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Disability, Sex & Dating As A Wheelchair User

I remember the first time Allan spoke to me. It was two days before my 21st birthday and the day after I had been out with my sister and some friends for dinner and drinks. 

It was during the time when Myspace and emo style selfies were all the rage. My Myspace profile photo was a black and white image of me sipping the cocktail from my birthday night out. The pink umbrella in my drink was the only thing in colour in the photo. How arty, right?

It was that arty photo that caught Allan’s eye and after reading my profile on Myspace, he sent me a message. We instantly clicked and began messaging back and forth, every day for months.

Emma and Allan sitting at a kiosk in Princes Garden, Edinburgh. They are sitting at a table with their backs to the camera. Allan is holding an umbrella over them.
Emma and Allan sitting at Sir Walter’s Cafe in the Gardens (Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh). Image by VisitScotland.

Dating When You Have A disability

Nowadays we live in a world that revolves around social media and living our lives online. So it’s pretty much the norm to meet and date people online these days. With so many dating apps available, I honestly don’t know how people are able to choose which one to use. We’ve probably all heard the horror stories of online dating, but it can also be amazing for so many people.

However, online dating when you have a disability can bring a whole heap of new challenges. I’ve had many disabled and non-disabled friends try dating apps with mixed outcomes.

When you are disabled, one of the challenges is the old dilemma of whether to be upfront about your disability from the get-go or not.

Personally, I didn’t have any mention of my disability anywhere on my Myspace profile. Not because I was deliberately trying to hide it from anyone or embarrassed by it. More so because it was primarily a social networking site for music fans, artists and bands.

I didn’t see any reason to add that I am a wheelchair user or that I have Muscular Dystrophy amongst a list of my favourite bands.

Myspace was never a ‘dating site’, but it was where we unexpectedly fell in love.

Is There Ever A Right Time To Reveal You Have A Disability?

At the time, little did I know I was about to meet someone I was going to connect with on a deeper level than our common interest in similar music. The more we got to know each other, the more our feelings grew for one another. Ultimately making it so much harder to tell him about my disability after months of getting to know each other.

There was a huge possibility that once I told him I was in a wheelchair that it would be too much to accept. Would he think I was being sneaky, would he ‘ghost’ me and never want to meet me, let alone speak to me again? It was never my intention to hide my disability and never in a million years did I think I was going to meet someone on Myspace. I didn’t see myself getting a boyfriend or anyone being interested in me that way.

It was incredibly hard for me to bite the bullet and tell Allan, but it was long overdue, but also a massive relief when I did tell him. It was a take it or leave it kind of situation. If he didn’t accept me and my disability, then I knew he wasn’t the one for me.

Once I sent that message explaining I had a disability, the wait for his reply felt like a lifetime, in reality, I didn’t have to wait too long as he got back to me quickly.

Accepting All Of Me: Disability And All

Initially, my message took Allan a little by surprise. He remembers reading the message and then going downstairs to speak to his mum about it as he had told her all about me throughout the past few months. They both said how difficult it must have been for me to tell him. Even though I had just dropped a massive bombshell on his lap, he was still thinking and putting my feelings first.

To cut a long story short, Allan was absolutely fine about my disability and was in no way “put off” by my wheelchair. He got to know me so much leading up to that point and had deep feelings for me that my wheelchair wasn’t an issue. Of course, he asked questions about my disability, especially as he had never heard of Muscular Dystrophy before.

At the time we lived forty miles apart and because I couldn’t drive we decided he would come to my house for our first time meeting in person. I remember asking if he wanted something to drink. He wanted a cup of tea, so being the lovely host that I am, I told him he would have to make it himself because I wasn’t physically able to. 

Do I regret not being upfront about my disability on Myspace? Honestly, no, I don’t.

Do I wish I was more open by telling Allan about my disability much sooner? Of course, I do, but during those months of Allan not knowing about my disability, it allowed us to get to know each other really well by focusing on other things.

Although I don’t regret it, I don’t recommend lying or hiding your disability. If someone can only see your disability and not accept you for who you are then they are not the one for you.

Fast forward fifteen years and we are still very happy and stronger than ever. It wasn’t all plain sailing though.

Emma and Allan posing for a selfie outside St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh. Emma is giving Allan a peck on the cheek.
Emma and Allan taking a selfie outside St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh. Image by VisitScotland.

Disability, Sex & Dating

Being in a relationship with a disabled person in many ways is just like being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t have a disability. At the same time, there are also many challenges (mainly accessibility), but the basics remain the same.

