Paralinks welcomes Mark Hanaway as a contributing writer. His updated and revised article here is so right on and down to earth inspiring, that we are fortunate to be able to post it on our Sexuality and Spinal Cord Injury page. Welcome Mark! -Gary
My Personal Thoughts on the
Sex and Dating
By Mark Hanaway
At the age of twenty when I first had my injury, like most men I was very concerned about my sex life. I had been dating someone for a couple of years and it was an important part of our relationship. While in rehab, quite often I would get an erection simply if the wind blew. So I thought things hadn't changed much. What was very different was the fact that I could be mentally or emotionally aroused but not physically and physically aroused but not emotionally.
Much has changed over the years in the form of sexual function and erection aids. Having Bob Dole as a spokes person for Erectile Dysfunction (ED) didn't really help. If Tom Cruse, Mel Gibson or Brad Pitt had been the spokes person, every straight woman on the planet would be giving out Viagra for Halloween and all of the other Hallmark holidays. It would make "Trick or Treat" a question answered, yes and Oh yes! The biggest challenge is not whether you can have intercourse or you can't. Its more along the lines of finding someone open enough to share both emotionally and physically. If you have both aspects, then try and see what works for the both of you. Its not much different than the rest of the population. No revelation here! Dating is not easy. But adding the issues of a spinal cord injury and how your body reacts, what feels good and simply not knowing can make it much harder. OK. We've all heard the speech on communication and learn to be open, just talk about it. Well, after a few beers in a crowded bar with loud music playing, I say bullshit. The same goes for church too so don't be too quick to suggest a different setting. Rarely do people ever discuss sexual function before the fact. Even people in close long-term relationships can find it difficult to express what feels right. It does bring a very important part of a relationship to the surface early on and its not the act of the physical relationship. It means truly getting to know someone. Know them well enough to share how you feel. Did you ever meet someone and after a few minutes you feel like you've known them for most of your life? OK. That's just your hormones rising to the occasion.
I used to think that it was just a guy thing to be concerned if your partner was satisfied. For most women, they understand that a guy is going to be satisfied with sex good, bad or indifferent. Hey, its sex! But the tables have turned somewhat. When I'm with someone, I am still very interested satisfying her. The hardest thing to do is explain how she can satisfy me. My body has taken on a whole new set of pleasure zones and its different with different people. I'm no Dirk Diggler but I still fantasize, crave and physically desire a sexual relationship. I think men can relate their erection to masculinity similar to women do their breast for femininity. These are very deep issues for a lot of people who have issues relating to them. Compounded with insecurity and sensitivity because of the spinal injury, performance anxiety can be tremendous and some people may simply choose to avoid the whole situation. I have a history of taking things slowly. Maybe too slow to have gained real momentum but its important for both parties to understand that the physical thing is not the only thing. And if your body doesn't seem to hold out for intercourse, nibbling here and there can work just fine.
I have been very fortunate to have had a few beautiful and very special girls in my life. Prior to my injury I was in long term relationships but after, dating was more of a one month stand because I wasn't ready or interested in marriage. I was still trying to figure the whole thing out and how I fit in. Wheelchair or not, I feel strongly about being financially secure, family oriented, good at managing independently and emotionally before entering into a serious relationship. Now that I feel that I've accomplished these tasks, I'm in my early thirties and relate all too well with Alley McBeal's dating life. (except that car wash scene but I'm still trying) I am more selective in who I'm attracted to because of experience. For example, I've learned that its a good idea to avoid those on severe mood altering drugs and those that have been on The Jerry Springer Show. I've been "In-love" only a few times and even fewer has it been reciprocated but there is no greater feeling than having someone to love and being loved. Most women admit to wanting unconditional love morning, night, bad hair, bad breath and all. With the condition of course that it comes from the man of their dreams. Hypocritical? OK. This works both ways but how often have you heard, "Tall, Dark and Disabled" as a dream guy? Girls, granted. Its probably going to startle your parents a little to bring home a guy in a wheelchair but its got to be better than the blue hair punk rocker you dated in high school.
The girl I had been seeing at the time of my injury was very special and I respect her highly. Our relationship was on rocky ground before the accident due to my own stupidity and we didn't last much longer as a "couple" but she remained dedicated to my care for almost a year. Her mother made a comment that today I'm grateful she made but at the time it was devastating. She said to her daughter, "If you stay with him, you will be handicapping your life." She was protecting her daughter and of course wanting the best for her but it hurt like hell. I still wasn't sure of who I was or what I was even capable of. This mentality isn't old school and it still holds true today. Little did she realize that so much was possible and handicapped is more a state of mind. I am still learning every day that I set my limits. People use terms to describe people that can carry a negative connotation and invoke an image of helplessness. I have no problems with anyone who doesn't know me referring to me as handicapped, disabled, crippled or what ever. My goal is to live the best life I can full of adventure, responsibility, creativity, love and belonging. If after you truly know someone and you still see them handicapped, then look to their state of mind and question if that person has simply given up. The best compliment anyone person. Recognize the skills, the abilities, the obstacles overcome and the people they have become and you'll see that anything is possible with some imagination. Especially a loving, physical and mutually satisfying relationship.
I really enjoy having a physical lifestyle of travel, cycling, riding four-wheelers, sport flying and all of those breathtaking things. These things only last for a moment and then you're back to everyday life. Some of the greatest times I've ever spent were in front of a good movie or a long slow stroll through the nature trails or enjoying a picnic watching the sun set with someone special. What makes these things breathtaking are the people we share them with. I could care less about spending another minute in a smoke filled bar or meat market. But sometimes you have to get out and be around people. To meet that special someone or even to just make friends, they're not likely to just stop by and say, "hello, here I am." It takes perseverance, time and a willingness to get past let-downs. Me giving advice on dating is as hypocritical as me giving advice on flipping off rope swings. Although better at rope swings, I can only share what I've learned not to do. Having special people in your life and sharing years of experiences good, bad or otherwise gives you that opportunity to reflect back on some of those incredible things you've seen or done and say, hey do you remember when...and that lasts a lifetime.
I find that it is way too easy to go to work, go home and then do it all over again. Even in my work life, I can get into a habit of staying in my office most of the day focusing on "business" and not interacting much. Being social is truly a skill. As I am getting a little older, I feel that I prioritize my life to a degree and being social gets pushed to the bottom when you've worked a long week and you're tired. There is "baggage" we all seem carry. Some people even seem pretty normal until we get to know them! I have questioned, "who would accept all this when they don't have too?" Living under the shadow of the things we consider baggage and feeling that no one wants us is as unhealthy as playing Russian roulette. (besides strip poker would be much more fun) Its easy to point out all of the difficulties, different lifestyles and disadvantages a person in a chair faces when trying to date and the fact is, its a bitch chair or not! Loneliness and solitude are facts of life that have to be fought off daily especially if you're faced with added challenges. I don't have the slightest clue where you can go or how to meet your soul mate. But it feels good to think that you're still viewed as a sexual being and that catching the eyes of a stranger can still make your heart race. I look forward to meeting that special someone and taking all of those risks with my heart. Actually, the best way to meet the person of your dreams is to start dating someone else. They'll come out of the woodwork!
Mark Hanaway firstname.lastname@example.org
Reproduced in Paralinks with the expressed consent and approval of the author.