- Scope is highlighting the assumptions often made about disability and sex
- A new campaign, End the Awkward, takes lighthearted look at the issue
- Emily Yates, 24, has cerebral palsy and has been dating Rob for three years
- Sam Cleasby, 34, from Sheffield, says inflammatory bowel disease initially ‘rid me of my sexuality’ and ‘it’s really easy to become isolated’
Three disabled women have spoken openly and honestly about their love lives in the hope of tackling some of the prejudices that exist in society.
It’s part of charity Scope’s new campaign End the Awkward which aims to challenge the assumptions often made by able-bodied people about sex and disability.
Scope believes that there is still a long way to go with research showing that only five per cent of Brits have ever asked a disabled person out on a romantic date.
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Richard Lane, head of campaigns at Scope, said: ‘End the Awkward is all about challenging attitudes to disability in an open and lighthearted way.
‘We want people to relax and not let their assumptions about disability and sex get in the way of what could be an amazing connection with another person. The important thing is to focus on the person and the connection, not the impairment.’
Here FEMAIL speaks to three disabled women about their love lives:
EMILY YATES AND ROB HUGHES
Emily Yates, 24, was born with cerebral palsy and has been a wheelchair user since she was nine. She’s been dating her boyfriend Rob Hughes, also 24, for nearly three years.
Rob is able-bodied and works in IT. The couple live together on the border between Chester and North Wales.
Emily, who is an accessibility consultant for disability charity Enhance The UK, says she enjoys a healthy intimate relationship with Rob, who she met while on a charity trip with Journey of a Lifetime Trust (JOLT) to Southern Africa when they were both 16 years old.
She told FEMAIL: ‘We’ve got a really good sex life.
‘I’m quite happy to say that he’s the only person that I’ve slept with. We’re best friends and really comfortable with each other. There’s nothing sexually that we can’t do.’
She adds that while her condition doesn’t cause her any pain, it can mean her muscles are tighter than an able-bodied person so different positions can be tricky.
Emily explained: ‘Getting into certain positions at the start was really, really tough but obviously now I’m used to having sex and we know what works.’
‘I’ve got no complaints, it’s great! There’s nothing we can’t do although obviously some things take a bit more getting used to.’
Emily believes that communication is the key to a fulfilling sex life.
‘We met when we were 16 but didn’t get together until we were 20, so we were already very comfortable with each other before anything happened,’ she explained.
‘The way able-bodied people can view the disabled can be a double-sided coin.
‘In one respect, people think disability is undesirable; society has taught us that disability is a negative thing, which, of course, in some ways it is.
‘But there’s this myth that disabled people can’t, won’t or don’t have sex.’
‘For us though, it’s given us more intimacy because we have to communicate so much more.’
‘Men have come up to me in bars and instead of introducing themselves, the first thing they’ll ask is “how can you have sex?”
‘They’ll think: “she’s attractive but I want to know if she can have sex.”‘
Emily’s favourite response? ‘Yes I can but I won’t be having it with you.’
Questions aren’t a bad thing, though. She says she encourages them because: ‘it’s the only way to strip away ignorance.’
Her work for Enhance The UK sees her deliver body image workshops to schools, organisations and workplaces all over the UK.
The charity’s latest campaign, Undressing Disability, shows Emily and a host of other disabled people stripping off for photographs that will form part of an exhibition at the Gherkin in London later this month.
Emily says disrobing for the cause was a no-brainer: ‘It aims to remove this taboo and get the conversation going because dating and having sex are different when you’re disabled.
‘People are often really, really embarrassed [to talk about the issue] and there isn’t always a forum to discuss it.’
KELLY AND JARATH PERKS-BEVINGTON
Kelly Perks-Bevington, 26, from the West Midlands, has genetic disorder spinal muscular dystrophy type three and has been in an electric wheelchair since the age of 11.
Kelly, who works for a lifestyle management company for professional footballers, married graphic designer and artist Jarath – or Jaz – also 26, six months ago. They were friends in college but went their separate ways before reuniting in their early twenties.
Kelly told FEMAIL how strangers have come up to them to ask if and how they have sex, and even assumed her brother is her husband because he also uses a wheelchair.
‘I really don’t know why people assume that,’ she said. ‘When we were younger we’d be shopping together and people would just say “Is that your boyfriend?”‘
‘Even on our wedding day we had it two or three times.
‘One of the hotel staff went up to my brother and said “What’s your room number because your wife’s just bought a cocktail and you’ve got to pay for it”, and my brother said, “That’s my sister and she can pay for her own drink!”
‘Jaz will get a lot of remarks in the pub like, “Oh your girlfriend’s the one in the wheelchair, oh fair play” – as if to say “well done you, you’re doing her a favour”.
‘He’s also had more sexual questions like how we do stuff, can we have sex like a normal couple – and I just think “what’s crossing your mind to make you ask that?”
