In our series of dating, relationship and sex articles, we’ve teamed up with disability and sex expert, Tuppy Owens, who runs Outsiders, a private club for disabled people looking for a relationship. Here, she gives us her top tips for wheelchair users on everything from dating to getting intimate.
Whether you’re full-time wheelchair user with upper body movement and strength, or are paralysed from the neck down, keep reading for advice on looking for romance, sexual pleasure and relationships.
Everyone is different, as are people’s disabilities. So you may need to tweak these tips to apply them to your specific situation. But these will give you a springboard to finding the right partner and enjoying sex.
Finding a date
1. If you’re looking for a partner, it’s likely that you’ve considered online dating. It opens up a whole new world of people (literally), whether you’re disabled or not.
There a huge number of disabled dating sites, including ones specifically for wheelchair users, such as Wheelchair Dating Club and Wheelchair Dating.
If you don’t want to focus on wheelchair-specific sites, see Disability Horizons’ article on the top disability dating sites.
2. If you’d rather meet someone offline and you’ve had no luck at clubs and bars, or find them too inaccessible, look to see if there are any local groups or forums, either disability-specific or for anyone. These might be focused on dating, or on leisure activities. Either way, it’ll be a great way to meet people near you.
Facebook is a good place to start – lots of local groups are formed that way – or try the website Meet Up. Also, look to join Outsiders, which I set up a number of years ago to enable disabled people to meet and support each other. We have regular meetups across the UK, as well as online chat groups.
Going on a date
1. Of course, meeting somewhere accessible for you is key. On a first date (or any date for that matter) you don’t want to have to struggle to get into the building or find it awkward to get to the toilet. Be open and honest about your requirements. There’s no point putting yourself in a difficult situation – first dates can be nerve-wracking enough!
2. If your date also has access requirements, work together to decide what would suit you both best.
3. If your date isn’t a wheelchair user, it might be worth choosing a dating activity that means you will be at the same eye level, especially if it’s your first. For example, you could have a drink or dinner, or go to the cinema where there is wheelchair-accessible space next to an additional seat.
4. Think about what assistance you’ll need on the date. It might be that you won’t need any help at all, but if you will, talk to your date about it before you meet. That way, it won’t be a surprise to them and it’ll take the pressure off having to ask on the day.
5. If there are things you don’t want your date to help with, such as going to the toilet, plan how you will get around it beforehand, so you know in advance and won’t feel flustered on the date.
If you’ll need to have a PA with you, organise somewhere they can sit out of the way, so they’re not part of your date. Make sure your date knows about it beforehand though.
6. Depending on who your date is or how you met, make sure talking about your chair isn’t a difficult subject. If they seem curious, encourage them to ask questions. Be open and relaxed about it – the more uninhibited you are about your wheelchair, the less they will be.
7. If you can’t easily reach out to touch your date, be brave and tell them that you’d like to. If they seem receptive, invite your date to take your hand, or otherwise guide it.
8. It may be difficult to be hugged in your wheelchair. But you shouldn’t let that stop you. If you want to hug your date and they’re keen to as well, reach out and invite them into your arms. Again, be open and tell them to lean forward to hold you as close as they can.