Sex Talk Episode 10- Sex and Disability
Voice Over: You're listening to Sex Talk. A podcast about sex. In this episode expect to hear some colourful language and conversations of a sexual nature. You may want to pop on a pair of headphones for some privacy during this podcast.
Rachel: People don't see beyond the disability, they don't see Steve or Joanne or whoever's just sitting there in front of them, that's just trying to get to know them, that's just sitting across from them in Nandos and wants to have a conversation.
Voice Over: Sex talk. –
Adele : Hello and welcome to Sex Talk. If you're new to Sex Talk, this is a podcast all about Sex presented by me, Adele Roberts,
Hilary : And me Hilary Ineomo-Marcus
Adele: We've had some interesting discussions on Sex Talk so far and have touched on lots of different subjects, from sex in prison and sex and alcohol, to sex addiction and living with HIV. If you haven't heard our previous episodes, please subscribe to the podcast so you can go back through the archive.
Adele : Somebody who listened to the first series of the Sex Talk podcast got in touch with us about a subject he thought we needed to talk about. We're going to refer to him as Brian today, that's not his real name.
Hilary : If you heard the last series, you may remember us talking about Sex Work on episode 7.
Hilary: Brian wrote to us about the other side of the sex industry, from the perspective of people who use sexual services.
Adele : Brian is blind, and says escorts are a life line for him, and make him feel more alive. We're going to be speaking to Brian shortly
Hilary : We'll also be hearing from Rachel, an escort who lists her services through the TLC Trust, a website set up to help disabled people find safe sexual services.
Rachel: It's something that i'm really passionate about because I do think people are unfairly stigmatised.
Adele : and we'll talk to Tuppy Owens, the woman behind the TLC Trust about why she set it up, and what the law is around this kind of work.
Tuppy : They sometimes said that they would like to use a sex worker in order to, mostly, work out what their bodies are capable of enjoying and to find out how to please a partner.
Hilary : In the Netherlands and Denmark there are grant schemes where people with disabilities receive public money to pay for sexual services. These schemes are with certified "sexual assistants" who receive special training and conduct visits to disabled people who cannot afford to pay for the services themselves.
Adele : Joining us on the line now is Brian, Brian's interview has been voiced by an actor to protect his privacy.
Adele : Brian thank you so much for getting in touch with us about this subject, I'm going to read a little bit from the email that you sent to us:
I'm totally blind and like many people disabled or abled I can feel lonely or sexually frustrated and find it difficult to find a girlfriend. I visit escorts, it's like therapy. It gives me a reason to be alive. Brian, can you tell us why you initially decided to contact an escort?
Brian : So it's for those reasons. I think needing sexual contact is a very natural thing. Everybody deserves to have it, people deserve to have sexual experiences in their lives. It makes me feel wanted, desired, needed and I really enjoy the sexual contact really and it's not something I can find anywhere else.
Hilary : What was your first experience with an escort like?
Brian : I mean I was absolutely amazing. My first experience was over 8 years ago and if I hadn't had that experience I still wouldn't have had any sexual experience by now so I had a really enjoyable time and I was able to explore her body and it was all very consensual about what she was after and about what I was after.
Adele : It's so good to hear that you're in such a good place now in terms of sexual contact and like you said feeling wanted but you also mentioned 8 years so could you take us back to what your teenage years were like and what puberty like?
Brian : It's an interesting topic that you've brought up because it's really difficult to hear about all these other situations that all these other people are having that you're not getting and that's really hard. It's the sort of feeling that can wake you up in the middle of the night actually, and it can be quite upsetting. You'll have girls that have lots of boyfriends or girls that kiss lots of boys but they don't really want to kiss you and that's quite upsetting.
Hilary : Do you feel the sex education you were given back in school was adequate? Given your specific needs was that ever discussed?
