Navigating sex is murky territory for most, but living with a disability can further complicate matters. One T.O. couple is making the deed more accessible to all.
Tim Rose is a guy you really don’t want to face off with in a “most unusual place you ever had sex” competition. You may have done it in your boss’s office—heck, even the prime minister’s office—but Rose’s answer will always be better: It’s his electric wheelchair.
To the uninitiated, a wired wheelchair exists simply for mobility’s sake—it’s necessary and life-changing, obviously, but possesses all the glamour and excitement of a toaster.
Tim, 29, informed me of the ins and outs of wheelchair sex when I visited the east-Toronto apartment he shares with his 30-year-old wife, Natalie. Together, they run the Rose Centre, which promotes awareness of love, sex, and relationships in the context of disabilities. Natalie says it can be a tough sell—people get uncomfortable talking about either sex or disability, let alone both at once, so very few organizations are even trying to start that conversation. The Roses host events, present public-speaking engagements to professional groups, and are working on an online-video campaign to spread their message further.
Turning a $35,000 mobility aid into a piece of sex furniture is not exactly a manufacturer-approved use, but Natalie tells me it’s more comfortable than one might imagine.
For the Roses, wheelchair sex is an interesting way of mixing it up in a relationship where quickies aren’t particularly practical. Tim has cerebral palsy, a developmental condition that severely limits his movement; Natalie is able-bodied. For them, sex involves elaborate lifts just to get Tim into bed, so impromptu tear-your-clothes-off sessions aren’t really an option.
That’s a sentiment echoed by Andrew Morrison-Gurza, a friend of Tim’s who I spoke to later over Skype. Morrison-Gurza also has cerebral palsy, and likens pre-sex arrangements to “storyboarding.” Because his body works differently, before he goes to bed with a guy for the first time, he has to explain to his partner what is and isn’t possible, as well as give a quick briefing on how his erogenous zones may vary from the standard set-up.
That can be a lot to absorb, and is just one of a dizzying number of obstacles people with disabilities face when negotiating not just sex and relationships, but also life in the city. Toronto is still shamefully difficult to navigate for people with disabilities: Step-free access is offered at fewer than half of all subway stations, and the majority of venues in places like Queen West or the Church-Wellesley Village are similarly wheelchair-unfriendly.
And those are just the logistical roadblocks. “Bodies that are considered sexy don’t generally look like mine,” says Tim, who says he became so accustomed to rejection during university that he stopped asking girls out. According to Morrison-Gurza, things aren’t much better online, where it’s all too easy for users of apps like Tinder to simply swipe left. The teens and early 20s are especially rough for many people with disabilities, who are often ignored amid the hormone-driven hookup frenzy.
Tim could barely contain his laughter when I asked whether medical and support professionals are equipped to talk about how a disability might affect sex. As he tells it, they’d much rather help you get a job than get laid. “As a horny teen, did I want to know about occupations, or did I want to know about masturbation? Masturbation, obviously,” he says.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that many people with disabilities simply give up on the dating game. And that’s a huge shame. It’s clear from talking to Morrison-Gurza, Natalie, and Tim that these are people who are redefining sex based on what works for them. And all of us—disabled or able-bodied—could learn from that.
A huge issue for sex therapists is combating a narrow view of sex, drawn from some combo of porn and trashy romance novels. Getting people to forget what they think sex should look like and focus on what it could look like with their partner is much of the battle.
In that regard, it seems the guy in the wheelchair might very well be having the best sex in the city.
WANT TO KNOW HOW IT’S DONE?
Check out The Ultimate Guide to Sex & Disability, written by Toronto sex educator Cory Silverberg, among others.