Every Body: Glamour, Dateability, Sexuality & Disability by Dr. Danielle Sheypuk at TEDxBarnardCollege (Transcript)

So, just recently, I went out on a Match.com date, and it was fantastic. We liked the same things, we liked movies at the Angelika, unknown restaurants, Central Park; he had a job, a career, a graduate degree, and the first date was fabulous. Soup dumpling, Tsingtao beer, chemistry flying all over the place.

By the third date, I thought I was off the hook. I got my hopes up; I was thinking: “This could be the one. This is the third date, this could be the one.”

When over an intimate dinner at a sweet Italian bistro, in the Lower East Side. I noticed he was sitting further away from me than usual, and then the question started. I’ve been thinking, “How are you going to be a mother? How are you going to do the duties that are going to be required of you? And even as a wife, how — I’m not sure how that’s going to work.”

And I said: “Well that’s simple, I’m just going to hire someone, like every other New Yorker.” That was the last time I heard from him. I tried to convince myself that this was like any other relationship, but deep down, I knew the reality. Who wants to date someone in a wheelchair?

Sex is one of the basic drives of humanity. Sigmund Freud proposed that human organisms are born with drives, and one of those is sex, and if this drive is not met, a negative state of tension occurs. Therefore, dating and relationships rank very high in life’s priorities. But this priority is much, much more complex for someone with a disability. \

So even though I’m the total catch, my Match.com guy is multiple times more likely to date than me, because he doesn’t have a physical, visible disability. Now, this is interesting, because even though he has a lot more experience under his belt — you know, notches on the bedpost, he is probably not going to report a lot of satisfaction in this area. Now, this is not my opinion, look — people are not having good sex. Married people aren’t having sex with each other, and people aren’t happy with their relationships.

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Now, what if this is because we are factoring out an entire amazing group of potential romantic partners, and that group is people with disabilities? We are completely left out of the dating picture. Society, media included, seems to ignore the fact that we have the same emotional needs, and desires as everyone else. Is this injustice born out of the concept of the poster child, and his or her duty to induce pity, to raise money? Or maybe it’s the conclusion drawn from mainstream porno, where we have actors performing like gymnastics stunts, with the stamina that none of us have, of bucking broncos, and jackrabbits.

The silent message: the more in shape your body, the better the sex. The unspoken conclusion: If you have a disability, you are too sick to have sex. Now let’s look at the continuum in our society where sexuality is measured. So, on the one hand, we have humans that are the ultimate, sex appeal objects. So on that end, we have Victoria Secret models, Playboy centerfolds, people like that. On the complete, opposite end, we have people with physical disabilities, and it seems like the more we deviate from this ultimate sex icon, the more de-sexualized we become, the more taboo the topic, and the more damaging the consequences.

Now, for most people there are quick fixes. Right? We have Hair Club for Men, Botox, Spanx, butt implants. But for people with disabilities there are no quick fixes. There is no magic pill, and we are hit hard. We begin dating, and experience our first sexual experience much, much later than the general population. We are less likely to get married, and will report fewer sexual experiences overall, if any.

When I was at the Miss Wheelchair USA pageant — because I was the Miss New York, too, I remember a conversation with a contestant there, and she said: “You know, like, I don’t really get your platform, I mean, like, you just have to love yourself, like, if you just love yourself, and your body, then the rest — it’s so easy to find a date, the rest will come easy.” I’m like: “No.”

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No. Society’s misconceptions, and inaccurate assumptions are the largest obstacles that we face in this area with a disability, and let me tell you, it is the size of Mount Everest. Asexual, not able to have sex. Not able to have good sex. Can’t be a wife, can’t be a mother, weak, infertile, can’t be a good father.

I remember on Tinder, a guy asked me, and of course, this was in his second line of conversation: “Can you have sex?” I said: “Can you?” I had a patient who was about in her 30s, and she was in a wheelchair, and identified as a lesbian, and it was so easy for her to stay in the closet, because, people didn’t even think she was sexual, never mind a lesbian, like wow, that didn’t even — that would blow their minds. We take these negative stereotypes, and we internalize them, because that’s what we do, as humans. If you hear it enough, if we’re rejected enough, you believe it, and I mean, how could I not?

Here I am on my third date, with my witty retorts, a dress that left very little to the imagination, and I didn’t stand a chance. Why? Because he could not imagine how I could do it. Media also plays a big role here, in the way people with disabilities are treated in this area. We’re completely left out. Rarely do you see us in TV commercials, ad campaigns, anything in the beauty and fashion industry. The message: You do not belong here. Your body is too abnormal, too crooked, too not nice, and therefore you can’t sell our product. Sex sells, and you are not sexy.

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