Brian : No it wasn't discussed. I think a lot of sex education even for adults, or when you're growing up in school seems to me to be based around people that are out having sex pretty much every day. What I am concerned about is people looking more negatively at sex instead of positively at sex, and things like being able to visit escorts and being able to have sexual satisfaction is actually something that definitely should be getting addressed.
Adele : I think you're right we're all human, we all need contact, we all need to feel wanted. I keep going back to that that you said, it really struck a chord with me, and also what you said about sex education. It's interesting that you said that and I hope it's better in schools nowadays because for me being a gay person I didn't get any specific sex education as well so I totally understand where you're coming from in that sense.
Hilary : Brian, I was just going to ask what makes you know that this is going to be sexually fulfilling experience?
Brian : So I've never had a real life relationship but when it comes to escorts it's about the personality and what they like to do. Generally it's the voice and ideally the chemistry you might have together. Obviously it becomes very enjoyable when you work with each other to make it a really good experience. In general life it's very difficult to meet girls. I've never really been able to have a relationship with somebody.
Adele: I'm starting to understand now why escorts are so important to you and you mentioning a lot that you've not had much experience in terms of relationships and has that also been brought on over past experiences as well? Have there been times when you've been with women in public where things have been said to you that have hurt you and affected you?
Brian : Yes and I've seen this happen to other disabled people as well where you get sexually degrading comments where they say how they wouldn't sleep with you or how you're never going to get the girlfriend and other really hurtful things.
Hilary : Brian having visited escorts do you feel this has helped your confidence in any shape or form?
Brian : It makes me feel confident I suppose. As I say it's an absolutely life line and being able to have that sexual experience is one of the meanings of life for me and if I couldn't visit an escort I'd be very suicidal.
Adele : In terms of emotional support Brian who are you able to talk to?
Brian : The only people you can really speak to are councillors I suppose. But I would say that you shouldn't be visiting escorts just because you've had a negative experience, it should be a positive thing and I feel more comfortable visiting escorts in many ways because if you get into a relationship with somebody you can easily get hurt by them deciding they don't want to be in a relationship anymore or by them leaving so it's more consistent and you don't really have the pressures of being in a relationship either.
Hilary : How often do you visit escorts, and how do you ensure you both stay safe?
Brian : Well obviously their safety and their consent is most important to me obviously. One of the things that I happen to enjoy is French kissing and some escorts choose not to French kiss and you accept that and you do the things that they're comfortable with. I also think it should be more looked after. I want the escorts to be more looked after.
Adele : Is it just more that you care for them and you respect their profession and you want to make sure they're looked after?
Brian : Yes exactly. There needs to be more in place.
Adele : So in terms of changes in the sex industry if anyone's listening that could make those changes are you wanting change legally or in terms of society and attitudes, or both?
Brian : Both. Both, both. I would really appeal to people listening to this. I'd like people in society to see it as a much more natural need and less of a stigma to do with things around sex, such as pornography, visiting escorts and sex shops. It should be seen as a natural need.
Hilary : Brian before you came on we just read that in the Netherlands and Denmark the government actually provides – I'm going to say vouchers – to people that are disabled to be able to access safe sexual services. Do you think something like that will go a long way in helping people like yourself in the UK?
Brian : Most definitely. I'd visit an escort everyday if I could.
Hilary : Brian currently how often do you visit an escort?
Brian : 3 or 4 times a year. I'd like to visit much more often to be honest. It involves a lot of travelling as well and it would be so much nicer if it would be so much easier.
Adele : I didn't realise it was 3 or 4 times a year.
Brian : How many times did you think then?
Adele : It's just that it means so much to you and I would hope that you'd be able to do it more often but that's just my thoughts on it, that doesn't seem like much. Do you feel that you could have a relationship with someone in the future Brian?
Brian : It's a lovely idea but I wouldn't want to get hurt. That's the positive thing of being able to visit an escort. You meet some lovely, lovely ladies as well.
Adele : Brian, thank you so much for sharing your story today I feel like there will be other people that have similar experiences to you, I feel you will have helped them, your words will have helped. I think it's nice to hear another side of the escort industry.
