Browsing posts tagged with disability
Dec
23

Writing a disabled perspective into erotica

[Note: Xan West does not use pronouns and goes by “Xan.”]

Show Yourself to MeLanguage is powerful. It has the ability to enhance and validate someone’s experience, just as it has the ability to invalidate. Erotica writers are especially imbued with this influence, as their work requires them to describe bodies, sexual acts, and lived experiences more intimately than most. Unfortunately, much erotica presumes a default subject: a white, young, able-bodied cisgender person.

Xan West is the author of Show Yourself to Me: Queer Kink Erotica, a collection of 24 BDSM-focused stories that subvert the traditional narrative and strive for more diverse character representation. Xan is also a disabled top and writes many stories from a top’s point of view. In efforts to portray disabled characters more often, Xan sometimes has to edit previously-written material. That’s the situation addressed in Xan’s blog post, “Writing Erotica as a Disabled Top.”

Toying with a story that had been rolling around in Xan’s head for a while (tentatively titled “Packing”), Xan felt something wasn’t quite coming together. Upon closer examination, it became clear:

I noticed something I had missed entirely. I had once again written a top that was able bodied and invulnerable, and it was embedded in my language, in small word choices everywhere, along with larger frameworks. Because I hadn’t decided that the top was disabled, hadn’t decided what the tops vulnerabilities or struggles or capacities were before I wrote. Had just tried to make those sentences into a beginning without that kind of deciding. And my default was a non-disabled top, an invulnerable top, a top that wasn’t grappling with the kinds of things that are everyday for me in my own life.

So, the editing began. When the new draft was finished, the phrase “I push my boots into the floor” had been removed, and several other references had been changed as follows:

The leather round my hips and thighs focuses my attention on my own skin, the way I walk, stand, sit
The leather round my hips and thighs focuses my attention on my own skin, the way I move, gesture, and feel in my body, pain and all.

When I strap my cock on, I step into my dominance. When I stride back into the room…
When I strap my cock on, I sink into my dominance. Scooting back into the room…

She takes the first step towards letting go, sinking into her submission.
She takes the first move towards letting go, slipping into her submission.

These sentences serve as an important reminder that even small alterations can make stories more accessible. Xan hopes that as time goes on, Xan can learn to write from disabled perspective from the get-go, rather than editing to reflect one. This is a great mission — the world needs more erotica that consciously depicts the beautiful diversity of bodies and identities. That’s why we love collections such as Ageless EroticaCan’t Help the Way That I Feel, Curvy Girls, and now, Show Yourself to Me.

Read the entire post on Xan’s blog here. Xan has written extensively about disability, kink, gender, and erotica-writing philosophies — all of it is worth a read.

  Musings      ,  
Jul
26

When dildos came out of the closet

sex-aids-for-women

In the 1970s, dildos were a point of contention in the feminist movement. A 1974 issue of Lesbian Tide warned: “anyone admitting to using a dildo today would probably be verbally castigated for enjoying ‘phallic’ pleasure.” Some activists thought dildos were too reminiscent of the patriarchy. Others felt that since dildos specifically didn’t require men, using them could actually be a subversive act.

The debate was more about what the dildo represented than precisely how it looked, but looks mattered too. Hyper-realistic vein-ridden dildos were the order of the day, and they tended to emit a strong chemical scent. It would still be a long time before the harms of plasticizers such as phthalates would come to light, but it was obvious that rubber was not the highest quality of dildo materials.

In her thought-provoking piece for Bitch on the early history of silicone dildos, Hallie Lieberman explores not just the feminist debate about the dildo, but also how dildo innovation in the ’70s came from an unlikely place: a humble man named Gosnell Duncan. After becoming paralyzed from the waist down in a workplace accident, Duncan began attending disability conferences and pondering how to enrich his (and others’) sex lives. Conference attendees were intrigued when he mentioned dildos as an option, and so began his journey into dildo-making.

Duncan had a hunch that he could improve upon the dildos of the time, because he was in talks with a chemist at General Electric to formulate the perfect formulation of silicone. Silicone was far more body-safe than rubber: it had no smell, no taste, and wouldn’t melt when exposed to heat — so it could be sterilized between partners. After 9 months of discussion, they discovered the ideal silicone and Duncan began making molds and manufacturing dildos in his basement.

Of course, manufacturing is only half the battle. Marketing was another hurdle. Duncan quickly found that placing ads in disability publications wasn’t enough to keep his business afloat. He renamed his company, from Paramount Therapeutic Products to Scorpio Products, and called up Dell Williams, founder of Eve’s Garden in NYC — the first ever feminist sex toy store.

