Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sexercise, and Disability

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In thinking about the ramifications of an article about Cheryl Cohen, a surrogate partner and her interaction with a man using an iron lung (a film was made of the story), I found myself losing focus, drifting off into the idea that sexual intercourse appears to have become a "right" over the last few decades, a thing done for emotional and physical health, a work-out in bed rather than gym.

The odd thing is that the fundamental shift in societal mores disguises a more complex issue related to life with a disability that is revealed by the surrogate-iron lung occupant encounter.

Many states, for example, have personal attendant programs that allow a person with severe mobility issues to fully integrate into society. Many quadriplegics, once transferred from bed, bathed and fed, and plopped in a wheelchair, can function at high levels in the workplace. If that quadriplegic lives in a society that sees those accommodations as fulfilling the ideal of equal opportunity for all, it doesn't take a significant leap of logic to decide that person with a disability should have a full sexual life most people expect as part of adulthood.

Access to education, physical access to public buildings, and "reasonable accommodations" to offer equal opportunities to people with disabilities are critical in an open, democratic society. I want to be able to access the local courthouse. I want to avoid overt discrimination when applying for work. I want mainstream education. And yes, I want sex, but I don't think society should "accommodate" me in that regard by allowing me to sign up for benefits from the Department of Sensuality.

Perhaps some who advocate for sexual surrogacy might believe such rights are fundamental in a humanist society. But sexual surrogacy is classified as therapy for those experiencing what might loosely be termed emotional or psychological barriers to sexual intimacy, I would think providing sexual therapy would be restricted to narrow protocols, and on that list, there will be no reference to physical loneliness.

Cruel it is to judge, but I don't think (this being my experience only) that was the dynamic in the series of dalliances that inspired the film. Did he need to be taught how to be loving? Or did he simply desire the experience? I have no right to guess, but I would, being male myself, assume the man simply wanted the experience, wanted his curiosity satisfied. Again I cannot put myself in his mind, but I believe he simply wanted the sensual satisfaction much like he (or you or I) might want to know the taste of whiskey, experience the euphoria or lassitude of cocaine or marijuana, or to see the Empire State Building. 

Human beings have appetites. The question becomes should all appetites be satiated.

The blunt truth is that an iron lung is a very small prison cell, at least when considered in a practical sense and when the metaphysical idea of will (the ability to live fully and gracefully within material limits) is set aside.

But the thing no one -- the writer, therapist, those making comments -- has touched upon is that the greater truth is that the iron lung is a metaphor for the social isolation with which many people with a disability must cope with daily.

However difficult it might be for a man in an iron lung to meet a female who can see beyond the disability and regard him a suitable romantic interest, the difficulty is irrelevant if the man cannot reach the places of social interplay that lead to love and marriage are played out. 

In some sense then, if sexual fulfillment is a right, the access to the companionship of available partners is a right as well, which I don't think can be wrung out of The Americans with Disabilities Act. No government bureaucrat can make a friend for you.

I can only feel empathy about the whole affair, having lived through the bad old days when people with disabilities were excluded from almost every routine activity. I believe in the ADA and appreciate all that its implementation and enforcement have accomplished, but we remain far from universal access -- every home being fully accessible and easily reached by public transport.

Until then, I suppose, people with disabilities will continue to be restricted from being fully engaged in society and thus often left to these contortions that allow our needs as human beings to remain subject to the paternalistic gratuities of the medical profession.





   
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