I probably would’ve slept around a lot more in high school if I could’ve taken my pants off without help. But sex was the last thing on my mind after I broke my neck at the age of fourteen.
On a late August afternoon, one week before starting my freshman year of high school, I wanted to show off to the neighborhood boys. We all grew up on the lake. It had been our summertime hangout since we were kids. They were diving off the top of a schoolyard slide that had been put out in the water. I thought if they could do it, I could too. Being a classically trained dancer, I did a Swan Dive, hitting my head on the bottom. My fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae were crushed, and in what’s called the “kill shot,” pieces of the bone shifted into my spinal cord, causing permanent paralysis.
I woke up with an EMT asking if I could feel something. He had been pricking my legs with a needle. I said no. The ambulance brought me to a big hospital in St. Paul, where I would live for three months.
As a low-level quadriplegic, C5-6 to be exact, I only have use of my biceps and wrists; no triceps function. My arms limit me from being able to get in and out of my chair independently or to undress from the waist down. If my injury had been one bone higher, I wouldn’t even be able to move my arms. One bone lower, I would be completely independent, since I’d have my triceps and the full ability to lift my ass wherever I wanted.
The three years that followed the accident were hell. I was abandoned by my friends, and, worst of all, ignored by boys. Before my injury, I wasn’t considered hot, but I had kissed a couple of guys. After, I felt like a circus freak rolling down the halls. I’d see guys avert their eyes when I came by. Each time, I sank further into depression. I tried to focus on my physical therapy, but I was plagued by the prospect of no man ever wanting me because I was a cripple. What point was there to becoming stronger if I’d be alone the rest of my life?
I had no experience in receiving pleasure from my vagina before my injury, so I was clueless about how to sate my craving for sexual satisfaction. As a teenager stuck in the suburbs, I had no vibrator, and I couldn’t use my fingers to get myself off. I tried often, but my right index finger (the only one functional enough for masturbation) wasn’t enough. After doing some research online, I learned that spinal-cord-injured women can orgasm but need a lot of mental stimulation, plus a penis or dildo to reach the g-spot. It was clear I needed a partner.
When I was seventeen, my mom forced me to go to a summer camp for the disabled: seven days in northern Minnesota full of accessible activities, like seated water-skiing and pontoon boats with ramps so we could go fishing. There, I was a star. Every cute disabled boy stared at me with shining eyes. I even dated one of them: Mark, a bad-boy on wheels from three hours north. He had tattoos, a dirty mouth and such a muscular upper body that even the female camp counselors did double takes. He was born with legs similar to polio victims. We didn’t have much in common except hormones.
Mark was my first kiss after getting hurt. He would lie in bed with me, fully dressed, and tell me I had the most beautiful eyes. We kissed so much my lips were raw. I think he put a finger in my panties while we were in my bed one night, but he denied it, and my lack of sensation made a light touch impossible to feel. After three months, he stopped answering my calls.
The next year, I went back to the camp and once again left with a disabled boyfriend. This one was totally in love with me, but we couldn’t have sex because neither of us could move our hip muscles. We tried it once. He struggled to get on top of me, but couldn’t move his lower body enough to get his cock inside of me. Talk about torture. I was too eager to experience “real” sex to stay with him. After about four months of fooling around, I broke it off.
After camp that year, I returned to high school with more confidence. I started dressing fashionably and did my hair and makeup again. I even got into the habit of crossing my legs to seem more alluring. A fellow student, Jim, took notice. When he saw me in the hallway during the first week of school he said, “Wow, something is different about you. What did you do?” Jim had a girlfriend, so it didn’t go anywhere. But that didn’t stop him from playing his guitar for me at lunch every day.
When I graduated, I was still a virgin and frustrated. I could get wet just like any able-bodied girl. I’d get an intense tingling sensation between my legs whenever I daydreamed about Leonardo DiCaprio or the hockey players at my school. Desperate, I decided to search the Minneapolis chat room on AOL for boyfriend material. All I had to do was enter the room, and dozens of guys would start messaging me. Even when disabled, seventeen-year-old girls are always appealing. I put my disability in my profile, so every guy knew what he was getting into before even before the first “Hello, ASL?”
I was fresh out of high school when I met my first online guy in person. He was twenty-four and nervous since I was underage. We met at a park down the street from my mom’s house. I tried very hard to be cool and sexy. I wore shorts and a fitted white tee, and faked an air of confidence. But a minute into the meeting, I hit my elbow on my armrest, breaking open a sore, and started bleeding. Suddenly my hot date was running to the park bathroom wetting tissues for me. He gave me a wet kiss goodbye, but I never heard from him again.
I started going online every day: the romance chat rooms and Minnesota chat rooms were my regular hangouts. I purposely shied away from disabled dating sites. (Simply put, with my level of injury, it’s impossible to get physically close with another wheelchair user. At least one of us would need hip-flexor muscles. End of story. I love vaginal intercourse too much to give it up. I’ve had some disabled guys get really pissed when I explain to them why I don’t date them. They say its reverse-discrimination. I say it’s strictly practical.)
One day a man from Oklahoma IM’ed me. After a few months of flirtatious chatting, he drove up to Minnesota to see me. At that point, I was a freshman in college and living alone in my dorm. He and I hit it off immediately and started visiting each other regularly. I lost my virginity in his mom’s guesthouse, blocks away from the home stadium of the O.U. Sooners.
At first, it didn’t work. I was too tight and my vagina was lower than most (this has nothing to do with my disability), so the awkwardness made him soft. After a while, we tried again. In the dark, he put me on my back, undressed me stealthily, lifted my knees up to my chest in a bent position, and rotated my hips upward. It finally worked. My joy after he whispered “I’m in!” was soon followed by a disappointing grunt, signaling the end of my first time only minutes after it had begun.