It can also be physically and emotionally demanding being the partner and carer to your other half. Keeping the magic alive while carrying out caring duties such as providing personal care and a million other things, can be a task in itself.

Personally, we have learnt to make light of most things Allan has to do for me, whether that’s taking me to the toilet or getting me ready for bed. It’s part of our life and it’s just our ‘normal’.

We’d be lying if we said it was perfect all the time. Of course, it’s not. It’s not possible to be like that 24/7; we are human and it’s natural to experience frustration and that’s okay. Imagine being annoyed at someone then having to ask them to take you to the toilet five minutes later. You learn to quickly get over things.

For our relationship, my disability has allowed us to gain more understanding, patience, consideration and empathy for each other. First of all, he is my boyfriend, but he is also my carer. I believe this has made us stronger, closer and more in tune with each other. He knows exactly what I need without me needing to ask. We do everything young couples do like going to gigs, travelling and generally keeping busy and active.

Changing Attitudes Towards Disability, Sex and Dating

As I’ve already mentioned, I know people who have used dating apps and are disabled. The first question they are usually asked is “can you have sex?”. I’ve never had any experience of using dating apps, so thankfully I’ve never been asked this before, but why is it that non-disabled people assume our disability makes us incapable of having sex?

There is such a massive taboo around disability, sex and dating. We can’t possibly be disabled and sexual. Wrong! Disabled people can have the same feelings, desires and all that good stuff just like everyone else, disability or no disability.

We need to see more disabled bodies in the media, on TV and in marketing campaigns to break down these barriers and challenge misconceptions. Maybe then attitudes towards disability, sex and dating will change.

MD Bloggers Crew: After Dark posterThis post is part of the @MDBloggersCrew “After Dark” collab!

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Meet Emma

Hello I’m Emma. My mission is to show you the possibilities of accessible travel through my travel guides, tips and reviews. I also share personal stories, live event reviews and more.

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21 Responses

  1. Wow, what a great post and beautifully versed. I met my husband “on-line” but it wasn’t through a dating app either. I met my first husband in 1989 – the 80’s was a time of “image” and disability wasn’t part of that image. However, we had 13 years together and a wonderful daughter, so it’s not a regret.
    So much of what you say about the caring role is true!
    My present husband and I have been together over 9 years – married 6 years this August. He most certainly is the main tea and drinks maker in the house, especially the first 3 or 4 cups of the day which are always served to me in bed! Luxury.
    But caring and support work both ways. Emotionally I am extremely strong. I am confident and self-assured. I often bolster him up when he’s feeling a little unsure.
    Plus I am the super ORGANISED person in this household – he loses things all the time!
    Best of all, he provides massive emotional support to me on the occasions when I need it and he’s a fantastic step-dad to my (now 22 year old) daughter.

  2. Excellent read.
    I acquired my disability in 2013. My wife makes more than her fair share of brews in our household as well as almost all the shopping etc. But if anyone refers to her as my “carer” she’ll hit the roof! We will even pay for two entries to a venue, where we could just pay for me (+1 carer), because she isn’t!

    1. Hi Keith. Thank you so much for your comment. I can understand and admire you both for paying two entries to a venue. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment Linda, I really appreciate it. 🙂 I hope you are well and having a great weekend.

  3. I absolutely loved this post. I had polio as a child, which affected all my limbs. I wasn’t in a wheelchair, but I couldn’t climb stairs, use my hands and arms much, get up from seats unaided, etc. As a teenager, I couldn’t imagine having a boyfriend let along a lifelong relationship, but I met my husband on the first night at university and we’ve now been together for over 40 years. Your comments about the combined roles of partner and carer were spot on. It’s tricky sometimes – oh, how I recognise that argument then loo dilemma! – but it’s our normal, and we just manage it. I recognise that it’s hard for my husband, not least because none of our family or friends knows exactly how much he has to do every day, but I don’t always behave in ways that make life easier for him. How can I? I’m not a saint, just human! However, I think I’ve added a lot to our relationship too. I’m very strong emotionally, and I think I’ve made him more confident than he would otherwise have been. I’m so pleased you’re enjoying your life together. It gets even better with time!

