Faces were blank. There was little to show that this was the place where I might find the ways and means of enhancing my son’s sex life. I scurried into the workshop to find a place, not right at the back where I wanted to hide, but in a middle row where there was a seat available right on the aisle.
This would be good enough for a discreet exit – I thought – should I want to flee. A reassuring sight was the presenters – a thin, pale man in jeans and a windcheater, and a plump woman in leggings and a striped A-shaped top, up front, persevering with the customary electronic glitches of a PowerPoint presentation.
Eventually they projected a title slide that boldly shouted EMPOWERING DISABILITY RIGHTS WITH TOOLS FOR SEXUAL FULFILMENT. Inspired, I wanted to call out, “Give me clues about the ethics and mechanics of procuring an appropriate prostitute for my son!”
Many workshop attendees (me included) were yawning and fidgeting. A photograph popped up of a clear-eyed, smiling woman with a pixie haircut. This was Elizabeth Hastings, public servant and disability self-advocate. In 1993 she became Australia’s first Disability Discrimination Commissioner when the Keating Labor government passed the Disability Discrimination Act. Our presenter announced, “This was the first federal legislation to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities, laying open the way for them to demand their sexual rights.”
A new speaker motored his wheelchair to the front of the room. He introduced himself as Dr George Taleporos. He was not a medical doctor, he said, but he had just been awarded a PhD based on research into body image and sexuality and how they are affected by physical disability.
Could this be relevant, I wondered, to Julian’s experience as a person with more of an intellectual than a physical disability? Had Julian’s self-esteem been damaged by his arrested sexual exploration with Toula? I had further pause for thought when Dr Teleporos launched into an account of sexual facilitation. This is where a support person sets things up for a person with a disability to engage in sexual activity. As far as I knew, Julian was sufficiently physically competent to be able to reach orgasm without assistance. The sort of sexual facilitation he required was of a social nature.
The vexed question for me was how could I, as Julian’s mother, set him up for sexual activity?
An answer of sorts came in a tool kit of sex aids distributed by the next presenter. She was a representative of Sexyland, a shop she described as a “play centre” for adults. She described how sex toys could be adapted to suit people of all abilities and sexual preferences. She spoke about such things as pneumatic aids and switches that would assist people with disabilities to pleasure themselves. Meanwhile, various dildos and other flesh-coloured rubbery devices moved quickly from hand to hand along the rows. I passed them on, avoiding eye contact with the man who took them from me.
As the workshop covered the ways and means of technical facilitation of sexual biofeedback loops, I fell into a foggy mood of vague unhappiness. Sexual spontaneity was beginning to seem impossible for a person with a disability. The most intimate relationship a person might have would be with their attendant carer or support worker. But, of course, there were strict rules around how that person could facilitate – but not participate in – sex acts with their client. There was always the risk of the sexual abuse of vulnerable people. Rather than a person’s sex needs being kept as private as most of us might prefer, it was a factor of safety to have a number of people around a person with a disability who knew of his or her options and choices for sexual satisfaction.
The next presenter was a sex worker who told us that she specialised in working with people with disability. It hit me that this was the service that might be right for Julian. A slim blonde with a husky voice, she was otherwise unremarkable, dressed neatly in a pale pink shirt tucked into loose brown trousers. Her name was Rachel. She had a degree in psychology and a diploma of massage. Her specialty was house calls to people with disabilities, appointments sometimes made by their parents. Immediately my mind presented obstacles. One would have to wonder about the cost of sexual service provision. How many sessions would it take for the closeness to take effect? And, once effected, how frequently would the encounters be repeated?
From Julian’s reported enthusiasm for Toula, it occurred to me that he might not need so much of the preliminary session. On the other hand, what if he came to like Rachel too much? What if he wanted to see her every day? When he discovered a new computer game or a video, he tended to obsess over it. We learnt that it was fine to let him indulge in the new thing to his full; in a few weeks his interest would wane to the extent that he/we could get his life back into balance. Could we afford for him to follow this pattern with a sex worker?
“I like the fact that my job is always about pleasure. I take it slow, the first time with a special client. We might talk a little, hug a little; we might spend all of the first time just getting used to closeness.”
I foresaw another problem. Once sexually ignited by a worker employed for that purpose, he might start to see any female support worker as sexually accessible. I was sure he could be brought to understand the difference, but it would be painstaking, involving lots of reassurance and reinforcement.
I wasn’t ready to face the stress and social risks of putting my son in a position where he had to learn how to differentiate sex from other types of human services.
“I like the fact that my job is always about pleasure,” Rachel said. “I take it slow, the first time with a special client. We might talk a little, hug a little; we might spend all of the first time just getting used to closeness. People with disabilities yearn to be touched. Many of them receive handling by care-staff assisting them with personal hygiene. But that is not the same as sensual touch. I come into their bedroom with the signal that I am there for the special private purpose of making love.”
I drew a breath. I hadn’t expected the love word. It had my mind whirling. I thought “making love” was essentially a euphemism for sexual intercourse, something that need not involve love.
Yet Rachel the sex worker deliberately favoured use of the phrase “making love” for her approach to meeting the sexual needs of the vulnerable. She said she brought a tender touch and love – as kindness and sensitivity – to her transactions for their sexual relief.
She said that by bringing people with cerebral palsy to orgasm, she helped reduce their chronic crippling spasms. She spoke of the father who engaged her services for his intellectually disabled son. On her arrival, the man retreated to the lounge room with the television up loud so that he would not be privy in any way to the moment when his son lost his virginity.
I took Rachel’s card and left the workshop convinced that my duty now lay in introducing my son to a sex worker.
Edited extract from Dancing with the Maternal Bond (Bad Apple Press) by Thea Calzoni, on sale October 4. National Carers Week, October 10-16.
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