But Eve’s Garden didn’t stock dildos. Only vibrators.

eves-garden

“Why did a dildo have to look like a cock at all, I asked Duncan,” Williams wrote in her memoir. “Did it have to have a well-defined, blushed-pink head, and blue veins in bas-relief?” Williams wasn’t sure that her customers would buy dildos, no matter what they looked like. But she was willing to find out. She sent out a customer survey asking her patrons what they would want in a dildo. Williams’s customers said that it wasn’t about size, it was about substance: They wanted “something not necessarily large, but definitely tapered. Not particularly wide but undulated at its midsection. Something pliable and easy to care for. Something in a pretty color.”

. . . When he poured his first vat of liquid silicone rubber into a penis-shaped mold, Duncan did not think of his dildo-making as a political act. He was seeking to solve a problem that he, and thousands of other disabled men and their lovers, faced. But in the 1970s dildos were imbued with politics, so to enter the dildo business was to make a political statement. Duncan could have refused to design nonrepresentational dildos in fanciful colors like blue and purple. But he chose to hear Williams out.

So Gosnell Duncan invented, for perhaps the first time, a dildo that represented what women actually wanted. It was called the Venus. Cast in chocolate brown or pink silicone, it resembled a finger — and it was made of a material that wasn’t toxic to the body.

Around that same time, in 1977, Good Vibrations opened in San Francisco. Founder Joani Blank only stocked 2-3 dildos and didn’t display them outright; they were hidden in a plain cabinet in the back. Customers were only shown the cabinet if they asked whether the shop carried “anything else.”

The dildos were brought out permanently in the early 1980s, when Susie Bright began working at the store. Bright was outspoken about dildos, writing in the inaugural edition of her lesbian erotica magazine On Our Backs, “ladies, the discreet, complete, and definitive information on dildos is this: penetration is as heterosexual as kissing!”

In small, feminist sex shops, the conversation around dildos was changing. They were coming out of the closet. And when Bright went to stock the store’s shelves, she knew just who to call: Gosnell Duncan.

Jan
18

From velcro to veterans: the history of Sportsheets

Military veteran in a sling designed by Tom Stewart, founder of Sportsheets

Sportsheets International began quietly, as a small business operating out of founder Tom Stewart’s garage. It was 1993, and Stewart had already spent years teaching himself to sew. He had a vision, one that had been sparked years earlier as he watched David Letterman, decked out in a velcro suit, jump on a trampoline and stick himself to a wall.

What if you could stick your sex partner to a wall?

The result of this inspiration was the company’s flagship product — a soft velcro bed sheet called the Sportsheet. With the accompanying anchor pads and cuffs, users could strap their partners down anywhere on the bed.

The following year, Stewart asked his sister Julie to become his partner in the business. Neither had any formal business experience, and the company wasn’t initially making much money, but the tides quickly turned. There was a definite market for the Sportsheet. Eventually, more of Stewart’s family joined the business, and they now operate out of a 17,000 square foot building in Huntington Beach, California. They’ve developed more than 400 different bondage and positioning products, with half manufactured in the US.

Tom Stewart, you could say, has become an expert on encouraging sexual creativity and helping people achieve sexual positions. He also spent 20 years in the military. So it made sense when, five years ago, he was invited to show off his products at the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes Road to Recovery ​conference, which brings wounded troops and their families together. His straps, slings, and harnesses were a huge hit with attendees — so he kept going back, listening, brainstorming, and inventing.

That’s how he came up with the heavy-duty adaptive sling pictured above, designed for a quadriplegic veteran wanting to have sex in the missionary position. He also invented a strap to facilitate doggy style for folks who can’t bend over easily. Even something as simple as a thigh harness can change a couple’s sex life, as Stewart explains:

One of the products we came up with was what’s called a thigh harness, and it’s like a neoprene knee brace. If you slide that up your thigh with a dildo inside the little hole, all of a sudden you’ve got a dildo mounted on your thigh. I took this thigh harness and other strap-ons to a [retail sex] show in Canada, and there was a guy in a wheelchair who came up and said, “Hey, I want to try this.” We put this thigh harness on him, and we put this dildo on his right leg.

I said to his girlfriend, “Come over here. Squat down on this thing — imagine you’re naked and this dildo’s going inside of you.” So, she was kind of grinding on his thigh — you know, simulating — and she’s going, “Oh my God, this is phenomenal. We can have intercourse like this!” This was really the beginning of products for people who have disabilities.

As Sportsheets enters its third decade in business, they remain true to their motto of “Keeping Couples Connected.” Although the company began with only a single product, today they are known for their work with disabled veterans, their inexpensive bondage products such as paddles, feather ticklers, and handcuffs, their great beginner’s harnesses, and the ingenious Under the Bed Restraint System. Tom Stewart is currently working on a hollow dildo strap-on harness for folks experiencing erectile difficulties.