Hilary: Absolutely. You've definitely educated me and given me an insight into just some of the things that I take for granted and I'm sure most of us do.
Brian : I mean even if you're fully sighted and fully abled, there still should be no stigma about visiting an escort, it should be like most other things. You know what each other wants, you know what the boundaries are, along with all the social sides of visiting an escort like the conversations as well.
Adele : Brian thank you so much.
Hilary : Thank you Brian.
Adele : How do you feel the chat with Brian went?
Hilary: Really well and so insightful and the need for that human contact, sexual desire is always there. I think they say statistically every man thinks about sex every 6 seconds.
Adele : Really! What you thinking about now? Sex?
Hilary: Yeah. And for that urge to only be satisfied three times a year…
Adele : Well it's inclusivity isn't it? And it's people feeling valued and welcomed, and part of society and I think there are lots of groups and definitely minorities that don't felt that opportunity and it's through people like Brian being brave enough to speak to us, get in touch with the podcast that we start to learn about other people's perspectives and I'm so grateful that he got in touch, and now I'll be mindful of that.
Hilary: Absolutely and if you're listening to this podcast and there are things that we haven't touched on please do get in touch and let us know and we will be more than happy to learn new things as we do with our word porn every week.
Adele : You can't wait for word porn.
Hilary : I can't I just had to drop that in there.
Adele : Don't worry Hilary I've got the book in my bag I've got the dictionary I'll whip it out in a bit and we'll do some word porn.
Hilary: Easy girl.
Adele : We mentioned before that there is a website set up for people with disabilities to find safe sexual services. Rachel is an escort who works for the TLC Trust, and she is on the line now. Welcome to Sex Talk Rachel!
Hilary : Rachel, you work with the TLC Trust, so some of your clients are disabled. Why did you decide to focus on working with people with disabilities?
Rachel : For me when I was growing up I had family members that didn't have physical disabilities, they had mental health problems and when you're growing up with something like that you see how people treat you differently and my experience of seeing the way people were spoke to is that people would be spoken over, patronised, the stigma was very real and it was something you were very aware of at quite a young age. So I didn't know the TLC trust existed until a year, two years ago and I thought this is something I could get behind, I really stand with the ethos of it and it's something I'm really passionate about, because I do think that people are unfairly stigmatised and even though a lot of people that come to me have physical disabilities, every so often you will have to deal with people that have issues that stem from that as well like confidence issues, like anxiety. Stigma is stigma however it comes across to you and that's something I'm still very passionate about and something I was very passionate about when I first met people from the TLC.
Adele : That's wonderful to hear Rachel, we've just been chatting to Brian and he was talking about the anxiety and the feelings of stigma and being judged so it's wonderful to hear that there are people like you out there to help him. Do you have to have any training to work with people with specific disabilities?
Rachel : No. I think one thing that does come in quite handy is even though it's not really your job, if you are quite comfortable if you're dealing with people that perhaps some things need to be lifted or moved in certain ways. It's a trust thing, it's a comfort thing, that can sometimes help a person because they don't feel as self-conscious in that environment and the nature of my role… the name of the game is really to try and make someone feel as relaxed as possible and not draw attention to whatever they might be feeling quite self-conscious about.
Hilary : Rachel access to services for disabled people can be quite difficult to navigate at the best of times but when it comes to sexual services how do you think we could make it more accessible to disabled people?
Rachel : I think one is just have a conversation about generally about how we speak about disability as well. I just typed in 'disability and dating' and the stories that I was reading and articles, it's horrific for people that just are reduced to a fetish. The one thing that comes across very strongly is someone's treated almost like they don't have sexual feelings and they don't want to do anything, and I think even being able to have that conversation where you're still a human being, you still have feelings, you still want to be in a relationship, if that's what they want. I've spoken to some people and they don't want to be in that for their own reasons, but you still want to feel wanted, you still want to feel desired, you still want to feel cared about like you matter to someone, and I think when it comes to something like sexual services even if we're challenging our own perceptions and our own stigmas that we hold towards people that have disabilities, at the end of the day if people are still saying that they go on Tinder or Okay Cupid or whatever and they're getting treated like they're either a sexual fetish or they're not desirable, that kills someone's confidence.
