Love Among the Wheelchairs

No2There are two things you should know to put this post in context. First, I’m handicapped; I have fibromyalgia and use a cane and wheelchair to get around. In fact, I’m coming up on my 10th anniversary of getting my very first cane. Second, someone’s organizing an orgy for people like me in Toronto.

No, I’m not using hyperbole, like where someone says stuff like “a culinary orgy” or “an orgy of destruction.” I mean a sex party. For disabled people. Like me.

Not just no, but hay-ul no.

Look, it’s not just a Catholic thing. Catholics don’t have a problem with sex. Come on — the stereotypical large Catholic family? Yeah, you don’t get that if you have a problem with sex. Oh, and those famous statues and paintings and other forms of art depicting the naked human form? Yeah, you don’t get those if you have a problem with nudity.

The problem we have is when you boil everything down to just that, as if there’s nothing more to it. And that’s exactly what’s happening here. 

The . . . let’s just say event . . . is being organized by a woman who herself is in a wheelchair. Stella Palikarova has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a powered wheelchair to move through life, but finds her sex life is lacking. She’s even tried sex clubs, but can’t get intimacy.

Of course, I don’t find that sex clubs give you much intimacy. Physical contact, sure. Intimacy? Not so much.

So she’s organizing “Deliciously Disabled,” which is open to all, disabled or not, as a way of tearing down “the Berlin Wall of sex for people with disabilities.”

I’m sorry. I really am. But I just don’t see the comparison. I’m coming up on six years since my last truly serious relationship. In that time, I haven’t had a second date. Aside from a speed-dating disaster I tried on a whim, I haven’t had a date in nearly three years. I got my first wheelchair three and a half years ago, so I’ve figured there was a connection. My relationship prospects are about as cold and dry as the Gobi Desert in February.

Even with all of that, I refuse to compare my love life to one of the most significant symbols of oppression, tyranny, and division in the history of the human species.

Palikarova says that “The naysayers are just subconsciously hating the fact that people in wheelchairs are having great sex — better sex than a lot of people are having. I won’t apologize for that.”

Okay. That’s fine. You don’t have to. But I wouldn’t mind an apology for pretending you can mind-read me. My issue with this isn’t the sex.

Oh, sure, I know, I’m Catholic, I’m supposedly repressed and upset other people are having fun when I can’t. Guess what — I went down that road in my misspent youth, farther down it than I really want to talk about. Not because of what I did, but because what I saw further ahead on that road, and the dark and twisting route it would lead me on.

A lot of things can feel like fun, if you employ a little selective editing. I’m just glad I had a wake-up call long before I went too far.

Now, Palikarova’s idea isn’t without some merit, if you squint hard enough. It’s hard to get a relationship when you’re in a wheelchair. Even if the other person knows you’re fully capable of having children (and all the steps that lead up to that), that wheelchair might as well be an old-fashioned ball-and-chain around your ankle. A lot of women have seemed to react well to me, but there’s a flicker in their eyes and a hesitation in their smile as they see me lean on my cane or pull my wheelchair out of my car. I’ve gotten used to rejection, to the point that I haven’t even bothered asking in years (save for one attempt this year where she changed the subject the moment I started heading toward it). I know what the answer will be.

A wheelchair is high maintenance. It means taking the long way around sometimes, learning new habits, knowing that this potential spouse might require a commitment that goes beyond what most little girls dream about. In some cases, like with me, it means that there are potentially bad genes involved — that’s a powerful instinct, and instinct is pretty hard to overcome on the first date.

So yes. I understand that relationships are hard when you’re in a wheelchair. I really do.

Problem is, Palikarova’s not out to change that. She’s just out for sex.

And that is the problem I have with this. Not that there’s a group of people who are going to have sex. Not that a group of people might even be having “great” sex. That’s beside the point. It’s that all that’s being promoted is the sex.

Not a single thing in there about relationships, love, understanding, partnership . . . that is what I want. If all I wanted was sex, then Catholic or not, there are people who do that for money.

Palikarova, like many today, wants to boil things down to sexuality. Sex is good. Sex is important. Sex is more than just the continuation of the species. And we, as humans, are more than just sexual creatures.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is for several things. Continuation of the family is only one of them, and I think it gets a little too much press, particularly in the gay marriage debate. Another reason for marriage is theological, in that the marital union is a prefigurement of the union with God in Heaven. Yeah, okay . . . that’s very beautiful, but also very abstract and definitely theological.

The part that tends to be overlooked, at least in cursory examinations, is that the Church teaches that a marriage is, and requires, companionship. Otherwise, why bother with marriage? You’d just bring together a man and a woman for breeding every so often, and then they’d go their separate ways for a while. No, the reason for marriage is because it is not good to be alone. Even the chaste and unmarried should have companions; and a marriage should be all about companionship.

And contrary to both Palikarova and Conan the Barbarian, that is what is best in life.

So no, I don’t have the slightest desire to go to this orgy. Not because the Catholic Church says it’s a sin; like every other human in history save two, I desire many things that are sins. I simply know that what I’m looking for will never be found at her event.

About Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman is a traditionally-minded Catholic convert and freelance science fiction and fantasy editor, which means that he's in high demand in a small population. Fortunately, he loves talking about stories. And Catholicism. And history. And philosophy. And lots of other stuff.
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5 Responses to Love Among the Wheelchairs

  1. Hi Matthew,
    I’m sorry to hear about your dating troubles. You’ve got a solid idea as to what marriage is all about, so I’m sure things will look up for you soon. I’m not an expert on marriage (coming up 2 years married), but I agree that marriage is more than just procreation/disfigurement. Sometimes, as Catholics, we can get so focused on either the procreative/idealistic, that we forget the human reason for marriage. That’s why Catholicism is so good; it doesn’t reject the human.


  2. Masha K. says:

    Seems to me, if she really wanted to help the disabled, she would have started a dating service and really helped people who have problems connecting due to physical limitations. BUT that wouldn’t give her nearly as much publicity, so why bother.


    • Considering she’s a participant, this is obviously what she wants for herself; and since she considers herself a spokesman I mean spokeswoman I mean spokeshuman for people like me, she seems to think this is what everyone in a wheelchair wants.

      Again, it all boils down to the Chestertonian definition of a heresy: taking one part of a whole and treating it as if it were the whole. Physical intimacy is an important part of humanity, and a vital part of any lasting marriage. She’s treating one type of physical intimacy, sex, as if it were the most important drive, the thing that, if missing, makes us not quite human. If that were the case, then it would be such a vital part of our life that our society would actually arrange marriages as a matter of course.

      I keep joking about that when people bring up the “right to marriage.” If there’s a right to marriage, then my dating life proves that my rights have been violated! Help, help, I’m being oppressed! Now you see the celibacy inherent in the system! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Emily C. Hurt says:

    Good article, Bowman.


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