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No Feeling Below the Waist

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Updated January 08, 2013

I am currently seeing a guy, he's fully mobile, but has no feeling from the waist down. This includes his manly area. I can't believe I just wrote manly area in an email. Anyway, fully functional but no feeling. I have been trying to find something I can do that is fulfilling in him in a way to relieve at least some of the frustration/tension that would otherwise be released on orgasm. I myself am more than happy with our activities and am really just trying to find some alternative that people may have found. I know he enjoys our tumbling about but is inwardly frustrated all the same. Any advice you can offer is much appreciated.

Thanks for your email and your question. I do have some advice, and that's probably the best word to describe what I can offer, since sex tips or suggestions on sex positions (two other things I get asked for a lot) rarely help. While many people assume that their problems with sex have to do with a lack of knowledge of sexual mechanics, it's my experience that most of our problems have to do with a lack of imagination, which itself is usually the product of a lifetime of being told what sex and sexuality isn't or shouldn't be, instead of what it is, or what it can be.

I want to start by encouraging you to get a little more creative in how you're thinking about bodies and sex in general. You say he has no feeling from the waist down. I presume this means that he has some kind of paralysis, which is a term doctors use. When doctors use it they mean that he doesn't have sensation based on different kinds of tests (using touch, pin pricks, other kinds of stimulation and asking the person what they can and cannot feel). These tests, needless to say, never include sexual stimulation. So when we say someone has "no feeling" in a part of their body, that's never completely accurate. After all, there are many ways we feel. There is the perception of stimulation that a body might have when touched. But there's also the way it feels to see someone touch us, the way it feels when touch is combined with other senses (smell, taste, sound, sight). When one feels turned on or aroused, that feeling isn't just in the body. Our brains and our minds are experiencing it, and are part of it.

This isn't to say we all feel the same way, or even that we are all capable of feeling aroused or sexual whenever we want. But we do all have the capacity to feel in some ways and not in other ways. Everyone can feel. But being able to feel, in anything other than the most automatic and rudimentary of ways, is a capacity you have to develop.

One of the things that makes sexual exploration such a challenge for folks who are disabled is that they are told from the moment their impairment is identified, that they can't feel, that they have no feeling, and that feeling sexual or sexy isn't something they'll ever experience. We call this abelism, and it makes figuring sex out much harder than an inability to perceive nerve ending stimulation.

Part of what needs to happen is a throwing out of the very idea that society can and should determine what sex is, what sexy looks like, and what feeling turned on feels like. You both need to stop talking about him having no feeling below the waist and start getting a lot more specific about the how, what, and where of your bodies and sexual feelings.

If he hasn't done this for himself, he may want to start by mapping his own sexual anatomy. It can be a lot more fun than it sounds (no offense geographers) and it's something you can be a part of too! This is both a physical exercise (discovering what parts of his body feel good, and what kinds of activities create those good feelings) and it is also an exercise in thinking differently. Instead of just saying he has no feeling below his waist, both of you should try and find more accurate and precise ways of thinking and talking about what feels good both below and above his waist. And of course it's a good idea for you to try this out too. Non-disabled people usually have an incredibly narrow understanding of their own sexual potential and this exercise works just as well for non-disabled people.

There's another area we need to open up for discussion; and that's his "manly area". By manly area I assume you meant his genitals. Here again, we're not being specific enough and the vagueness gets in the way of sexual discovery. It is a common misunderstanding that the best part of a man, the most important part of a man, the defining part of a man is his penis. I know it's pervasive, but it just isn't true. I'm no amateur when it comes to this question and I have to tell you that some of the manliest men I know don't even have penises. And for all those men who do, the penis is only one site of sexual pleasure and possibility, and only one part of how they feel masculine or manly or man-ish.

So before we even talk about his penis I want you to consider some things you might not have considered before. I have a list, which can seem like a lecture, but I don't mean it that way, these are things very few of us ever think about:

  1. If you haven't talked about it you probably don't know what it means to him to be a man.
  2. That feeling like a man may not even be top of his list when it comes to reasons to have sex (in other words, feeling like a man may not even turn him on).
  3. That he does like feeling like a man, but he gets that feeling not from using his penis to do things but from other actions, other ways of being, and other parts of his body.
  4. That more than his preconceived notions of what it means to be a man, it is your reactions to his body and the way you talk and act sexually, that influence how he feels about himself when he's with you.

Now that I've written it, I think it does sound harsh! But actually this is exciting and good news. The news is that there's a lot you each can learn from each other to deepen your individual and collective experience of sex! The other good news is for you to remember that more than some external goal of masculinity, chances are that the two of you already have everything you need for both of you to feel sexually fulfilled.

What I'm trying to get at here is that the relationship between gender and sex is complicated and you shouldn't take it for granted that you understand what it means for him. These may feel like awkward conversations to have but they can be fruitful. You might find out that there's a completely different part of his body he associates with being manly (which gives you a whole new area to explore). You might find out that his idea of feeling like a man really involves nail polish and sparkles. You might find out that he feels like a man most when he's pleasing you and not being pleasured at the same time. You might find out that for him being a man is all about his penis, and that he's fine with that state of affairs. And, of course, you might find out that he could care less about feeling like a man, that in fact he feels like something else, or just like himself, without the gender expectations.

I would say the best way to start a conversation like this is to start with yourself, and ask yourself some of these same questions. This stuff can be tricky and sensitive, so if you need more guidance on where to start a conversation let me know.

You might take a similar approach to your question about releasing tension. It sounds from your description as if he isn't having orgasms when you have sex. Do you know this because you've asked? Has he told you he doesn't orgasm? And if he isn't having orgasms, would he like to? Not everyone can have an orgasm, but a lot more people can have orgasms than think they can, so if orgasming is a goal for him, it's something that is worth exploring. If you'd like to know more about this just let me know.

Keep in mind that sometimes sex is about releasing tension and sometimes it's about building it up. Sometimes sexual pleasure comes from the intimacy and physical closeness, and sometimes it's all about the tumbling. I'm not sure if your question is coming from conversations you've had with him or from your assumptions about sex based on previous experience, but one of the hottest things about having sex with someone who is disabled is that you get to move beyond the tiny number of options that most non-disabled people offer themselves when it comes to sex, and figure out what hot sex means on your own, mutual terms.

My advice is to encourage you to ask the question, how do you know what you know about sex and sex with this guy, and are you willing to imagine possibilities beyond what you've been offered in the past? It's going to take some talking, some sharing, and a willingness to be sexually creative and experimental. It can feel scary and risky and uncomfortable at first, but the rewards are worth it on all sorts of levels.

Good luck, and let me know if you have any other questions.

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