spectrum.  I am not an expert on which ones are the most inclusive, etc, so I will do some finding out and hopefully post some links.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts - it's something which isn't talked about nearly enough, but which I seem to hear more and more about recently. Sheldon has been helpful in some ways, I think!
    - Gill 
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Posts: 689 Listener
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  • Sam_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 7,732Administrator Scope community team
    Hi @DannyMoore I found the Asexual Visibility and Education Network which is a website about asexuality that may be useful for you to look through?
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • Sam_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 7,732Administrator Scope community team
    @VioletFenn do you have any thoughts on how @DannyMoore is feeling?
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • thespicemanthespiceman Posts: 5,327Community champion Disability Gamechanger
    Hello I would like to say all my life had problems with women.  I do not know how now to start a relationship.  The differculty is the disability in my opinion.  Also being on own a very long time and trusting someone who comes into your life.  I am of the age now looking at me as a whole cherishing and respecting the relationships I have.  In the past I had platonic relationships with women.  Which some turned into relationships that were serious.  Problem was they started turning into my mother.  Became abusive and controlling. Even violent.  So is that the fear inside of me finding someone like that again.  I am lonely but with support of a mental health charity who do a lot to encourage social contact with planned events.  I meet women in my groups and never feel anything for them in way to start a relationship.  I wonder is that a issue with my iilness ?  I like them as friends and have loads of time and care for them as  you would a friend would.  I see other people in a relationship who have children and do often say that could have been me.  I think I know am scared of being used by women as they did use me for my time and energy and support the children .  The usual things needs clothes, needs money for this and that.  Most of the children I met were through relationships young boys in a all female household.  So having that contact with me to talk and chat about anything as they grew up.  Was rewarding and I felt it was great they could turn to me for support.  So they are gone and lost contact what now.  The older gentleman in a world I find it increasly hard to understand and get frustrated.  How can I start again.  That is the issue seeing past the disability, having a sexual relationship.  Even having sex the fear of the disappointment because of last time.  The unnecessary critism and expecting me to be good in bed.  Having a history of addiction that scares me as I find it hard to get interested a polite term in when meeting a woman.  I have to just be calm and hope one day I met if and when I do some one without a long list of wants and needs in the perfect man as last time.  Thank you for those reading this being understanding and in the same predicament.
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Posts: 689 Listener
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  • thespicemanthespiceman Posts: 5,327Community champion Disability Gamechanger
    Thank you for the wise words and comments much appreciated somebody understands.  The issue is with I agree what you say.  The problem is when I had the differculties with my relationships it is my mother who made the problem a struggle to cope with.  Not easy to live with when I am crying inside over a failed relationship and my mother all too critical and interfering.  The heart of the problem is not listening never ever listening to her son in all these years.  I know I have tried and been to a point but when somebody has a problem and is going through a tough time especially in a broken relationship.  Sitting down need to talk but she will not and could get what is happening.  So much so I had found out things and personal stuff disclosed to me later by someone else.  I ended up harming and hurting myself to the extreme of a life of addiction.  The constant pain and may I say lying and deceiving her son.  When and how I tried to think and cope with all my baggage and history.  In the end I had to make a decision to cut ties with all my family.  One of the other issues in the  family was my brothers all married women who realised they had married the wrong man.  Wanted to marry me instead.  I have my faith being a Christian and do believe in something will happen.  Love will happen to those who least expected I was told once.  I never go looking and always on a wing and prayer find some happiness one day.
  • TopkittenTopkitten Posts: 1,003Member Pioneering
    Personally I have never believed in religion except as a way for some to create strife between different groups of people. There are always people who abuse their authority.

    To me a relationship should be based on openness, honesty and commitment. You have to trust the other person to be in a relationship with them. I find it difficult to understand why some people hide things about themselves and their background and yet still expect to have a meaningful relationship. How can you truly trust someone who hides important things from you? How do you know when they are telling the truth?

    I look at the modern world and see deceit, lies and selfishness everywhere and this alone puts me off trying to get into relationships again. However sex IS important to me but not in the common 'taking' way, in the 'giving' way. Whilst women appreciate it once they experience it I find it leaves me open to be taken advantage of. This happens and has happened frequently.

    I did go 8 years with absolutely no interest in women at all but this was a side-effect of the Tramadol I was taking. When I was switched to patches then the feelings returned but stronger than before. I have gradually got it all back to more normal levels but having missed out, as such, for such a long time it adds I suppose a desperation as I have little time left to explore this side of myself.

    As I am likely to be soon confined in a wheelchair I guess I will also have to field the questions instead of the odd looks I currently receive. As my ex-partner put it when I asked her about dating a guy in a wheelchair. She said "But you don't know how being like that would affect a sexual relationship and you cannot come straight out and ask at the start.".

