Sunday, 4 December 2011

'Can I Play With Your Joystick?': Crips, Sex and Scarlet Road.

Sex is the most basic need, most primal desire any human can have in the world. Often it brings us the most satisfaction, and binds us to other human beings like nothing else. Everyone notionally seems to be entitled to have sex in any way they want, in the privacy of their own home. That is unless you are physically disabled. SBS premiered a documentary on Friday night, which in my long experience is the only one that has seemed to deal with disability and sex in a factual, non judgmental manner. Scarlet Road: A Sex Worker’s Journey chronicles three years in the life of Rachel Wotton, a sex worker that specialises in satisfying disabled clients, not only a sexual sense, but one in which her clients can truly feel like men.

As a man with Cerebral Palsy, I must declare a stake in this issue. It is one that is very close to my heart. I have gone through many of the same experiences as the clients in the film. I have even gone so far as to talk about my disability and sex way back in 2008.
The worst thing about having a physical disability is the lack of control I have in life. Everything is very clinical, get up at this time, eat at this time, have a shower at this time, and go to bed at this time. I have no control over these things. (With sex)…. I got to do things on my own terms…. it was the first time I felt like I was being treated like a sexual being with desires and needs that were important. All my life I have been viewed as an asexual being whose desires should be avoided or neglected. (It) taught me not to be afraid of my sexuality and not to push it into the background.
The latter portion of Scarlet Road deals with one of Rachael’s clients who has Cerebral Palsy. His wish for his birthday was to have Rachael act as his girlfriend and stay overnight in his bed. This was despite the fact that he could not talk and has severe spasticity in his muscles. I strongly identified with his desire. The loneliness I have felt for 99% of my life as a disabled person, unable to hold someone as they fall asleep is one of the most painful things I’ve had to endure in my life.

Can you also imagine sharing a bed with your girlfriend and then having a carer coming in to the room to get you up in the morning, sometimes accidentally during the middle of a sex act? This is both a possibility and a reality, that I along with countless others face our entire lives. In order to fulfill her client’s fantasy, Rachael not only needed to learn how to perform a sexual act to client’s satisfaction, but also how to feed him, toilet him, and change him, so he could just have one night of privacy and romance. These acts of personal care hardly set the mood for a night of passionate and sexy love making.

Scarlet Road did a remarkable job showcasing the response of other people connected to  Rachael’s clients. To take one example, often the desire for a disabled child to have sexual intercourse with a paid sex worker can be a moral affront for parents. However in some cases, parents of a child with a physical disability have to be involved in the process itself. Whether it be transferring the person onto a bed so the sex act can take place, or driving their child to a brothel, the notion of privacy between parent and child is almost eliminated, and that is only if the parents are willing to be open minded and supportive. Sometimes if a crip wants to have sex, it has to become a community based activity with physiotherapists, occupational therapists, carers and parents all having to consult a person with a disability so they can achieve their sexual desires.

However, Scarlet Road is bittersweet in a way because it has demonstrated what a unique and fantastic individual Rachael really is. While paying for sex is not my first preference, I wish her organisation Touching Base was operating in Queensland, so it could provide me with an easier way to explore the options available to me. The fact that the two marginalised groups: sex workers and people with disabilities have to come together to ensure every person has access to sex, speaks volumes about society. After all I am a cripple and I like to fuck. Who doesn’t?


  1. Wow. I can't believe I'm the first person to comment. What a great article! Well done. Thanks for your courage and honesty. I didn't actually watch the doco 'Scarlet Road' because SBS didn't promote it properly and I thought it was just another of their sex shows. I wish I had seen it now... I hope they repeat it. Is it all right if I share this blog on Facebook? I'd like to spread the word to as many ppl as possible. I'm not (physically) crippled myself (heh heh - but I suffer from chronic depression, which is a kind of disability. :-) but my teenaged son has the the hangover from a severe brain injury 8 years ago...This has made me identify much more with disabled people. so far he hasn't had a problem physically, but I anticipate that relationships could be more difficult for him. (Not to say that relationships are easy for anyone :)

    I found it moving the way you wrote about wanting to share your bed with a woman *just once*... the comfort and pleasure that many people take for granted every day is something that, as you say, may require a whole community to organise! Most people can't imagine having so little privacy and choice....They'd probably value their relationships a lot more if they had to struggle for it is, some ppl treat sex and love as disposable pleasures...

  2. Feel free to share the blog.

    You can watch Scarlet Road online:

  3. funny that i didn't see this piece earlier... FYI PWD Aus works with Touching Base, and PWD actually hold the list of workers trained by Touching Base that operate in all states in Aus... I also have the DVD now if ya wanna have a doco day...