Last month,Sophie Morgan wrote in The Mail on Sunday about rediscovering sex after a car accident left her paralysed from the chest down. Sharing our belief in the importance of improving the nation’s body confidence, here, she continues the discussion, exploring how sex has impacted her own confidence, and can be an important factor in body confidence for everyone …
On Mother’s Day, The Mail on Sunday published an article I wrote about disability and sex. In many ways it was a groundbreaking moment, not only for the paper itself but also for the subject as a whole, which remains largely shrouded in mystery. I bared all in the piece - figuratively and almost literally! - and attempted to debunk some of the myths surrounding sex and disability by relating my own experiences with sex as a disabled woman, and while extremely personal, aimed to represent the realities of so many physically disabled people. The feedback left online by Daily Mail readers was predictably vitriolic but at times surprisingly supportive, with many readers leaving comments, which not only encouraged my honesty but also polemically defended me against the less open-minded readers. And of all the words that were left, the most common word was ‘Brave’. Apparently I was brave for two particular reasons. Firstly for writing so openly and specifically about a very taboo subject and more significantly, posing for the feature picture in my underwear!
When I had the car accident, which left me paralysed from the chest down, I was eighteen years old. I had been sexually active with a loving partner from a young age and while far from aesthetically perfect, I remember having an innocent lack of self-awareness which manifested in body confidence. However following my accident my perspective shifted dramatically, and the grip of insecurity took hold. In the crash not only was my spine damaged, but I suffered a variety of injuries to my face as well and after extensive reconstructive surgery, I concluded I was a different person. My identity was gone, and along with it my sexuality and my confidence.
In the article I explain that it is a myth that disabled people can’t and don’t have sex, and that if we fail to educate or inform people of the truth, this myth will proliferate in the dark. Unfortunately I ignorantly bought this myth, and consequently following my accident I mourned my sexuality and self-confidence as much as I did my inability to walk. Furthermore the paralysis had rendered me so devastating incapable in comparison to whom I once was, I felt emotionally detached from my body.
But something began to change in the months after my recovery, and I began to forgive my body for its disability. Never mind about the muscle wastage, or lack of sensation, I thought, this was the only body I had, and for better or worse it was the carrier of my self and I wanted to be happy. At this time I had also started to rediscover my sexual ability. My confidence was returning. So, what was the catalyst for this change? Was it self-acceptance that enabling my confidence to experience sex again, or was the rediscovery of my sexual ability the facilitator of body confidence. Which came first, the chicken or the sex?
Self-acceptance isn’t easily achieved. The Campaign for Body Confidence believes that in order to improve self-acceptance and low self-esteem we should remove the pressures we impose - and that are imposed upon us - to ‘conform to impossible stereotypes’. So the trappings of idealised perfection as dictated by our peers, our media, or ourselves are ruining our chances for acceptance and ultimately confidence in ourselves. Caitlin Moran accurately wrote that our clothes are the first things we say when we walk into a room, and as carriers of these clothes, subliminally we attach a lot of baggage to our bodies. If they aren’t sending out the right message about who we are as a person then they are in trouble and we will probably punish them with diets, rigorous exercise and verbal abuse!
But I for one know that our bodies aren’t the physical manifestations of our characters, and the divide between mind and body can be deepened the more we focus on how our bodies aren’t doing, being or portraying what we want them to. Psychologically, confidence is understood as positive self-esteem, an innate ability to be able to identify our positive assets, our strengths and our abilities or resources. However, I think it is our ability to identify and accept our body’s weaknesses, its negative traits, its failings and disabilities, which will empower confidence.
I cannot hide my disability, nor can I change it, and perhaps my imperfections are so far from the stereotype of what constitutes normality, I had no choice but to accept them. But in shedding any inhibitions, refusing to feel shame and sublimating any embarrassment into honesty I have escaped the clutch of insecurity - and I thank sex for being the stage on which I learnt to play.
By mere definition we recognise that when we act in confidence, we act in trust or intimacy and it is within this act I believe we can plant the seeds of body confidence. To see ourselves as others see us within the confines of an intimate moment can often stimulate a change in how we feel about ourselves. Furthermore, to accept ourselves in an intimate environment of vulnerability, honesty and - probably! - nudity surely means the seeds of inner confidence can be nourished, and flourish. Learning to mentally accept and forgive my physical failings meant that I could successfully engage in sex, but it was the act of intimacy, the reclaiming of my femininity and rediscovering my capability in the most natural of acts that secured those feelings of body confidence.
Posing in your underwear or talking openly about your sex life in a national newspaper may be a step too far for some! But enjoying sex and the body confidence it inspires is everyone’s right. As Oscar Wilde wisely proclaimed, ‘To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance’!
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