Yesterday I did a radio phone in on BBC 3 Counties Breakfast Show on the subject of a proposed brothel that will specialise in providing a service for disabled customers. Yes, a brothel for cripples. Many of you will know that I do a lot of campaigning and work around the topic of sexuality and disability and so might imagine that I would be in favour of such an idea. However this could not be further from the truth. While I got a brief chance to air my views on the radio, I think it is really important to explain fully why I feel it could be so damaging for all of us, not just disabled people. It breaks down to three key reasons.
The first is the idea that disabled people have a greater need for the services of prostitutes. This is an attitude that runs throughout our society, yet the proof just isn't there. While I know and have met some disabled people, well disabled men, who have paid for sex, most have not. They have gone out in to the world and formed sexual relationships in the "normal" way. Ones that spanned from casual flings to long term love and flowers jobs. Not just those disabled people who could be said to have the sexier disabilities, like Paraplegics or Amputees, but people with all manner of impairments. People who have little or no ability to speak and who need 24 hour personal assistance who have had or who are in loving relationships. Yet time and time again, when the media focuses on the subject of sex and disability the story we mainly see revolves around a disabled person seeking paid sex. More than that, the prostitution industry uses this attitude to attempt to legitimise what they do and to further their campaign to legalise it.
The effect of this false belief that disabled people need the services of prostitutes more than anyone else is the second reason why I am opposed as it causes issues for the way society thinks about disability. It not only effects disabled people but everyone. For disabled people, it means they grow up in an atmosphere that makes them believe that they just aren't sexy or potential sexual partners and for the non-disabled community it plays a part in continuing the prejudice around disability. More than that, as all non-disabled people are just disabled people before an illness or injury, it means that if they acquire a disability part of the grieving process they will have to go through revolves around the loss of their sexual confidence. I know as even though I have been disabled since birth, I went through it when my impairment changed and started using a wheelchair at the age of 15. Even before then, when I one of the walking wounded, I was unsure that anyone would want to go out with me. But when my spine collapsed and I lost the ability to gain an erection, I was positive that my chances to form sexual relationships were over. Yet I soon found I could not have been more wrong. With much of the work I do with newly disabled people this fear around them no longer being able to have sex or form relationships is a massive part of the journey they go on as they learn to put their lives back together. Much of this feeling of asexuality stems from the focus on disabled people having this deep need to pay for sex, which most people really don't want do to. So of course you will get down about being newly disabled is you truly believe that the only way you will be able to have sex from now on is if you pay for it. Why would your partner want to stay with someone who is now that lacking in the sexy stakes? I also think that this attitude leads to the need that there is for paid sex. If you grow up or become disabled so assured that the only way you'll ever experience sex is to pay for it, then that is what you will do. Thus the need for this proposed service is fuelled by the attitude, so it becomes self fulfilling.
Lastly, the idea that there should be a special place for disabled people who do want to use the services of prostitute is also wrong. The law states that any new business should ensure that the goods or services that they provide should be accessible to disabled people, so any brothel that opens should be open to disabled people. Not just one specializing in cripple sex. You shouldn't have to travel to Milton Keynes, or where ever it might be sited, if you want a paid sex experience, but you should be able to pop down to your local knocking shop. Remember that currently brothels are illegal, so if the law is changed and they can be opened then all brothels will be new businesses. So to comply with the law every single one of them should be fully accessible. If they aren't you can sue them! Thus getting you get your paid sex for free... tee hee.
Now don't get me wrong, I am not arguing that disabled people should not visit prostitutes. I want disabled people to have the right to choose how they live their lives, so if you want to pay for it then fine. But I refuse to stay silent as yet again this option is held up and the only choice for disabled people. No disabled person is so unattractive that this is their only solution to their needs, and if that is how some people feel then we should all be fighting to do something about that. We should not be fighting to make a world where it's easier for disabled people to pay for sex as they feel they can get it no other way, we should be fighting for a world where disabled people are seen and see themselves as viable sexual partners. During my career I have made several programmes and written loads of articles on the subject of disability and sex, and have met with quiet a few disabled people who paid for sex. Almost all them have said that the experience eventually left them feeling empty and depressed as there it was only sex. At the end of the day what we all really want is an emotional bond, friendship and companionship. Sure orgasms are nice, but sex is always best in a loving relationship and why shouldn't we all have the chance at that?
I know I could be described as lucky when it comes to this subject. I am happily married, and have had a succession of beautiful girls in my life before I met "the one". I am definitely always being told how lucky I am as I come across as confident, and recently my good friend Julie Fernandez told me I was overtly sexual, which was a bit of a shock to me. You see I might appear to be all these things, but I have all the same hang ups and insecurities as everyone else. Don't forget I can't get a hard on so conventional sex is out for me. So I do understand why some disabled men might feel the need to pay for it. It's just that this subject is bigger than personal need. It says something about disability that I refuse to accept and do not want the society I live to take as truth. Whatever our impairment, disabled people can be and are sexy, sexual and superb potential partners. And focusing on the minority who bang on about paid sex being their only option hurts us all, and does nothing to further disabled people's lives.
A final issue I might raise is that if this special needs brothel (catchy name huh?) does open will all the people who work there be fully trained to work with disabled people, will it be able to find full liability insurance in case of something going wrong and will it have the ability to cater for all disabled people, spanning the full gamut of their physical and mental needs?
At the end of the day, if you want to visit a brothel you should be able to. I just feel that the idea of a special one for disabled people won't work, will do more harm than good to those how use it and does nothing to make the world a better place. It might sound a bit optimistic and utopian but I thought that is what campaigning is all about. I don't want to work in the real world, I want to work towards making that world better. Allowing this brothel to open just won't do that in any way.