    Perhaps if everyone was open about things it would make things simpler and more possible.

    TK
    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Posts: 689 Listener
    edited September 2017
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  • izaiza Posts: 435Member Pioneering

    The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, found in the Ark of the Covenant are:

    1. I am the Lord your God, You shall have no other God before me.
    2. You shall not use the Lord's Name in vain.
    3. Remember to keep Sabbath day holy.
    4. Honour your father and mother.
    5. You shall not commit murder.
    6. You shall not commit adultery.
    7. You shall not steal.
    8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
    10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.
  • thespicemanthespiceman Posts: 5,327Community champion Disability Gamechanger
    Hello thank you all for the comments and I understand what you are all saying thank you.  It is a comfort to hear words that resonate loudly.  I do believe in being open and honest in every relationship I had over the years.  I do find it differcult to discuss matters around relationships.  Which I am truly grateful to discuss here because I need to share what is happening.  Writing it all out and seeing it the problem written I had a restless night because even I need to discuss what is going on.  The memory is still there.  Please can I make a comment about my faith.  I do this privately and do not get involved in a church or the community around the church.  It is a choice I had to make and just use the bible and passages to be words of comfort and learning.  It helps me when and if I need it.  Also I do think myself this is my one fault I am vunerable to being in relationships who see me as easy walk over to get what they want.  I fall for the hidden and the deceitful histories of any woman I had a relation ship with.  How and why puzzles me and I know they are hurting me.  In the end they trip themselves up so much that they end up being in a state that they have to leave.  It all ended up taking out on me that is very upsetting still.  Trust again how can I?
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Posts: 689 Listener
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  • TopkittenTopkitten Posts: 1,003Member Pioneering
    I still don't see the link between faith and relationships other than the obvious fact that people with a strong faith should look for a relationship with someone equally strong in the same or similar faith. My last relationship would have been a strong one had I not become ill and yet neither of us had any strong religious feelings at all.

    The rules of relationships and faith are in no way similar in fact the rules of law are closer to faith. The problem with a strong faith is that it actually puts the other person one step further down the ladder in terms of importance as faith supersedes the relationship. That's why I have never considered getting into a relationship with someone with strong faith, and never would.

    I don't wish to appear to be telling anyone that they shouldn't have their own beliefs because I am quite happy for anyone to believe anything they feel strongly about. All I am saying is that whilst I don't wish to influence any persons faith neither do I want them to influence me or my beliefs. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and beliefs. It is wrong to imply though that any persons opinion is more important than anyone else's. If someone believes that faith helped them then I am fine with that. I don't agree though that the same applies to anyone else necessarily and that, by implication, to not have faith will make relationships more difficult.

    There are no commandments regarding being open with or being committed to another person. Telling lies is only covered by a general "don't tell them" which is not the same as being honest in a relationship. Also, telling white lies technically not only breaks a commandment, it also breaks the relationships "honesty" rule.

    TK
    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • alixalix Posts: 1Member Listener
    I have never found Facebook any good way of meeting the write kind of person to the point where they want to take advantage of yours disabilities. I have a learning disabilities, and people only want money, marriage, kids or them and sex. And the police won't do anything about these people they will only tell you to block them and delete them. So just be friends them and there are no simple information about how to report it 
  • TopkittenTopkitten Posts: 1,003Member Pioneering
    Facebook is just a place where everyone hides their secrets and wants to be popular. It is certainly not a place to meet someone.

    Generally people who are healthy want everything you mention and real friendships are hard to find online. Abuse of others is common. Even disabled people can be abusive online where anonymity makes it easy.

    Because most of the servers that the software is run on are not in your country there is nothing any police can do about abuse. Even if they are in your country the laws haven't kept up with modern technology.

    TK
    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • VioletFennVioletFenn Posts: 124Member Pioneering
    Sam_Scope said:
    @VioletFenn do you have any thoughts on how @DannyMoore is feeling?
    Firstly, apologies for taking so long to reply on this thread - I don't always get notifications for some reason (will check what's up). 

    I personally know a couple of separate individuals who identify as 'asexual' in that although they enjoy relationships with others, have no interest in either sex or physical intimacy. 

    I think that it is absolutely possible to be asexual; however the issue is whether a person is 'truly' asexual, or has convinced themselves they are because they don't like the idea of sex for other, possibly subconscious reasons. Given that many autistic people have sensory issues relating to touch etc, I don't think this is surprising. 

    If a person would like an intimate relationship and it's just the potential 'ick' aspect putting them off, then it's worth talking to someone about it - there are counsellors available, but it can be difficult to access such help. But I do think it is perfectly acceptable - and possible - to have longterm relationships that don't involve sex at all. The difficulty is obviously in finding a partner who feels the same way, as it isn't all that common. That said, there are groups both on Facebook and the internet in general for those who identify as asexual. 

