What happens when physical issues get in the way of sexual desire? Most people don’t give a thought to accessibility when buying sex toys. And why would they – you just pick the thing up, apply it to the appropriate sensitive spots and job’s a good ‘un, right?
Well yes – if you have no physical disabilities. But many people do, and it can make adult products difficult to use. I spoke to several people with different physical issues and asked them what problems they had when shopping for sex toys and whether they have any suggestions for those in a similar position.
As well as pulmonary fibrosis I’ve previously had cancer of the vulva, and the (necessary) damage done to my pelvic area in order to remove the cancer has left me with many issues. For a start 'down there' looks different, it's heavily scarred and the skin is a different colour. There is hardly any pubic hair any more so no chance of covering it up naturally. Damage to the tendons and muscles in my hips and groin means that I’m unable to open my legs wide enough for another person to lay in between. The radiotherapy has left the skin extremely fragile and it tears easily and the extent of the scar tissue means that I have no elasticity in the vagina - so I haven't been able to have penetrative sex since the treatment.
I avoid toys that are too large or textured and anything I want to use internally has to be quite slender. As for sex itself, we do what I call a 'virgin's fumble'. I keep my legs shut whilst lying in missionary position and he straddles me. So long as we use lots of lube it feels like authentic intercourse for him and I get a pleasant stimulation. I don't usually orgasm like that so when he's done, I get a buzzy friend out. And he’s happy to be dominated, so I don’t always have to be physically involved at all – I can just order him around and snap the whip a bit, he's up for plenty of games. When you have a chronic illness there are times when you simply don't want to have sex. You love your partner but you're simply too fatigued to think of anything else. In these times it's important to keep talking and keep being intimate. Keep holding hands, snuggle up at night, tell them they look sexy etc. My partner is very patient, but keeping intimacy levels up does help to reassure him that it’s not personal.
Recommended sex toy for those struggling with a similar disability: The Serenity Vibrating Rechargeable Wand
I have a permanent ileostomy (a result of ulcerative colitis) and a permanently sewn up arsehole. As a gay man that naturally rules out certain activities! I wasn’t officially ‘a gay’ by the time my arse was closed for business but there’s always the wonder of whether it would’ve been something I enjoy.
So penetrative sex is out of the window, but it doesn’t hinder us - it just makes for much longer foreplay sessions, lots of affection, nibbling other bits around the body, etc. And everyone loves a good hump - penetrative sex isn’t the only way to get off!
I’ve tried a few toys over the years that were more geared toward the cock, but I’d be open to knowing what was out there for other types of play for people in my position. Anal play is difficult for obvious reasons, so I’ve not really given it much thought. And likewise, maybe people who maybe discount sex toys as not being for them should step outside their bubble and experiment!
Violet: After speaking to Joaquin it occurred to me that the Pulse might potentially work in his situation. The company agreed with me, suggesting that one partner could lie down and use it as normal whilst the other ‘rode’ on top to benefit from the external vibrations - the perineum can be delightfully sensitive!
I have chronic fatigue syndrome and on a bad day my mobility can be severely limited. I get ‘brain fog’ and can become hypersensitive to touch and light, even in the space of a few minutes. Having had it for over a decade also means that I have little stamina or flexibility. The impact on my sex life is that I can't hold certain positions (no doggy style!) and sometimes need sex to stop suddenly as my whole nervous system is triggered, or it's suddenly simply too bright. The light sensitivity can hit as I orgasm too, which is just painful on multiple levels. Blindfolds work really well for us. Kink-wise, we test my sensitivity levels every time we play, as a light spanking might be fine one day but too hard the next. Masturbation can also be challenging as my brain and body don't always connect - my brain can't focus enough perhaps or my body just won't respond.
We have a large, fairly solid beanbag and regularly use this for extra body support. We also communicate, a lot and my partner knows not to take it personally if I suddenly say "no" - we'll switch from PiV to him coming over me, for example, to compensate. We do always test out my sensitivity level before a scene and if there's any chance of light sensitivity, we'll use a blindfold (which is fun anyway).
I find that the controls on a lot of vibrators are too fiddly and the buzz makes me too sensitive. I prefer wand vibrators with more of a rumble and that have a rocker control switch.
I have a mixed bag of conditions that make me pretty ill - kidney and liver disease, arthritis, pelvic organ prolapses, fibromyalgia/CFS and other neurological issues.
I have a comprehensive toy collection - rechargeable is a godsend or I'd go through way too many batteries! I’m limited to latex free toys due to allergy and I have clumsy hands, so need easy controls. It's very important that things are easy to clean (I have a high risk of infection), so I love toys that can go in the dishwasher – the simplest way to ensure hygiene.
My tip is to use lots of pillows of different shapes and sizes, in order to support you in different positions. And goes for bondage ropes that attach to the bed! They allow you to pull yourself around and find the most comfortable position, and then they can be put to good use too. Vinyl sheets and a kinky partner are great for getting around bladder incontinence. If you find it hard to move around in bed, use satin sheets - they offer much less resistance and you can slide around to find what works.
For solo fun, any sort of toy that has a long handle is great. I love my wand massager. ‘Hands free’ toys are brilliant, as sometimes pain in my hands or arms makes 'getting there' difficult. I'd give my right kidney (the one that doesn't work. ha) for a sex machine! Sometimes things are just not working well enough to satisfy my sexual needs and something that took out all that physical effort would be perfect.
Not being afraid to talk about sex in intimate detail is also a must as you might need to be more able to plan how to do things, the mechanics of how you will and when it's possible. Communication is vital, before and during, because you need to feel able to stop immediately if there's any pain or discomfort. Don't be embarrassed if you try something and it doesn't work, sometimes it can take some practice to find what does. Some medications can have a drying effect too, so make sure you have plenty of lube!
In conclusion, with a bit of forethought sex can be great for pretty much everyone, regardless of physical restrictions - just remember to take things carefully. It would be easy for me to say 'consult a doctor first’, but I’m well aware that most people aren't going to do that. So be sensible and know your own limits. Get to know your own body - you are more aware than anyone else with regards to what and where your physical limits are. There's no fun in overdoing things and then being incapable of movement for a month!
The last word goes to Emmie, who sees sex itself as a happy helper:
I have facet joint syndrome in my lower spine. Sex is a massive painkiller for me due to the endorphins it produces - it's one of the few things that actively helps with my pain (as well as being a good distraction from it!). Sex can be fantastic therapy, both physically and mentally!