Q: I have a recent disability from an accident, and have lost some sexual function.
Why would anyone ever choose to be in a relationship with me if I can’t have sex?
A: I assume that by “sex”you mean “animal-like genital intercourse.” You have fallen into a classic, and all too common, trap–the idea that this single sex act, performed at some level of exceptional physical capacity, is the critical basis of a meaningful relationship and the only activity that qualifies as “sex.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Intercourse is not the only way to be sexual and have satisfying intimate and erotic experiences. But I think your question is about a much more basic issue–“ Will anyone ever commit to me as a life partner if I can’t have ‘normal’ sex?” Or “why would anyone commit to someone with a disability?”
Real intimacy involves two people who want to be true partners in life, supporting each other, having fun, sharing friends and family, being in the world in a way that contributes to the broader good. They want to please each other–any which way they can– sexually or otherwise. Disability truly does not preclude this possibility. Plenty of people are proving it every day.
There is also the danger of placing undue emphasis on the role sex plays in a relationship. This can easily be exaggerated from the perspective of a recent change in your sexual options, possibly a projection of how you are feeling about yourself in the context of adjusting to the shock of your recent disability. When you’re not feeling good about yourself, then it’s hard to imagine anyone else wanting to be with you, and the issue of sex and intimacy can become enlarged out of proportion to its true part in an authentic, whole relationship.
Your value extends far beyond your ability to use and feel your genitals. It is your personality, your passion for life, the interests you share in common, your heart and your light that attracts someone. Such a person is not going to reject you just because you can’t perform a stereotyped–and often overrated– physical act.
Isn’t that the kind of person you want to be with?
And isn’t it sad to think such a thing of human beings–that most of us are so shallow that we consider athletic sex to be the defining test for whether we would love someone? Or, to look at it from the other side, that we value ourselves so little that we feel we have to be sexual athletes to attract a partner who would commit to us?
Couples who over-invest themselves in the sexual aspect of their relationship find themselves ill-equipped to handle the kinds of challenges that inevitably arise in relationships–be it about health, finances, family, philosophical differences, or any number of possible life events. When these circumstances arise, sex–no matter how earth-shaking–is not enough to carry you through and keep you together.
The couple who are truly interested in an integrated, whole relationship weather the swells of their lives much better, and are actually deepened by them as they experience how the strength of their union carries them through. In this context, all of the remaining options–from cuddling to oral sex–become very deep and satisfying, because they are about truly loving each other, not just going through the motions and sensations of sex.
There’s plenty of proof of this in the stories of couples in which one acquires a disability. Couples who based their relationship too much on sex don’t survive–they have a weak bond. The couples who survive and thrive witness the proof of their love because they hold together during the intense adjustments of that initial post-disability period.
I would refer you to two films to further my point. The first is “Ten” with Dudley Moore and Bo Derrick. He spots her on the beach and is completely infatuated. Once he finally arrives in her bed after a long pursuit, he finds that he cannot respect the real person, and his attraction disappears. Then have a look at “Dogfight” with River Phoenix and Lily Taylor. Phoenix is part of a group of young men about to go off to Vietnam, and they make a game on their last night of trying to bed the plainest woman they can find.
In his encounter with Taylor he discovers a woman of depth and conviction, for whom he develops real feelings.
How we conform to social notions of beauty and sexuality often misses the point. There are lots of people out there who will see your wholeness–if you allow it to shine–and will join you in making a good life, with your fair share of satisfying sex.