‘We respond differently depending on the situation and what we feel like at the time.
‘Sometimes if we’re on a night out we’ll make up a story and laugh it off and then other times we’ll just answer their questions and keep it vague – but it depends on how many drinks we’ve had!
‘When I was younger I was a bit overly confident. I used to put on a bit of a front and make out like nothing was a problem even though inside I probably felt a little bit differently.
‘I think that probably put people at ease though, because I seemed so normal about it.
‘There were certain times when I met someone at a club and they’d act a little bit awkward but I treat every situation as it comes and speak to people how I like to be spoken to.
‘I just get it out there because I’d prefer that to someone holding back a question and making their own assumptions about you.
‘I do have to take the lead a bit and talk people through things. It used to be a bit of a pain because with every new relationship you have to go through that again.
‘But I think you should discuss things as you would with any other person really – disabled people are just the same as anybody else, so any questions you’ve got just ask and the person hopefully shouldn’t have a problem with it.
‘It helps that me and Jez were best friends to start with and so we just talk about everything really openly.
‘When we were first together, though, I used to make him stand outside of the bedroom so I could get undressed and get into the bed myself – just to be independent, which was quite funny really as he’d be waiting there for ages.
‘One day Jez just turned around and said “Wouldn’t it just be easier if I helped you” – and I think I needed to know that he was willing to do that.
‘Now it’s part of our routine that he does everything like that for me.
‘I’ve learnt how to embrace how I am now and just do things how I need to do them.’
SAM CLEASBY AND TIMM CLEASBY
Sam Cleasby, 34, from Sheffield, suffers with inflammatory bowel disease. She had to wear an ostomy bag for a year and admitted that, for a time, it ‘rid me of my sexuality’.
But a sexy pin-up girl shoot with her photographer husband 43-year-old Timm and writing her blog So Bad Ass helped Sam to feel like herself again, despite her chronic condition.
And now the self-employed writer is on a mission to stop ‘poo from being taboo’.
‘I was diagnosed in 2003 – when Timm and I had been together for about five years.
‘It causes diarrhea and bleeding and a lot of pain. But I controlled that with medication for about ten years and then in 2013 I got very poorly.
‘The doctors couldn’t control it with medication anymore and I had to have an operation to remove my colon.
‘I had an ostomy – a lot of people know about a colostomy, which is a different thing – but it looks the same from the outside.
‘I had my ostomy for about a year, so I wore a bag on the outside of my body and that collected my waste. The biggest problem was it really effected my self-esteem and confidence.
‘I think there’s an idea that it’s something that old people have but I was 32 when I had my ostomy bag.
‘Timm and I had been together a long time and in some ways I think I was lucky about that because I didn’t have to figure out how to approach a new partner and how to talk to them about all this, but on the other hand it completely changed our roles in the relationship for a while.
‘He had to be my carer, and I think when you’re in the role of a sick person or a patient, it’s hard to feel like a sexual person.
‘For a time I did feel like the condition and the ostomy bag had rid me of my sexuality, which is a really difficult thing to live with as a woman.
‘In the early days it was very difficult. I told Timm if he wanted to leave me he could. I wanted to give him an out – he didn’t sign up for this.
‘We had to have some quite tough discussions about how I felt.
‘I think I was projecting a lot of my negative thoughts about myself onto Timm – I was assuming that he was not going to find me attractive anymore… I was assuming he would be disgusted by my ostomy bag.
‘When actually he was just concerned about seeing his wife in pain and he didn’t really know how to deal with this completely knew thing.
‘Timm’s a photographer and he suggested we do some photoshoots and that really boosted my confidence.
‘Beforehand I thought I was this huge ostomy bag with a tiny person behind it, and then I saw those pictures and realised it’s such a tiny part of you.
‘It made me realise I’m still the person I was before – I’ve just got a disability that changes things slightly.
‘I’ve had another surgery to reconnect things back inside so I now have what’s called a J pouch, so everything’s internal now – there’s nothing visible anymore.
‘Also I started writing my blog to document my journey but also to be there as a support for other people – I really wanted to stop ‘poo being taboo’ because it’s not something we like to talk about in public.
‘So I wrote things to get it out there because there’s a lot of younger people who live with ostomy bags.
‘I really thought just my friends and family would read it but very quickly I realised there was a huge audience of people looking for answehttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/embed/video/1219370.htmlrs and support and now by blog’s had more than two million viewers.
‘I’m quite honest on the blog and I do allude to the physical side of things but we’ve got three kids and our son’s 15, so I think if he read the ins and outs of our sex life he might kill us!
‘But I do talk about it a bit and I welcome other people to talk about it.
‘The biggest thing I always push with relationships is that when you’ve got something that’s such an embarrassing illness it’s really easy to close yourself off and become isolated, but the only way through that is to speak out and be honest.
‘So I really think people have the bravery to speak out because the more we do that, the more we can end the awkward.’