Unfortunately, when we turned on the lights, I discovered I had bled like a sieve. Back then, I had a catheter in my urethra to keep my bladder empty. (I can now independently drain my bladder via a tiny hole in my bellybutton.) His penis had rubbed the catheter the wrong way and irritated the inside of my bladder. Blood was flowing into my drainage bag, which was lying on the bed beside me.
But I didn’t let this scare me off. A year later, the Oklahoma guy and I were deep in a serious, sexually active relationship, even talking about marriage, when a friend of mine told me I was being stalked online by several “devotees,” a group of fetishists who get off on wheelchair users, particularly those with atrophied legs and spastic muscles. I told my boyfriend about this shocking revelation and he acted surprised, weirded out and disgusted. A week later, he tearfully confessed that he was one of those freaks. I was devastated. He told me that even though my wheelchair was what attracted him in the beginning, he was now truly in love with me. I was too in love with him to break it off.
During our relationship, I learned so much about my body. I knew I couldn’t feel the exterior of my vagina, but thankfully, I could feel him fingering or making love to me. I also discovered foreplay, which was a huge deal for me.
We saw each other every month. I’d fly to see him or vice-versa. In a typical weekend we probably had sex two or three times, the missionary position usually, with sometimes a side-sex position thrown in for variety. He wasn’t deft enough to help me balance on top of him. He sometimes would even prefer cuddling. I secretly always wished for more.
After two years, he dumped me, saying I had cured him of his “devoteeism.” After that, I entered a four-year relationship with a local Bible-thumping poet who was eight years my senior. We traveled around the country.
When we broke up, I found myself twenty-five, feeling like I’d missed out again, this time on the “slut phase” most girls go through in their early twenties. I was determined not to miss out. Late last summer, I got a box of condoms and decided I would make up for lost time. I put up my profile on Match.com, OkCupid.com, MySpace, and the Onion Personals. In every profile, I was completely upfront about my disability.
I got dozens of emails every day. Some men overlooked the part where I said I was disabled, others honestly didn’t care. Some weren’t sure if they could get over it and confessed that to me. I automatically deleted the latter group; it wasn’t my job to persuade them to date me.
Every guy asked the same question eventually: “Can you still have sex?” It got so redundant over time that I put it in my profile — “In case you were wondering: Yes, I can still have sex. Yes, I can enjoy it. And yes, I can still have babies.” One guy got such a kick out of my bluntness that he pursued me relentlessly, calling me “Slugger.” Another guy insisted on referring to my spinal cord injury not as a “disability” but as a “permanent injury.” I think he was in denial.
A guy named Mr. Tattoo had tracked me online for a year. When he saw I had become single, he messaged me. He was gorgeous: dark hair, six-five, and totally my type, with nipple piercings, completely shaved body and a full back tattoo.
We met for coffee. In person, he looked just as good. I was instantly infatuated. I couldn’t believe someone so hot was interested in me. Our coffee led to a movie, and I let him feel me up in the theater. We shared a long kiss goodbye outside my van in the parking lot. Despite all this, he didn’t return my call. My disability might have weirded him out, but in reflection, I thought it was mainly because he was polyamorous and knew I was on the prowl for a monogamous boyfriend. I decided to try to make him into my fuck buddy. Hell, all my friends had had one in the past, why not me? I asked him, and the next night he came over, bearing the film Closer.
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.
After a face-reddening orgasm that literally made me scream and become completely exhausted, he put me on my back, got undressed and on all fours, so his cock was right by my mouth. I took the cue. I always thought that I should make my other skills stellar to make up for what I can’t do downstairs, but I’m far from being a blowjob queen.
He got behind me, gently rolled me on my side, and fucked me for a good fifteen minutes. That’s all I needed to come again. After ten or fifteen minutes, I usually get too sore and want the man to stop anyway, so the timing was perfect. Afterward he lay in bed giggling. Perturbed, I asked him what was so funny. He said I was better in bed than most able-bodied girls he’s slept with, and he’d slept around a lot. My smile could’ve been seen in the dark.
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. They wanted sex, and they saw I was on the prowl. Out of the fifteen first dates I went on, eight got in my pants. My next lay was a pot-smoking, thirty-six-year-old Motley Crue fan with four kids. He couldn’t keep it up. Next was a pierced emo drummer. Then an ex-con who was addicted to eating pussy. Then a Clay Aiken look-alike. After that, a bisexual chef. Finally, I did a science geek with an white man’s afro. Some were good, some were bad. But the whole experience was physically and emotionally exhilarating.
My girlfriends were surprisingly supportive; they said every girl needed to do this before settling down. And in fact, that’s exactly what I did. I met a physical therapist who moonlighted as a photographer. We’ve been together for the past seven months, and in that time I’ve learned a lot more about my body. There are benefits to dating a physical therapist.
After eight years of being sexually active, I’m finally with someone who can keep up with me. Together, my boyfriend and I have checked off a long to-do list of “musts,” including threesomes, group sex and the mile-high club. And I’ve been inspired to create a website dedicated to sex and disabilities. It’s pink and girly, with sexy cartoons of Bratz-looking chicks in wheelchairs, a far cry from the educational info they gave me in rehab. Their videos featured nervous guys in wheelchairs with gross, reddened cocks and ditzy blondes mechanically getting it on in a living room straight from the ’70s — all bright yellow walls and fluorescent lights. I’m living proof that sex with a disability is way more complicated, and a whole lot hotter, than that.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Personal Essays.