Sep
22

Embracing the sexual needs of Little People

Dr. Marylou NaccaratoDr. Marylou Naccarato is doing something pretty groundbreaking: she’s talking about sex as a Little Person. According to a recent profile in The Atlantic, Naccarato is the first in her field to focus specifically on the sexual needs of Little People — physical, emotional, and psychosocial.

Naccarato, who has a type of dwarfism called Kniest and stands 3’10” tall, worked for 23 years as an IRS agent, although she’d always harbored dreams of being a social worker. Then, one evening while watching a TV show on sexual health, she was struck by the narrator’s tip that a certain sex position could alleviate back pain.

Naccarato knew she had adapted her sex life similarly to cope with hip pain, and she knew that Little People can have particular physical challenges during sex. But she’d never heard people talk about it.

There wasn’t much talk, and there wasn’t much literature. Naccarato scoured libraries, bookstores, and the internet, but there was little to discover. She began informally polling her friends about their sex lives. Not only were they open to talking about the subject — they were excited about it.

Then, Little People of America agreed to have her present a workshop at their conference in San Francisco. Having attended LPA events since she was a child, Naccarato had witnessed tons of presentations about relationships, marriage, and parenting, but the conservative family organization was mum on the topic of sex.

Now, 10 years later, Naccarato is a board certified clinical sexologist, has a doctorate from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, and is an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator. Needless to say, she no longer works for the IRS.

Dwarfism is a spectrum, and thus, some Little People face many physical obstacles, while others do not. When it comes to sex, some folks have arms that are too short to reach their genitals, hip rotation limitations and inflexibility that inhibit certain positions, and paralysis from the waist down due to severe spinal stenosis.

In the same way that tools such as dressing sticks assist Little People in everyday situations, certain sex products can also help. Fleshlight mounts, longer vibrators like the Magic Wand, condoms that are easier to put on, and positioning pillows can all aid folks of short stature. Naccarato has invented her own product, the Love Bench™, which is custom fit to the customer’s size. Great for people of all sizes, it is most awesome for people with limited range of mobility in their hips/knees from joint implant or other degenerative bone conditions.

Naccarato has even been able to run her own booth in the Expo at the Little People of America conference, albeit shrouded in a black curtain beckoning “adults only.” She is the only person to offer sex-related items in a trade show dedicated to adaptive products and resources.

Aside from logistical physical issues, Naccarato believes strongly in the emotional aspects of sex education. Little People can be particularly hindered by their upbringings, in which parents often skirt the issue of sex, while the world at large gawks.

According to Naccarato, “The psychosocial limitations of society may be more disabling than the physical symptoms.” She helps clients cope with the internalized otherness that comes from a lifetime in a body that is stared at, mocked, and poked at.

. . . “People with disabilities may have had an asexual upbringing and protective families that prevented growth,” says Naccarato. “Living under the attitude of the medical model from a lifetime of surgeries and insensitive doctors teaches people with disability that their body is broken, not sensual.” She works hard to show that Little People can allow themselves sensuality, pleasure, and connection.

To say that Dr. Marylou Naccarato’s work is important is to put it very mildly. She’s a pioneer.

Next year, she hopes to release a documentary featuring Little People talking about sexuality. Find her on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

  Musings       
Apr
18

A little kink, a lot of confidence

kink-sex-cerebral-palsy“Sex with a disability is a tough sell,” writes a queer woman named Carrie, “but not (just) for the reasons people assume. In my experience, the hardest part isn’t convincing someone else you’re desirable — it’s convincing yourself that your body is worth pleasing.”

For her, one small act of kink gave her more permission for pleasure than she’d ever given herself.

Carrie has cerebral palsy, which manifests itself in a walk that resembles the cover of Cat Power’s Jukebox, foot braces adorned with rainbow straps, and various bodily aches and pains.

More broadly, her CP makes others treat her like an object of pity, like a child unable to make her own decisions and take her own risks. On top of this, she rarely sees bodies like hers — especially bodies like hers depicted as beautiful.

After college, Carrie met a woman named Alex online, and they began having sex. After a month or two, Alex proposed delving into some bondage. Carrie was intrigued; it was unusual for someone to ask her to take a physical risk. But, there was a problem. Alex admitted, “I’m afraid I’m going to hurt you.”

Carrie was upset.

What that said to me was, “this woman still thinks I’m a little girl.”

Up to that point, I thought I’d done everything “right”: cultivated a functional relationship, finally let someone see me with my clothes off, said yes to sex, talked about my body, listened about hers, been willing to try new things, behaved like an adult. But it turns out it hadn’t worked . . . she still saw me as vulnerable. Not in the way that brings people closer, mind you, but in the way that makes them afraid to touch you. Makes them think you’re breakable.