Adele : Yeah Hilary and I have learned so much already on this podcast today already which is great because I think that's what we're here for and we're here to share it as far and wide as possible and like you said your work as an escort isn't just about sex there must be a lot of emotional support involved. Are there any particular conversations that you regularly have with your clients through the TLC Trust?
Rachel : There was one and it still upsets me to this day, it was someone that I met and it was just a flippant comment that he made and I don't think he realised that he'd just said it, he said 'when I try and date, women don't see beyond my wheelchair', and when someone says something like that to you – I'm able bodied, but it really makes you stop and think about how you might have behaved towards someone even without thinking and I don't mean just him, but just going through your life and you stop and you think have I ever made someone feel that way? And it really challenges your sense of self, even with just a flippant comment like that and that's something that has come up quite a lot and themes that I've met with people are they feel that people don't see beyond the disability, they see a wheelchair. They see if someone's had surgery on something, they see a condition, they see something else but they don't see Steve or Joanne or whoever's just sitting there in front of them that's just trying to get to know them in a Nandos or whatever and just wants to have a conversation. They just see 'oh god I'm going to have to do this, am I going to have to make this concession for them?' or they start thinking about sex and it seems ironic a sex worker thinking I'm going to have to start thinking about sex, but they're not thinking about the person that's sitting there that just wants to get to know them and that's all they want to do they just want to get to know this person and that's something that comes up a lot is that theme of loneliness sometimes.
Hilary : We've spoken to many people and we just heard from Brian who was talking about how much having access to sexual services helps him and if he didn't he'd be suicidal. How does it feel knowing you are having this kind of an impact on your clients?
Rachel : I'm quite a humble person so I wouldn't say for me personally I'm glad that I could have had that kind of impact on someone. I have had people tell me that I've been a huge source of help to their mental health. I've had people turn to me and talk to me about problems in their life. The way I've always said is people will always treat your bedroom like a confessional because they know it's not going to go beyond those four walls, so people will tell you everything because they know it's a safe place. It's intense to know that you're doing something like that for a person because you know yourself that you are helping a person that may potentially be in a lot of need and you can potentially put someone in a position where they don't need you anymore and they can go off and date someone else, they can work something out with a person, they can do whatever. Their confidence – I've had clients that have broken up with me because they've gone off and met someone and they've found themselves in a happy stable relationships. But I think people don't see sex work in that way, they focus on the word sex and they don't realise that a lot of people come to you for emotions but they don't realise that they're coming to you for emotions either.
Hilary : Rachel, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and for having such an honest conversation with us here on Sex Talk.
Rachel : You're very welcome.
Adele : Thank you Rachel.
Rachel : Thank you for having me.
Adele : Rachel came up with so many good points and also what struck me was when she said somebody had mentioned you need to see past my wheelchair that was really powerful I thought and I feel that we're starting to do that today.
Hilary: I see her as a counsellor, as a motivator almost, as a confidant, because it seems that she's able to quickly gain the trust of her clients and…
Adele : She's very skilled isn't she. She's a life line for people.
Hilary: She is and she helped someone get into a healthy relationship after seeing her, so she's doing something good.
Adele : We'll be continuing the conversation about sex and disability shortly. But an episode of Sex Talk wouldn't be complete without our favourite game would it Hilary!?
Hilary: It wouldn't at all, so once again it's that time let's get into word porn.
Adele : You can't wait to give me your copy? We're sharing now, I have brought my own you know but do you want me to go through yours?
Hilary : Adele we need to clarify we're talking about the book here.
Adele : Okay do you want to give me a letter?
