Getting Information about sexuality when you canít see Parenting
As you all know talking about sexuality is a delicate matter. The last time I
did extensive research on sexuality and visual impairment I found very, very
little on the topic. The largest body of knowledge I could locate was on how to
protect deaf-blind children from sexual abuse. So in this lecture I will where
what I know and we will see how things go.
A few years ago a new study came out which identified that three out of every
four individuals with visual impairments are female. I was stunned when I heard
this finding. I believe the study was done at Harvard. After thinking it over I
realized that the majority of the blind and visually impaired people I know are
women. I just thought it was me, but I believe there is truth in this statistic.
I now suspect that the fact that there are more blind women than men are one of
the reasons the field attracts so many women professionals.
Considering there are so many blind women the tragic lack of information on sexuality is disturbing. Most of what is available has to do with addressing Personal body care during menstruation and preventing pregnancy. This information is very important, but having this type of information doesn't really address sexuality in my book.
Letís start with a working definition. I feel that sexuality is an expression
of joy. Expressing joy encompasses partnering, sex, giving birth, parenting, and
most of all the freedom to be you at all times. I feel sexuality expresses the
most creative and willful aspects of who we are.
The really good news for people who are visually impaired is that getting information is so much easier now than it was when I was younger. Sex education was taught for the very first time in public schools when I was in the eleventh grade. Before that there was no way that a teenager with a visual impairment could get any quality information. Not only was it very difficult to get informational books on sex and reproduction from the library for the blind there was a time when books that included descriptions of sex were not even recorded for the blind listeners (boy, do I feel old right now). I remember when The first sexy novel was released. I think I was in college when it came out.
Where we are today is that lots of resources are available on only some kinds of information and not others. What is still lacking is information on the emotional aspects of sexuality and easy ways to convey how the human body of the opposite sex is designed.
A blind person can read about the genitalia of the opposite sex, but a lot of the time the pictures are not described in the books and even if they are they are pretty lacking. So are you wondering how an enterprising blind person might find out a few things he or she would like to know? Especially when you have to risk your privacy so you can get some help?
Well, I guess I will tell you how I did it. Please do not try this at home and PLEASE do not tell the parents of your students I said this is a good idea. It is just one way to find out what a person might want to know in a supportive environment.
Ready? Close your eyes if this is too forward for you. Being a curious sort
of woman I read several books on the different subjects of the aspects of
Sexuality in which I was interested. I found as I said that the information was
not answering some questions I had so here is what I did.
In the next town over from where I live there is a women's erotica shop. A really nice one which caters to women's needs in very sensitive ways. There are also some things sold in the shop which would appeal to men.
The owner of this store holds classes on various subjects and I took one of them. I spoke to her in advance of signing up for the class and told her that I wanted to ask some particular questions and she said that would be fine. I was embarrassed at first to ask my questions because it was obvious that everyone else in the room knew things I didn't, but I prevailed and got all my queries answered.
The owner of the shop used tactile aides which she sells in the store to answer my questions. It turns out that some of the other women in the class were curious about the same things I was interested in. The best thing she was able to show me was how a man's body is shaped and how everything gets connected. My embarrassment was gone by the end of the class and I felt very informed and that I knew things that other people know.
Even though taking this step to find out what I wanted to know was hard for me I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment and my self-esteem went up exponentially. In other countries nude art models are hired to assist blind children to learn about the body shape of the members of the opposite sex. I believe this is not practiced here. Anatomically correct dolls are used to illustrate body shape and trust me, it is not the same.
The general view is that blind women form love relationships and partner a lot less frequently than blind men. In the psychosocial system of "spoiled identity" (remember this term from Irving Goeffman, a blind man's spoiled identity casts him in the role of a woman who has to be taken care of and a blind woman's spoiled identity casts her right out of the human race. Not fair, I know.
Within the blind community the largest group of partnered people is blind men with sighted women. Next comes blind men with blind women and last are blind women with sighted men. Most of the blind women with sighted husbands were sighted when they married and became visually impaired later in the relationship.
The general feeling about the sexual development of people who are visually impaired is that we mature more slowly. That is probably true. The way we balance the possibility of embarrassment or shame that may come with being developmentally behind our sighted friends is by remembering that there are no right or wrong ways to grow into our sexuality. Unfortunately since it can be difficult to attract the experiences which help foster our self-awareness as sexual beings concern can arise that we don't know as much as those around us and we can be at a loss to figure out how to learn what we want to know.
In the Million book you will read a good discussion on the level of sex abuse which occurs among the members of the visually impaired and blind community. It is pretty high. This just adds another layer of distress on the blind community in a way that never really gets talked about easily. I have never heard of any mentoring conversation around how to cope with dating, relationship, and sexuality.
I would really like to see programs developed for blind teenagers led by visually impaired adults which include information on how to ask someone out, what an inexpensive date can be like, information on how to handle ordering food and paying the check, how to make sure you are safe when on the date, and how to work up to the good night kiss.
Teenagers who are visually impaired or blind want to know about these things and I want them to learn about it. Negotiating the good night kiss is very difficult partly because blind teenagers don't have much privacy because they have to use some sort of public transportation or be driven by their parents. Here is my solution which can work until there is a more private moment kissing your partner (with permission) on the hand.
This is a lost art, but an art nonetheless. Kissing the hand is much easier in a public setting and can still convey a wealth of feeling. It also helps established respectful body boundaries along with giving the couple a way of working up to the kiss when they are ready. It may be possible that kissing and intimate touching is handled very differently by people who are blind. I regard being kissed on the face to be a much more intimate act than a lot of other people do. I use the skin on my face to do a lot of my traveling and sensing. The skin on my face is so sensitive that I don't particularly like being touched on my cheek at all.
Using verbal communication and light respectful touching can help to foster a blind person's sensuality and also provides a guideline for negotiating more intimate contact. I dated one man for a number of years and during our time together he grew to know how to talk to me in ways which made me happy. The most romantic thing he ever did for me as a blind woman was this:
He and I are both very fond of wine. He would order a glass and we would drink it together. He would take a sip and then hold the glass by its stem so that I could find it. I would touch his fingers as I took the glass, had my own sip of wine and then he would touch my hand again when he took the glass back.
This is still the loveliest thing anyone has ever done for me as a blind woman.
One area of sexuality which is really well supported (at least in this area)
is parenting. The Perkins School for the Blind has an amazing program to assist
blind parents in child rearing. Perkins holds a weekend for parent's which I
have attended in the past. If you have time I recommend you check it
This is an area where I have heard blind parents say that they handled rearing their children one day at a time. The one story I like is the mother who put little jingle bells on her toddler's shoes when he began to crawl and then walk. That would really work for me.
I have also heard other parents talk about how hard it was for them not to be able to take their children on vacations and road trips in the car like there Parentís did. This was a father telling this story and I was really impressed with how hard being a father figure was for him. I thought he did a great Job with his children.
I guess that there are just no rules when expressing our sexuality whether we can see or not. Maybe blind people have an edge on this. I am laughing as I write this because back in the 1970's there was a common belief that blind people made remarkable sex partners because we used our ability to touch in expanded and sensitive ways. Within twenty years this viewpoint became politically incorrect and is no longer mentioned. I wish - once in a while Ė that this urban legend was still around.