Between close friends, sex talk can be hot. Questions like, “So, how was it last night with that hot dude at the party?” that you ask a friend when you are younger turns into a “So, when did you last have it?” or “Should I hook you up with this great guy? Despite his age he’s great in bed!” type of question when you are older. But if, God forbid, a woman in a wheelchair were to express an interest in any sexual talk, the quick retort she will get, either through looks or words, is: “Sex? You? But you are disabled!”
Romantic love, sex and sexual intimacy is a celebration of perfection. In film after film, ad after ad, image after image you are subjected to beautiful people falling in love, lusting for one another, getting intimate, having sex. Think hard and tell me, do you remember even a single image where a disabled person got intimate with someone? Forget intimacy, have you ever seen, in an advertisement, film or any other such medium, anybody whose body deviates from the ideal even fantasising about sex?
In the real world, sex and a disabled body apparently do not mix. We disabled folk have other important things to think about, don’t we? Like, how do I stop spontaneous drooling? How do I say one word without slurring? How do I relieve myself in a restaurant that not only has a cramped toilet, but where the toilet is inaccessible… Where is the time to think of sex or intimacy? Right? Wrong.
If you are a sexual person, craving intimacy is something that’s part of you. You don’t have to consciously think about it. Do you need to be told to think about sex? Well, neither do we. So what if our hands and legs don’t move as yours do, or we can’t see, or we use wheelchairs, or we can’t hold a hand even if we do get a hand to hold? You see, people forget that the most sexual organ in the human body is the brain. If it is intact, I believe that we will think of sex, whether we want to or not.
But, that is not how the world sees us. For the world, we are objects of pity. Charity is the best that most of the world can do for us.
In India, sex as a topic is mostly out of bounds, particularly for women. Schools do not have proper sex education. Most marriages are still arranged, so there is the expectation that sex comes with marriage.
In this scenario, people with disabilities who live in India can forget about sex. Even the connection of disability with sex is taboo. Yet, studies show that women and girls with disabilities are highly vulnerable to sexual assault. So if you’re disabled, you’re not even allowed to think about sex, but others have the licence to assault you. That’s our great hypocrisy.
When it comes to marriage, women with disabilities fare badly, because women are still expected to take care of their husband’s every need, and no matter how independent they are, women with disabilities are not seen as capable enough to do so. Usually, disabled men are better off – many more are able to get married, because they don’t have to deal with the same stigma that women with disabilities do.
My cousin Shonali Bose made a film called Margarita with a Straw. This film was inspired by me, but it is a fictitious story in which the disabled protagonist, Laila, falls in love with a woman, and has a fling with a man. The film ends happily, leaving the audience excited that Laila is alone and discovering herself. I love the film – it has its own triumphs and storms that are unrelated to me. It is hugely relevant in today’s world, particularly in India.
Many people ask me if I have had sex, and I reply that I have preferred not to have it. Years ago, after I published my memoir, I fell in love with a man who came to interview me for a TV series. The series never materialised, but our relationship did. It continues to this date. We are good, intimate friends.
He knows everything about me, and I poke around trying to know about him, but you know how men are. So I let it be and am happy with it.
Yet, the truth is that I am a woman who hasn’t been sexually touched. Does that mean I am unfulfilled, unloved? Definitely not. Do I wish I had sex? Yes. But I do so without ignoring the many other blessings I have been richly endowed with. And for that, I am really thankful.
Malini Chib is a disability rights activist and CEO of ADAPT Rights Group. Her autobiography is called One Little Finger.
This article first appeared on Skin Stories.