I was lucky, in many ways, with how my V-card was punched. My mother had a fairly liberal non-shaming outlook when it came to sex, and her only advice was “Find someone who you trust and care about. It’s a big deal.” I took that advice to heart. I also valued honesty, which is why one day I walked into my kitchen to get a snack, looked at my mom, and said thoughtfully, “Hey mom? I don’t think I’m going to wait until I’m married to have sex.” She looked back at me and said, “Oh. Okay.” And I waltzed back into my room with my orange or crackers or whatever snack I had decided the moment warranted.
I’ll call the lucky recipient of my virginity “C.” I met C in high school when I was 16. He was four years older than me. He was funny, cute, fun to be around, and he had his own place… directly next door to his parents. Looking back, there were a lot of problems with the relationship, which really should have been obvious considering that he was 20 and stoked to be dating a 16-year-old.
Of course, none of that was obvious to a high schooler. I felt awesome and sophisticated to be hanging out with this guy and his cool, old friends! But I was fairly well-balanced and had a decent sense of self-esteem. I made it clear to him that I was a virgin and if he was expecting anything from me right away, he was going to be disappointed. To his credit, he took it very well and assured me that he was ok with waiting.
About five months into the relationship, we started having problems. He claimed that he was in love with me. I cared about him, and I wanted it to work, but I hesitated to call it love just yet. There were some other issues as well and I was unsure about him.
Until, one day, I got a call from one of his friends. C had been in a car accident, thrown from the car, and landed on a pipe in the industrial area of our town. He had some severe burns on his stomach and had broken his spinal cord in two places.
According to my mother, the minute she heard this she knew—due to my caretaker tendencies—that he and I were going to be together for a long time after that. Which, to my mom, wasn’t necessarily good news. But she kept her opinions to herself and, after weeks of waiting for him to be able to receive visitors, she gave me a ride to the hospital.
That first visit was fairly traumatizing. His throat had closed due to irritation from the weeks he had been on a breathing tube and they had done a tracheostomy so that he could breathe. Because of the hole in his throat, he couldn’t talk. He could only mouth words. He had skin grafts on his abdomen and scars from the spinal cord operation. Both he and I knew that he would probably never walk again. And on that visit, he asked me to marry him.
What else could I say? I was a scared teenager looking at my boyfriend in a hospital bed, who was waiting for me to answer a question that he couldn’t actually ask, he had to mouth it. So I said yes.
I waited a few weeks to visit him again, until after he got the trach out. Once he did, we talked about the “whole marriage thing” a while more and agreed it would be best to get me a “promise” ring and call it that for the time being. After that, I accompanied him to physical therapy and visited him regularly until he got out, and for a while, sex was a non-issue. He had other things going on with his body to think about.
I found out later that, while he was in the hospital, he attended what was essentially a “Sexuality for the Disabled” seminar, and had learned a lot. He could, indeed, still have sex and enjoy sexual feelings. He told me some of what he learned. I was glad to hear it, but we still hadn’t “gone all the way” yet and I thought we still had a while before we would have to deal with it.
He moved back home, and that’s when the pressure started. Before, when he was able-bodied, he didn’t mind waiting. Now, he felt any resistance from me was an indication of hidden repulsion. While that was untrue, I will admit that having sex now gave me more pause than before because I simply didn’t know how it would work. But, by now, I had very deep feelings for this man. I wanted to show him I cared about him, and that he and I could live and love in a normal way. And I weighed it: did I care for him? Did I trust him? The answer to both was yes. So, one night, about a year after we first started dating, and after I had turned 17, we had sex.
I told him I was ready that night, but just getting things going was an adventure in itself. I had touched him before, but that was all prior to the accident. He was numb from just below the breastbone down. I was very nervous because I wasn’t sure his body would even respond to me. It turns out, in his case, he could achieve an erection fairly easily in response to manual or oral stimulation. He couldn’t feel it, really. He could feel some slight tingling but he couldn’t really pinpoint where. It was a relief and at the same time it made me even more nervous because it meant I would actually be having sex that night, for the very first time. That was the moment where it became real.
I remember we had to do cowgirl position. I remember it didn’t seem to hurt at all. I wasn’t too surprised by this, since I danced and had been using tampons for a while now, but I still expected it to hurt or bleed or something. I had to provide all of the movement, which felt really awkward because I’d never done it before. How does a girl “thrust” when she has nothing to thrust with? I remember it just kind of…stopped, with no actual finish. And I remember I cried. I was only a little embarrassed to cry. He handled it well, and held me close. I had told him many times what a big deal this was to me, so it just felt natural to let the emotions out. I was very confused, because sex with C was so different from anything I had ever heard it or expected it to be, but I felt safe.
We dated for two more years after that. Our sex life progressed through a lot of experimentation. Among my friends, there was always a lot of curiosity about how we had sex. I was always glad to share (and am still) that there are many ways to have a fulfilling sex life in a relationship where one person is disabled. For example, the spot on C’s abdomen directly ABOVE where he stopped having sensation was actually ultra-sensitive. I would drive him crazy (in the good way) by gently running my fingernails over the area. Our options for positions were limited, but it was fun to think of new ones. He was unable to achieve physical orgasm, which is a loss he mourned, but he claimed he had had a “mental” one a couple of times. His erections never lasted very long but they were easily achieved again so it wasn’t a big deal. The sexual experience is going to differ infinitely between different injuries and disabilities. I can only share our own experience.
Our relationship ended on a difficult note, but I still say I’m very lucky with how I began my sexual life. He ultimately wasn’t the right person for me, but I am still very comfortable with how long I waited and the age at which I had sex. I’m glad it was with someone I cared about, and I’m glad it happened under sort of unusual circumstances. It made me more open-minded, more experimental, and since both he and I were, in a way, discovering our new sexuality at the same time, it meant that I was confident enough to figure out what I liked and ask for it, since he was doing the same with me.
I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I say the words, “I lost it to a man in a wheelchair,” but I want people to know that sex is a diverse, multifaceted, and often beautiful thing. I hope after I tell the story, people think about sex through a slightly wider and more colorful lens.
Photo by Remi Coin