Unfortunately, Bethany Stevens was not able to present her talk at SDS due to some health issues. Bethany is a a disability consultant/sex educator that I know from San Francisco. She moved to Atlanta to take a university post.
So, when I returned to Florida, I was eager to get my Bethany fix. Besides catching up on her blog at cripconfessions.com, I found an interview she did with Anthony Tussler on the Telling Our Disability Stories podcast. There is a part where she explains why she, as a sexologist, she chooses not to focus on the mechanics of sex for disabled people, but instead, on desirability. Here's the quote from a transcript of the interview. Bethany is talking about how she learned to accept her disabled body as a teenager and then develop an erotic self-image.
"And that’s really where I center a lot of my work around sexuality. It’s just looking at those social aspects of sexuality and how the stigma of disability impacts our sexuality, how we’re deemed undesirable and how we need to break that apart. That’s where I spend a lot of my time. I’m not super interested in the mechanics because I really think that’s some of the easier stuff to figure out. You just practice and play and figure it out.But with regard to unpacking internalized ableism, and being able to look at your naked body in a mirror and not hate what you see, because that’s what culture teaches us to believe, I think that requires a lot more work and a lot more conversation."I've been a bit down on myself for not having more specific knowledge of pulse rate during the orgasmic refractory period and not being able to to recommend which Hitachi vibrator is best for a woman with a tilted cervix. But, once I heard Bethany say "desirability", it hit me--this is also my focus. It is exactly the word I needed to point toward my intentions as an intimacy coach for people with disabilities. It is about building one's own sense of desirability, not just in relation to other's, but in relation to the way one approaches their own life--being a lover unto one's self, the juice and the juju in a daily sensual lifestyle you create for yourself. I have a client with severe cerebral palsy. His current project is to pose nude for a sketch artist. It's not the portrait that will be made, it's not the illicit details of what might happen after he posts online as a nude model, it's not the surprise connections that no one can predict in this project, and its not the rejection or the ignorant assessments he may have thrown his way. It's all these things that contribute to his own self-love, his own sense of his personal desirability that will arise from this erotic project. And, I can't really advise him on any mechanics or logistics for approaching the project. But I can advise him on style, timing, emotional tone, aesthetic details in writing his ad, in taking good self-care as he makes himself vulnerable, in contingency plans for offers gone awry. This stylistic consulting might help him have more delicious outcomes. This is consulting on desirability as it arcs towards intimacy and erotic self-knowledge. With his permission, I'll update you on what happens!
In other news, sexological bodywork (the certification I have through the state of CA) got an interesting plug on Yahoo Health's article about facilitated (sexual assistance) for people with disabilities. While the morality debate over this kind of service rages on among certain groups, the article makes it very clear that these services are gaining international acceptance. The Sessions, a 2012 film starring Helen Hunt, tells a story of disability and sexual assistance based on actual persons and events. The movie was critically acclaimed--however, many people have yet to see it. Here is the trailer.
Oh, and recently I had the pleasure of discovering the Tampa Bay Area Poly Social Meetup. Group. Tampa has long had an active swingers scene. Swinger lifestyle tends to mean recreational sex-swopping among married couples at parties. It can be fun, but I was looking for polyamorous community. Poly relationship styles can be broken down in many different ways, but in general, it tends to mean having open relationships in which partners all know and respect one another and work as a kind of family group. Sometimes, it means raising kids together, running a business together, or building a home together. Polyamory is not a religious arrangement, but a social one, for people who no longer feel that monogamy or having just a single committed partner works for them. Poly community has been around for decades, but has not had that strong of a presence in Florida. Admittedly, I had low hopes, afraid that I would meet the Poly Social folks at Panera Bread in Clearwater and that it would feel like just another misnamed prelude to an orgy. But these folks are well-rounded and legit! They have board game nights, pool parties, camp outs, discussion groups, and more. The emphasis is on friendship and finding community who supports alternative relationships. Check them out if you are curious. No one will tie you up or make you wear a leather corset if that's not your thing!