Hilary : Sure let's go for an L.
Adele : Okay let's see.
Hilary : I can promise I haven't been looking.
Adele : It looks well used to me. Okay this is a simple one but if it doesn't challenge you I'll give you another one. Let's start with this: local.
Hilary : Because it's sexual I'm going to say it's perhaps some sort of dating app? Is it your local pub where you can go down and have sexual relations with other customers?
Adele : I'm going to write this down because we're going on Dragon's Den. That's not the right answer but that is a good idea.
Hilary : Thank you… I'm wrong?
Adele : Yes let me put it in a sentence for you. Hilary's getting a local.
Hilary : Could that be felllatio?
Adele : You might want it to be that but it's not, it's a type of foreplay.
Hilary : French kissing?
Adele : No, hand movements.
Hilary : Ah okay I think the local term for it is a hand job.
Adele : Yes a local an American slang term referring to being masturbated by someone else as in getting a local.
Hilary : Right so that's going to be added to my vocab this week. Two locals please madam.
Hilary : Today's episode of Sex Talk focuses on Sex and Disability. So far we've heard from Brian, a blind man who uses escorts, and Rachel, an escort who works with disabled clients. We've mentioned the TLC Trust several times already on today's episode, and we're joined on the line now by Tuppy Owens who originally set up the website. Welcome to Sex Talk Tuppy!
Adele : Thank you so much for joining us Tuppy.
Tuppy : It's a pleasure.
Adele : So can you tell us a little bit about the TLC Trust. What is it and why did you set it up?
Tuppy : TLC trust is a website for disabled men and women to access responsible sex workers and I set it up because firstly I run a charity for disabled people that are physically and socially disabled people to find partners, and they sometimes said that they would like to use a sex worker in order to mostly work out what their bodies are capable of enjoying and to find out how to please a partner. And the other thing is, it's actually illegal not to support them to enjoy the same pleasures as other people enjoy in the privacy of their own homes and that's the equality act 2010 and human rights act 1998.
Hilary : Thank you so much Tuppy. We've heard from speaking to Brian and Rachel that the TLC Trust isn't just about sex. Could you talk us through some of the services that you offer?
Tuppy : Well actually the sex workers will do as they're asked. Basically they'll just… sometimes they just cuddle a client, and the client who's disabled hasn't been cuddled since she was a baby or he was a baby and often they find that incredibly moving. We've got as well as sex workers, we've got practitioners. They are really good for disabled people because they teach goal free sex which is not aiming at erections or intercourse or ejaculation or anything, just living in the moment and enjoying. And we have sexological body workers. They don't have sex with a client but they touch them and talk to them and try to enable them to start to enjoy their bodies.
Adele : We've heard so much how important your services are to your clients. Is there clear law around paying for escorts?
Tuppy Owens : Well it's never ever been illegal to pay an escort but unfortunately in Northern Ireland it is. That can be very, very hard on disabled people who employ carers to look after them and make the phone calls for them because carers cannot break the law so TLC are campaigning for that law to be changed and we have a lawyer, a criminal lawyer on the case.
Adele : You mentioned before about carers, do you offer support for carers and families of people with disabilities too?
Tuppy Owens : Well I answer the sex and disability helpline and I often get asked by carers and parents is it legal for my son or my client to have a sex worker, and you'd think that by now they know, but I have to say that even academics think it's illegal to hire a sex worker. Unfortunately that word has been spread and it's very difficult to get the word out to say no sex work is legal and the buying of sex apart from in Northern Ireland is legal as well
Adele : That's why it's good for us to talk to you today because I didn't know as well so thank you for teaching me and Hilary. You have another charity, the outsiders, could you tell us a little bit about that?
