Athletes at Beijing‘s Winter Paralympics are not just breaking down sports barriers on the slopes and ice — Argentinian skier Enrique Plantey is pushing for a bedroom revolution.
The 39-year-old and his non-disabled Spanish girlfriend Triana Serfaty have published a practical guidebook called “Sexistimos” — a nod to the Spanish term for “we exist” — about disability and sex.
They hope it sparks an open conversation on what is a difficult topic for many.
“People are afraid to talk openly about it,” Plantey, who is a paraplegic, told AFP.
“The main problem is that many people with a disability think they can no longer have a sex life and give pleasure, and this is not the case,” added Plantey, who came fourth in the giant slalom alpine skiing sitting category.
Some people living with disabilities experience anxiety about sex — such as whether a partner will find them attractive, pain issues, concerns about fertility and a lack of confidence.
For some there’s also worries about logistical issues such as getting from a wheelchair into a bed.
Society often considers people with physical or intellectual disabilities as “non-sexual” — many live in isolation and don’t have long-term romantic partners, according to Disabled World, an independent organisation that provides health resources.
Signs of change
But there are signs that attitudes are changing. The issue broke new ground when Hollywood actress Helen Hunt starred in 2012 film The Sessions, about a polio survivor’s quest to lose his virginity with the help of a sex surrogate.
Dating websites specifically for people with disabilities are also helping many find romance.
Plantey, a three-time Paralympian, has used a wheelchair since sustaining a spinal cord injury as an 11-year-old.
Growing up he lamented a lack of information and resources about how to have a healthy sex life as a young man using a wheelchair.
He uses Viagra but does not have sensations below his waist.
Nevertheless, he said it was possible to “find sources of pleasure in all parts of the body, not just the genitals”.
Serfaty said it was important couples try to communicate honestly about their practical needs and desires, without fear, judgement or embarrassment.
“This information exists. The problem is that it is often not disseminated,” said the 29-year-old.
Some medical professionals were giving people with disabilities incorrect information about sex function, Serfaty noted.
“His doctor had told him he couldn’t have sex,” she said.
“But since he got to know his body, he realised that wasn’t true. You have to see for yourself what you’re capable of. No one can decide for you.”
The couple have turned to tantric sex techniques and their book and corresponding Instagram account draws on their personal experiences.
Argentina’s flagbearer said the couple’s efforts to promote the topic of sex and disabilities was paying off — generating a lot of interest in the Athletes’ Village in Beijing.
“Many in the Paralympic village come to me to talk about sex and ask questions,” Plantey said.
“Just the other day, someone — I won’t say who — came to find me, in front of my room, to ask me for Viagra,” he laughed.