The escort workers giving disabled people a chance to live out their dreams

The escort workers giving disabled people a chance to live out their dreams

The Sessions

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in The Sessions. Publicity around the film has raised awareness and acceptance of disabled people paying for sex, says Tuppy Owens. Photograph: FoxSearch/Everett/Rex Features

A forthcoming Channel 4 documentary, Can Have Sex Will Have Sex, features the sex lives of four disabled people, one of whom loses his virginity to an escort who has been hired by his mother.

The programme has been labelled «controversial», but many mothers call the sex and disability helpline, which I run, worried that their disabled son is physically unable to masturbate and desperately needs an outlet. Hiring a sex worker is one option.

They can find responsible sex workers on the TLC-Trust website which was created in 2000 by myself and a disabled man, James Palmer, who was sad about being a virgin in his mid 40s. The hundred or so sex workers who have profiles on the site say they each see about eight disabled clients a month. One told me she recently saw a 38-year-old whose father had called after both parents had sought her out. It was their son’s birthday and he was a virgin. The father brought him down. She bought a birthday cake and a present.

Another of her clients was a virgin too, and wasn’t going to live much longer. His mother contacted her. Now she sees him once every six weeks. It’s been a year. The mother drives the sex worker back to the train station, and says her son is much happier all round since having her visit.

The sex worker says she is used to being introduced to clients with disabilities through a parent, usually a mother rather than a father, and has never been asked to work with someone’s daughter.

If a disabled person loses their virginity with a sex worker in a way that teaches them about their body and how to please a partner, it can set them up to become a confident, knowledgeable and sexually skilled individual who can proceed to finding a partner. However, if they have a progressive condition, their life can feel too full of disappointment and loss to try to find a partner and they may prefer to stay seeing sex workers, with whom a good outcome is guaranteed.

As for disabled women, many tell me they would love to pay somebody who knows what they are doing, who helps them learn what their bodies are capable of enjoying, but most never try. They may be nervous that the man they are paying is not entirely professional and they may not think enough of themselves to treat themselves to the luxury of pleasure. That, I hope is changing. Most of the women I know who have paid have gone to female sex workers, and none of them have involved their mother in the process of making contact.

Sex workers have very special qualities. They are skilled at giving pleasure in whatever way is required. Sometimes carers need to prepare disabled person in advance: undressing, washing and grooming. They may need to be on hand in case of difficulties, such as the onset of autonomic dysreflexia. They may need to help position the disabled person, and teach the sex worker certain essentials. The best scenario is if the disabled person has seen a «sexual advocate» beforehand, someone with whom they can work out exactly what they want, what they need, and how they want the experience to be, as some disabled people (like non-disabled people) cannot think beyond «I want sex», and have expectations that can never be met, so will end up disappointed.

When I took a sex worker down to a residential place for severely disabled people for the staff to experience what a sex worker is like, they asked her what she would do if a client bashed her over the head with his uncontrollable arm, or threw up over her and she replied: «I would duck the arm and I would clear up the vomit, that’s part of what I do: clearing up excrement».

Publicity around the film The Sessions, which explores a man with an iron lung losing his virginity to a «sexual surrogate» has raised awareness and acceptance of disabled people paying for sex. I hope this might extend to an acceptance of disabled people as sexual partners, and sex workers being wonderful people.

I really love the idea of sex workers giving disabled people the chance to be touched in a non-medical way, perhaps for the first time in their lives, to be held in a warm pair of arms and have their sexual dreams respected and lived out.

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