Tuppy Owens : Well actually it all comes under the outsiders trust. We've got 6 project and the outsiders club was the first thing I founded almost 40 years ago and it's working really really well. We have lunches around the country for disabled people to meet each other and have fun and really enjoy life more and we have a club house which is online where they natter and they get to know each other online before they meet and it really works very well and that's been going since 1979 and we've got Sharder and Sharder International for social and care professionals and lawyers and sex workers to discuss how to improve the way that professionals support disabled people to have a good sex life and then there's TLC. And there's the sexual respect toolkit because in the late 90s I put on a conference at the royal society of medicine about sex and disability and I realised that I was only preaching to the converted so I thought what we need to do is tell doctors and nurses and other people how to start a conversation around sex with their clients and patients. So there's a website that's devoted to that. And finally I have produced the school of sex for disabled people. It's a website which has been written totally be sexually experienced disabled people, those who provide them with sexual services and also health care professionals. If you look at the outsiders websites and look at projects you'll see the email addresses for all of those.
Hilary : Tuppy you sound like an incredibly busy woman I don't know how you manage all these projects simultaneously but thankfully…
Tuppy Owens : Well I've got a wonderful team of trustees and they are being very supportive.
Hilary : Tuppy, thank you for coming onto Sex Talk today to talk about the work you're doing.
Tuppy Owens : Okay bye, bye.
Adele : Unfortunately we're nearly out of time on this episode of Sex Talk. Before we go, Hilary you've got another myth to bust with Dr Stuart haven't you?
Hilary: I have indeed. This is the time in the show where we bust a common sexual health myth. With me in the studio right now is sexual health specialist Dr Stuart Flanagan. Thank you once again for joining us Stuart.
Stuart : Hey Hilary it's good to be back.
Hilary: Always a pleasure to have you. Now true or false, you have to have unprotected sex to catch an STI. I went and asked the public, let's hear from them to find out what they think.
You have to have unprotected sex to catch an STI, true or false?
I'd say false as well.
Hilary: Adele what do you think true or false?
Adele: Well I hope it's true because I hope if you go to protect yourself that's what it's for so hopefully it's true you can't catch an STI.
Hilary: So Dr Stuart you've heard today's myths and the public response and Adele's response. Most people said it was false but there was somebody who said it was true, it's time for you to set the record straight and bust that myth.
Stuart : Okay so the myth is false, you don't have to have unprotected sex to get an STI. There are some circumstances in which you can catch an STI even if you've had protected sex or for other reasons as well, so for example skin to skit contact can cause transmission of the herpes virus or HPV the virus that causes warts and there are areas of the skin that aren't covered by condoms so you could acquire it that way and then some STIs can be vertically transmitted so that means they can be passed during pregnancy from mother to child so it's possible for people to be born with HIV for example or to be born with syphilis so there are certain circumstances in which someone can have an STI but has never had sex so yeah the myth is false.
Hilary: Wow thanks Dr Stuart for straightening up that myth. We'll be talking more about that subject in particular mother to child transmission in the next edition of sex talk.
Adele : Unfortunately that's all we've got time for on this edition of Sex Talk. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this programme, you can contact the TLC Trust by visiting their website tlc-trust.org.uk and you can join the Outsiders community by visiting www.outsiders.org.uk
It's best to go through an organisation like TLC and make sure everything you are doing is safe and within the law.
Hilary : Don't forget to subscribe to our podcast to keep up to date with the latest episodes, and to follow us on Twitter, we're @sextalkradiouk
Adele : You can join in the conversation using #SexTalkPod
Hilary : We'd like to thank today's guests, Brian, Rachel and Tuppy. In the next edition of Sex Talk we'll be talking about having children when you're HIV Positive – and the reality of growing up with HIV.
So I was 11 years old but it all stared when I was 10 years old my mum was giving me medaictions everyday before I went to school so I would take them and I didn't know what it was for. She told me it was vitamins. As young as I was I didn't know so much about HIV but I knew a little bit about it based on heresay but basically what people say is HIV and AIDs are the same thing so at that age I just thought am I going to die, do I have AIDs?
Adele : Until next time Stay safe
Hilary : And keep talking.