Whenever I introduce myself I always say, “I’m a disabled sex worker and a reluctant activist, a mom, and an entrepreneur”. It’s a lot of hats to wear, all with different reactions and expectations.
When somebody calls themselves a sex worker, people will most likely imagine a street-walking sex worker and never a wheelchair user. And after hearing that I make money from sex work, the curiosity that follows is usually related to my physical ability or inability to be seen as a sexual being who might even be charging for the pleasure. It tickles me everytime.
I review sex toys for disabled women. As a wheelchair user who couldn’t date for 4 years while in my sexual prime, and with a theory from reading that orgasms could help with my incontinence and bowel problems, I took it upon myself to find out if it was true.
Prior to when I approached a friend from whom I had originally asked for tips about using something with electromagnets to try and stimulate my nerves, post my disability in 2016, I didn’t have my period for about 18 months. When it finally started coming, I experienced a lot of pain. So in my mind if I could feel period pains, it meant that my nerves were possibly regenerating after the damage I suffered with my disability. I didn’t think that various vibrators would come to my aid.
I was gifted my first bag of toys (yay lucky me!) and I was fortunate enough to live in a space where I could relearn how to navigate my body in the privacy of my home. It’s fair to say I had become unfamiliar with my body when I was in hospital for rehab. The stay was for 6 months and until the day I left, I had to bathe in front of others. As a disabled person there was no other option. Learning to live with a catheter meant that for the 6 months I had to disassociate from my body, especially my vagina, because it didn’t feel like it belonged to me.
When we reclaim our bodies, we guard them jealously. And more often than not, as Black Women, we are often reclaiming our bodies and our beings from others, taken with or without consent. We get possessively jealous about our freedom once we have it. So when I was a patient with limited consent and more needs than wants, my body belonged to my nurses and my therapists. If I had to try and not give up my body, I would have limited my ability to access the help I needed. It was a price I had to pay for failed health.
When I received the toys I had to unlearn a lot of shame; shame about the disabled body, shame about my vagina and the shame about my perceived loss of femininity that wasn’t mine as soon as my legs stopped working. I say perceived because even though I never stopped thinking I was a woman, to the able-bodied world my womanhood was now lesser than before. The potential suitors who had previously entertained the possibilities of a “one day” or “maybe”, turned to awkward mumbles about lost opportunities. The switch from being seen as a lover to being a needy patient who needs a full-time carer was devastating to my self esteem.
The toys brought me company that I couldn’t have due to the solitude of being disabled and unwanted. My loneliness made me question how other women like me – disabled, Black and in their prime – felt about losing their mobility and their access to life and love because the world values mobility more than lives. I couldn’t afford to go to therapy to sit with somebody and talk about the challenges I was facing. As poor as I was, I still had access to the internet where everybody could talk about anything and everything. So I figured, why shouldn’t I start a conversation about my experience and hopefully help other women like me and women like my roommates in rehab who also spent hours worrying about what immobility would mean to them in their own worlds?
My disability had already forced me to stop being afraid to speak up. Inaccessibility is dangerous and being unable to advocate for myself would mean having to put up with harmful behaviour from others and from myself. As a result, ableism is a constant unlearning. Internalized ableism is even more dangerous because it makes us give people permission to be careless with us at a cost much higher than what anybody should have to pay. In realizing that by refusing to be treated badly due to my limitations, I would have to fight even when I don’t want to, because being alive is a protest.
My digital documenting of my experience with vibrators was and continues to be a roller coaster of wonder and exploration. It’s also made me realise how limited accessibility to information, community and money can impact the recovery and attempt at reintegration into society post-disability. Negotiating from what is now a “weaker” position means that not everybody can have access to people in the know or with the ability to provide vibrators for self-healing through pleasure.
Its been almost 2 years since I started using sex toys to get healthier and to make a living with my reviews. Being able to confidently sit through long car rides, being able to drink coffee and enjoy it without worrying about needing to line my chair with linen savers in case I can’t feel my bladder let go, and having enough coordination between my body and my mind when I need to get to the bathroom without messing myself is an experience I never imagined possible. When I was in the hospital, I was not told about the other possibilities of finding healing and pleasure while alone with toys. I was told about how I needed to make an extra effort to be attractive to my partner because my mobility being gone meant that my efforts had to make up for what I lacked then.
Two years later, I wish I had been given a bag of toys along with my medication and my linen savers when I left rehab. It would have started the journey sooner. However, I doubt they would be happy with me calling myself a sex worker while advocating for women to get healthier for themselves with pleasure devices. Although it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, I think it should be offered as an option for those who can’t afford surgery and botox to fix their incontinence and bowel management problems.
I continue to explore various ways and toys that help me cum and heal. I will keep documenting it and hopefully one day, one woman somewhere in the world can find my words and find comfort in knowing that it gets better. It might not be immediate and sex might be the last thing on your mind when you are experiencing a sudden life changing disability, but it gets better.