    Violet 
    ASD advisor, Scope
  • frasermathiesonfrasermathieson Posts: 18Member Courageous
    Hi everyone and @htlcy

    I find it really difficult to get a girlfriend.  Every girl I have asked out have said no and looked like me as if I was a freak.  The trouble with nowadays are people are so quick to judge - they look at the outside, see a guy with a walking difficulty and a slight speech issue and suddenly its "he a freak, lets not go near him".

    I have been on dating sites and got conned a couple of times to meet someone so spent money to travel for no one to show up.  I even met a girl who we were getting close, had a couple of dinners etc and went out to a nightclub.  Next day, as she was so drunk, she asked me if she tried to kiss me.  When I went no, she said 'good, I would prefer to be sick than kiss someone like you'.  I soon realised I was lowering myself to her level but transpired she fell pregnant and was planning on blaming it on me!!  Cruel, cruel person.

    Obviously those experiences have really knocked confidence, almost to the extent where I am frightened to trust anyone who does come into that 'close' spectrum again.  As I get older,  see my friends getting partners, married and becoming parents, it hits me that I may never have this, and some days it gets me down.

    You hear of people who are so lonely when they get older, especially when there spouse passes away and there is no extended family near by.  At 37, I feel this is the path I am destined to travel.

    Sorry for sounding like a dour guy from Scotland!! :smile:
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Posts: 689 Listener
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  • TopkittenTopkitten Posts: 1,003Member Pioneering
    When dealing with 'the fairer sex' you need to be confident and you need to be able to talk (in most cases). If you go into anything thinking 'will she be my girlfriend' then they sense that and find it oppressive. You need to go into things thinking 'will she make a good friend'. This sort of thinking has two effects. Firstly you are more relaxed because little depends on it working. Secondly she will think that you aren't pushing her into something and may well push at you instead. One other thing. Just because it may have been a while since you were with someone it doesn't mean you should begin to worry about getting into something fast. That will appear to them as desperation and will definitely put them off. I have been single 12 years and have openly stated I am not getting into something
    yet still I have, from time to time have had to fend off women wanting more from me. It isn't about playing games, it's about not asking too much of any situation.

    Whether you meet through a dating site or any other way just try to make a new friend. Keep your concentration on them and not worrying about how they see you. Treat them politely and try to keep conversations interesting. Generally make them feel that they are the important and interesting person. Also try to make them laugh and enjoy the meeting up. Oddly I have found that if things aren't going too well then come out and say so, taking the blame by giving some trivial reason as to why you aren't enjoying things as much as you should with someone like her. It's surprising how that will make them appreciate you more. It can also make them work harder at the meeting.

    As far as judging people is concerned. We constantly judge people ALL the time. Everybody does. It's a part of being part of the human race. Even with really good friends we never turn this off. Always making sure that we understand the motives and actions of those around us.

    TK
    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • RSW665RSW665 Posts: 14Member Listener
    I've said this before I know, women find me attractive but 9 times out of 10 it never goes any further because of my disability, or because of the care I need related to it,  I go out as often as I can so it's not as if I'm anti -social if it's not the women themselves that are put off, their friends or relatives put them off. Is anybody else having this problem.
  • TopkittenTopkitten Posts: 1,003Member Pioneering
    RSW655, are you sure you aren't blaming everything on the disability? Having 9 out of 10 women like you is far above normal even for the best looking healthy men.  Perhaps it is easier for them to blame your disability rather than admit to you that they simply cannot get along with you? Sometimes when people are disabled they can be pushy and oppressive, trying to make something happen sooner than most others are comfortable with. This doesn't just apply to dating and relationships, it applies to everything.

    I have seen it often when spending time with other disabled and even been guilty of doing it myself in the past. We want so much to be accepted that we can often frighten the people around us away.

    When I used to visit a disability centre regularly I used to be good for other people. Helping them enjoy their time there and not taking things so seriously. So much so that when new people joined us they were always put next to me. I showed them how to enjoy what they could, have fun, not take life too seriously and not try to push other people into liking them because, in the outside world, this is what they had to do to get noticed at all.

    Unfortunately, being treated as a minority that no one wants to see, can have unfortunate repercussions for the people within that minority.

    TK
    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • frasermathiesonfrasermathieson Posts: 18Member Courageous
    @Topkitten your points are absolutely correct, it is the case you need to be confident in yourself then that will then let you be confident in meeting people.  I am guilty myself of expecting things sooner than later, and letting things develop naturally.

    I'm not an envious guy but do feel left behind when I see friends getting into relationships, and suppose its something that I want to happen.  I've changed my way now so I am not jumping right in and messing things up so hopefully, one day, that special person will come along.
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