In the age of interracial, transgender, and trans-generational dating, why is it still so easy to get a little freaked when you find yourself attracted to someone with a physical disability?
The answer lies with the many false assumptions and negative stereotypes about people in wheelchairs that continue to be prevalent in our society. On top of that, we also are frequently not portrayed in the media as sexy and desirable. Unfortunately, this misinformation may be preventing you from having the most amazing romance. Drawing from my history as a clinical psychologist, whose specialty is counseling people with disabilities on the topic of dating, sexuality and romance, as well as pulling from my own exploits as a single Manhattanite on the dating scene, I am going to debunk the five most common myths that are current today.
If you date someone in a wheelchair, you won't have a fulfilling sex life, if you can have sex together at all.
This is probably the most common myth out there, and it is 110 percent false. If you have a body and a brain, then you can have great sex. Through the media, we are often fed the image of how sex is "supposed" to look, and that image involves people with perfect bodies engaged in rigorous porno-style sex. This is very damaging for everyone, disabled or not. Creative thinking, imagination and good communication are actually the key ingredients of having a completely satisfying sex life, and these are possible for everyone.
The date will be very awkward, and I will do or say something stupid or offensive.
This myth stems from the fact that many able-bodied people still view people with disabilities as essentially different from them. Not only are one in every five Americans affected by some sort of disability, but we also need to keep in mind that everyone has issues. For some, the issues are very visible; for others, the struggles are more internal. Having a disability is like dealing with any other curve ball that life throws our way. With these facts in mind, you will see how "normal" living with a disability can be, and that your date is just like any other.
It will be a real drag to date someone with a physical disability, because they are "damaged" people. You will have to take care of them physically and mentally.
Many people with physical disabilities do not view themselves as "disabled," let alone focus on this and/or let their disability get in their way. In fact,the majority of people with disabilities live extraordinarily full, intrinsically satisfying lives.They have great careers, killer social circles, and supportive families. They are also very skilled at being independent. When they are unable to do something for themselves, they hire someone to do it for them, just like everyone in Manhattan.
My friends and family won’t accept us.
Friends and family can pose the biggest obstacle. Often, they, like many others, have simply not been exposed to someone with a physical disability. That doesn't mean that they would not be open to accepting your romantic partner as someone who makes you happy. A little explanation and myth-debunking on your part is usually all that it takes.
We won’t be able to live a normal life and do fun things together.
From my experience as a sexpert and public speaker, I have had the pleasure of meeting many people with disabilities from all over the world. I have met actors, models, politicians, mothers, fathers, doctors, athletes, world travelers, husbands and wives, all with physical disabilities, most in wheelchairs. Being their romantic partner would not only be fun, but possibly would offer some of the best experiences of your life, with continual discovery and adventure waiting for you around the corner. With some creativity, strategy and communication, any activity is possible, and both parties can experience the world to the fullest together.
Dating is tough for anyone. When we exclude a certain group of people from our dating pool, we limit ourselves and reduce our chances of finding our "soul mate" or "partner in crime." Hopefully, with a better understanding of these five myths, your mind will be opened to new types of dating experiences. You never know who will be your next great love, and it would be sad to let a wheelchair get in the way, especially when it isn't even an issue for the person with the disability.
Danielle Sheypuk, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, media commentator, advocate for people with disabilities and fashion model living in New York.
Photo credit: Goodshoot/360/Getty Images
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