A little kink, a lot of confidence

“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.