Instead of screaming in her face, which is what I really wanted, I turned her question back on her and asked: “Who’s better at pain than I am?”

It was a choice that paid off.

The next time they had sex, Alex blindfolded Carrie, then handcuffed her hands above her head. She pinched Carrie’s skin until her chest was covered in clothespins. Sitting back, Alex admired her partner and mused, “I’ve never been able to do that before. Nobody has been able to take that many.”

That was Carrie’s breakthrough.

It’s not often (i.e., almost never) that I get told I’m good at a physical activity. But now my body, which had spent so many years letting me down and making decisions without my consent, had gone and done something absolutely right — and done it better. It had done something other people’s bodies, “healthy” bodies, hadn’t been able to . . . that night, I realized that my pain tolerance and the things my body did well were assets rather than things to be run from or ashamed of. To know that what had been perceived (especially by me) as defective about my body was actually what made me desirable, powerful and sexy for the first time ever — that moment was beautiful.

Carrie’s experience of kink with her partner had a strong impact on how she viewed herself and her body. For once, her cerebral palsy was not overlooked. It was, instead, acknowledged and honored as an integral and unique part of her. Pleasure mixed with pain — and best of all, it was a pain that could be controlled. A pain that was purposeful. And a pain that felt good.

  Musings      , , ,  
Sep
20

The amazing, snappy, one-handed condom

It’s so simple, so ingenious, it’s surprising nobody has thought of it before: a condom that can be safely and easily opened with one hand. Designer Benjamin Pawle came up with the idea as part of his two-part “Preserving Human Dignity” project, which seeks to empower those with hemiplegia — a disorder that causes paralysis on one side of the body — in performing common tasks at different stages of life.

Transformation Game, the first part of Pawle’s project, is a fun and interactive set of wool squares that can be buttoned together to complete a unique outfit. It is meant to teach children with hemiplegia how to work with buttons. The second part of the project addresses sexual maturity, presenting a solution to the difficulty of opening a condom with one hand.

The outer wrapper of the One-Handed Condom is made of foil, with a perforated seam and small ridge along the front. The wrapper is lined on the inside with a thin plastic membrane which protects the condom from damage. Opening the condom is about as easy as snapping your fingers — and just as quick. After watching this, I guarantee you will wish you had a One-Handed Condom to impress your next sexual partner with:

Pawle reports that those testing his condom found it not just easy to open, but enjoyable. And that was his aim:

The wrapper has been designed to exploit the moment of opening, trying to make it as smooth in real life as the rose tinted vision in your head. The design of the new wrapper focuses on the gesture of opening and how this can add charm to the action . . . something that is positive and captivating in a way; a mood enhancing tool and next generation contraceptive experience.

Of course, a condom wrapper like this could be beneficial to tons and tons of people, not just those with hemiplegia. Let’s hope Pawle can take this design even further, because if it ever made it to full production, it could positively impact many lives.

The One-Handed Condom is currently on display with the rest of the Preserving Human Dignity project at the Victoria & Albert Museum as part of the London Design Festival.

  Musings      , ,  
Jan
6

A quadriplegic woman’s journey to sexual happiness

This personal essay was originally published in 2006, but it is so honest and important that it deserves to be highlighted. Getting Around: How I Discovered My Wheelchair Wasn’t a Chastity Belt by Tiffiny Carlson is a poignant piece about a woman growing up and taking charge of her sexuality.

Carlson broke her neck when she was fourteen after doing a swan dive into a lake. As a a low-level quadriplegic, she has the use of her biceps and wrists, but no triceps function. For the first few years after her accident, Carlson felt out-of-place at school and worried that she would never find a partner. Because she had no experience with sexual pleasure prior to her injury, she also had trouble masturbating.

But Carlson persisted. She found boyfriends, experimented with online dating, had new sexual experiences, and slowly learned what felt best to her.

During the movie, we sat on my automatic bed and made out. He leaned over and quickly pulled up my tank, exposing my breasts. He was so deft, so confident, and clearly experienced. I let go at that point and let him explore me at will. I’m a submissive at heart and get turned on from giving up complete control. Being paralyzed makes that very easy to do, which is perhaps the one ironic benefit of my accident.

He reached down into my panties and found my clit in a millisecond. I was shocked. My legs started jumping around as he rubbed it furiously. I had never, ever thought my clit could give me that much pleasure.

. . . I was so excited about how great sex could be that I went on a tear and had sex with eight men in eight weeks. It was shockingly easy to do. Guys came out of the woodwork on MySpace, OkCupid and Match when they saw I was a sexy single blonde — disabled, sure, but most didn’t care . . . Some were good, some were bad. But the whole experience was physically and emotionally exhilarating.

Read Carlson’s full piece on Nerve.

  Musings       

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