    1. Hi Hazel. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story of how you met your husband and experience of disability/relationship. Argument and asking for help with something is definitely a tricky one, isn’t it? I’m so happy you have found your husband and have been together for over 40 years. Amazing! Here’s to the next 40years. Thank you again and I hope you both have a lovely weekend 🙂

  4. I got married in 2016 to my husband who is 20 years younger than me but also my carer. I originally met him at our congregation and was asking around for someone to do my son’s school run as a paid carer and weekends P.A. Work because I no longer could. When I first met him I had no idea just how physically disabled I was because despite having been in a wheelchair in my twenties I was stubbornly refusing to use a wheelchair or a mobility scooter most days, working from home and wondering why I could not do much. It was once I started courting that I realised I just could not go anywhere without the wheelchair or scooter. Once we got married my condition worsened and I could not hold my arms or body up long enough to use a scooter anymore so I started in a manual chair and processed to being wheelchair bound. My upper body is worse than my legs so the cooking, cleaning etc have gradually been distrusted to him and my two teenage children. He’s effectively like a single dad as I’m now just a head on a fairly useless body. Although I’ve been given many diagnosis ‘ we don’t feel we are there yet with an understanding of the condition and it is now affecting my breathing muscles. I’m short – it wasn’t what he signed up for!!!

    One of my biggest struggles is always the question of why he stays? What does he get from the relationship and what does he see in me. I know this is part of the overspil from media led assumptions about male female roles and it’s essentially misogynistic but I had two previous husband’s before this and the illness was definitely a crippling factor in the relationship stability.

    Of course, the answer is love. and true love isn’t fixed on what a person can do for you, how they physically look etc …but it’s not easy to remain clear about these stereotypes and their irrelevance to your life. I think it’s harder for me because !y husband is younger and so already breaking one stereotype of being able to live an older woman – let alone a disabled woman!!!!

    On the whole we don’t get a lot of bad comments but it’s inevitable that we do occasionally find him being complemented for being a carer – or worse, on one occasion benign his mum out (eek!) But on the whole not much. We also have my son who is clearly disabled but not a wheelchair user so there’s the odd time people think we are all on a day trip and it can get very condescending. Mostly however people are respectful. I work in an art gallery in town and a lot of folk know us.

    I tend to feel sorry for husband. Not guilty but sorry. He feels happy and seems happy but he also suffers with depression and people sometimes project that he’s depressed because of me. I think it’s mainly to do with the wheelchair though because before I started using the wheelchair regularly people used words like not to ‘take him on ‘ as if I had taken him on because I felt sorry for him. However, as soon as the wheelchair became a regular thing people described him as ‘taking me on!’ this made me feel shocked that a wheelchair could change so much and showed me how much assumptions are associated with wheelchair use.

    There is so much more to say about all this but that’s going into another subject.

    Did I hide my disability or the level of my disability? YES 100% of my decision not to go back into my wheelchair I had as a twenty something year old was about sex and attraction. Although I was with my first husband for 11 years he made it very clear that he could not find me sexually attractive in that chair. In fact he admitted to almost throwing me and my wheelchair off a tall hillside one day. I knew it – but I couldn’t prove it till he told me after the divorcee. I learnt that disability was unattractive but I wanted love and sex so I refused to use my chair again – plus i had fallen out of it several times due to poor Motabiliy advice..

    Do I regret anything? Yes. Depriving my children of a mum by staying out of a chair too long. Once my current husband made it very clear that this was unconditional love I bought a fantastic chair and !y daughter told me she was sad I had not done this before because she described my insistence on staying out of a chair as much as possible as having ‘ruined their life ‘. My son who has autism described me as being better one day. I asked him why because I was obviously worse – he pointed to the chair and said ‘because of that’. So the chair was invisible to the children but the effects were not – they now had an active mum. Contrast that with me trying to look less disabled but having deprived my children of a fuller life because it looked ‘sexier’ and you have an idea of how rubbish the impact of the misogyny of the first marriage and media led ideas about attraction have on decisions.

    I’m ‘free’ now of such ideas though the idea of disability causing rejection, being ugly and not sexy do of course remain. One of the things I did to help was lost photos of cool wheelchair girls up on all !u social media trying to keep the idea of sexy and disabled going on my mind. It was during one such search that I came across Emma’s blog and this and one other blog helped me gradually learn to accept myself.

    At first I found travelling with a chair too hard (I was still reeling from having fallen from my chair in my twenties so badly and the hillside incident) getting on a bus was an issue. However, I’ve been reading Emma’s blog and a few others (mainly look at photos really) and I can see clearly from Emma’s blog that it’s time to move on to stage 2. Having worked to get over the stigma of the non sexy wheelchair and propels prejudices I now need to give my loyal husband and children their lives back and be brave enough to travel a bit. At the momemt I can still transfer so this opens up a bigger world than some people have. And I owe it to my romantic partner and husband to make the most of it all.

    Thanks Emma for your blog.

  5. Do you have carers as well or is he ypur full time carer? I worry about being a burden as even now people moan about hassle of my wheelchair.😭

    1. I also have my mum who is my carer alongside my partner. I’m sorry to hear you are feeling like a burden, but please know that you are absolutely not a burden. Is it family who provide your care?

