When a spinal cord injury occurs, the first issue is usually survival. Once that’s assured, the next questions usually deal with quality of life. Whether spoken or unspoken, the question of sex looms large on that second list. Ken Droll and Erica Levy Klein, write, in their book Enabling Romance write:
. . . there are millions of people with disabilities who eventually discover they can enjoy sexual satisfaction despite their physical limitations. Unfortunately, they often receive very little support or information from parents or rehab professionals who may be too embarrassed to too uncomfortable to attempt a discussion of this issue. Even in an era of sexual enlightenment, a code of silence seems to envelop the issue of disabilities and sexuality.
Enabling Romance does a beautiful job of filling in the void. Subtitled A Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships For People With Disabilities, this book is divided into three sections: first is “The Final Taboo: Sexual Satisfaction for People with Disabilities”; second is “Living and Loving with Specific Disabilities”; third is an appendix section listing helpful resources.
Romance is well-written, straightforward, and direct. As is typical of ‘self-help’ books, the text is peppered with personal anecdotes; atypically, the stories told here are not bland, power-of-positive-thinking screeds, but specific and detailed in terms of what the sexual relationships mean to the people involved. It’s that much more powerful as a result. This is a manual for reclaiming a fundamental part of human experience, and a vehicle for living life as fully as possible, in spite of inconvenient impediments.
This is a book that probably ought to be handed out on every SCI rehab ward, but its scope is much larger. Polio, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, blindness, and amputation and a variety of other disabilities are specifically addressed as well. There’s sensible advice on dating and relationships, and insightful commentary about what to expect when people with disabilities get involved with people without disabilities.
Parents or others who are uncomfortable or uncertain about the sexual lives of people they love who have disabilities are likely to find Romance an excellent resource for themselves, as well. It’s a powerful reminder that living with a disability does not, and need not, require an asexual existence.
Illustrations in the book are graphic but tasteful, and give visual credence to the idea that lovemaking is possible even when the standard equipment is not fully functional, or when working around a device or two is necessary. The book was first published in 1992; some of the information in the appendices may be outdated, but that’s a minor concern now with the Internet at our disposal, and online searches just a keyboard (or voice recognition system) away.