  6. Hi Emma, can I ask how long you and Allan chatted for before actually meeting up? I’m not actually in a relationship at the moment, but I am in a wheelchair and have been chatting with a really lovely guy for a few months now.

    1. Hi Lisa. Thanks for your comment. Allan and I spoke for around 3 months before actually meeting up. How are things going with the guy you have been chatting to for a few months? 🙂

      1. Did you know before meeting that you’d end up seeing each other? I’m really glad that you found each other. I follow you on Instagram and I read your blog posts, and your relationship gives me hope that inter-abled relationships (who even knew that was a thing now?) can and do work. I think it’s going pretty well with the guy I’m chatting with, I think we’re going to meet up soon 🙂

        1. Hi Lisa! Am I following you on Instagram? What is your instagram username? Thats a tricky question haha. I think we both hoped that we would end up seeing each other because we really liked each other, but we tried to just go with the flow really. I’m glad to hear things are going well with the guy you are speaking with. I hope you meet up soon and please let me know how it goes 🙂

          1. Hi Emma! No I don’t think you are following me on Instagram, it’s @lisy_lou_86 and I have an Instagram for my artwork too which is @ladyfacecreates. Yeah, I think that’s where we’re at at the moment, we like each other and trying to go with the flow. I will definitely let you know how it goes 🙂

          2. Hi Lisa! I’m following you on Instagram now and wow! Your artwork and illustrations are fantastic. You are incredibly talented. I’ve actually been looking for an illustration type image of myself – so I’m off to look at more of your work. It’s brilliant. Yes, definitely let me know how things go, I hope it all works out for you both 🙂

          3. Hi Emma! Thank you so much! Have you? Well just let me know if you’d like me to draw you, I’m sure I could get whatever you want sorted out. And thank you, I hope so too 🙂

  7. How funny that you and Allan met on MySpace; that’s where my husband and I first met, too! I told him I was disabled the second time we chatted, I think, and because he’s kinky, he was into it. LOL…I’m kidding, but it was clear from the start that we were both very open-minded people, so I guess we felt comfortable enough sharing personal things about our lives pretty immediately. Also, we were still strangers, and since we also happened to be separated by a pretty big ocean, in those first chats, I suppose we never really thought we’d meet–in spite of the incredible connection and attraction we both felt so quickly.

    We chatted for about six weeks before we had our first “date”, which, of course, involved a long flight. He visited me the first time (wow, was that first time SCARY!) and we took turns after that, one of us flying to either the States or Ireland every six weeks or so. Eventually we couldn’t afford to date anymore (hehe), so I quit my job, sold my shit, and moved to Ireland! Five years later we moved back to the States and got married. Today–literally TODAY; it’s our anniversary!–we have been together eleven years and married six, and we are still very much in love and crazy happy together. While there have been rough spots, I don’t think any of them have been directly related to disability. It’s just part of our life, just as you said, Emma.

    I lived alone before we met and didn’t need any help, so maybe that makes things easier, but I don’t think it would have mattered to him if I did need more regular care. I will say that while my husband doesn’t *have* to do too much for me, I do sometimes feel guilty that there is a lot that he does do because it’s easier. I feel bad when he runs to the store because it’s so much faster and easier for him to do it, or when he jumps out of bed to fill my glass of tea because it’s difficult for me to get a full glass to the other side of the house without spilling it. I sometimes feel like a pet, which might sound endearing but really isn’t. Those moments are short-lived, though, when I realize I do so much for him, too. We are a team, and a pretty damn good one, at that!

    Thanks for sharing your story, Emma! I think it’s so important for stories like ours to be heard so myths and misconceptions about disability and relationships can be dispelled. I have heard and read so many (often newly) disabled folks who simply don’t believe they can or will ever have a fulfilling relationship because that seems to be the common (mis)conception. It makes me sad to think of anyone letting themselves miss out on such an integral part of being human. Love matters and EVERYBODY deserves it, plain and simple! 🙂

    My grandmother used to say, ‘there’s a lid for every pot’! It still makes me laugh, but it seems to be true!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your amazing story. Wow! That really is funny how you both met on MySpace too. Crazy isn’t it! I absolutely love how you both would fly across to visit each other. That really is incredible. Also happy belated anniversary! I hope you both had a lovely day together and I wish you many more!

      I’ve got to say I LOVE your grandmothers saying…’there’s a lid for every pot!’ I’ve never heard that before, but it is great and so true 🙂

      Thanks again for sharing your story Heather.

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