How I Have Sex: ‘With My [Visual] Disability, I Can’t Sense What My Partner Wants – They Have to Say It’
In How I Have Sex, we bring you candid retellings of people’s sexual lives that explore the multidimensional nature of this human experience. In this installment, 23-year-old Rakshit recounts their experience of navigating intimacy while living with partial blindness.
I have a partial visual disability – in that, I have 90% visual impairment. If you’re around me, then I can maybe identify that a human is moving around me, but I can’t describe your features or anything about you. Unless you speak to me, I won’t be able to recognize you. This condition is called Retinitis pigmentosa.
I think I started experiencing sexual desires quite early, but my experience of it was too delayed. The standard eighth is when we are taught about reproduction and such, but our teachers would generally avoid discussing the topic — and diagrams I could not see. So for me, for a long time, sex was the fusion of the male and female gamete. But what is the gamete? Where is it located? I didn’t know that. One could go to the internet and find out more, but this was also a time when I was getting adjusted to my disability. So I was not able to go through the internet.
I still have a memory of this incident when I was on my Facebook. Whenever I use social media, on my phone or my laptop, the font sizes are bigger. So I came across this picture of a guy and I was zooming in, but I didn’t know that my brother was there — so for me, that became a haunting memory. Because if I could deal with my disability by zooming in on stuff then I would also have to make sure that it happened as a secret so that it doesn’t get observed by the public before I know about it.
As a queer person with disability, the “coming out” story doesn’t end when we exit the closet. That I’m also visually impaired is a story that keeps repeating on dating apps.
I think I started experiencing sexual desires quite early; maybe when I was in the sixth standard. But ultimately, I think I was 19 when I experienced sex in terms of both self-pleasure and having an intimate interaction with someone else.
Things would become challenging when I did not want a relationship or partners; when I just wanted a casual sort of thing. For example, keeping my disability in mind, I need to make sure [on a dating platform] that the other person is safe for me because I can’t escape on my own from a situation if it turns out bad. In that way, it becomes challenging when I don’t want something.
Virtual interactions are difficult for me, because I have to adjust the camera to make sure that the other person can see. But at the same time, I can only see the other person if the screen is close to my eyes. If my camera is so close to me, how will the other person see?
Exchanging images or videos and such, like nudes, is even more challenging. For me, I can’t distinguish a blurry picture from a non-blurry one. So I wonder if the picture I’ve taken is blurry; I would not even know if the thing that is supposed to be visible is visible or not. And obviously, I don’t want to expose my face in such images. So, if I have to consider all of these things, then the pace of the interaction slows down. The passion sort of mellows down and then either you become frustrated or lose interest.
Related on The Swaddle:
The world finds us — us as in disabled people — as people who shouldn’t have or do not have sexual desire. But “normal” desire [for disabled people] isn’t really found in common wisdom.
For me, I think it’s the disability that slows down my experience of sex because I need time to find people and to trust them. Sometimes I think of letting some close people know I’m going to meet this person here, but then I also don’t want to compromise my privacy. This is what I call the safety privacy conundrum: Either you sacrifice your safety and keep your privacy intact, or you compromise your privacy and keep your safety intact, but both can’t happen at the same time.
The degree of the vision I have (90%) is sufficient for me to judge where the bed would be, how is the other person’s posture, is the person facing towards me, how can I approach the other person’s body. But the bulk of experiences I have had is those at my house. In the ones that I have had outside: whenever there are possibilities of being obstructions on my way – whether there is a bed or something else – the other person makes sure they warn me about it or that they are removed. In this one instance, half of the other person’s bed was full of books and the room was pretty dark so I couldn’t see that. I was told the rest of the bed has plenty of books so I arranged the position accordingly. Similarly, there are times whenever it is possible people already remove that object for me – books, nails, or anything sharp.
During sex, you don’t always say things; there are gestures and other things that tell the other person what we want to be done to us. I am not able to interpret this all the time – if I can feel it, I know it, but if it happens through the eyes or at a distance that I can’t see, then I can’t judge what to do. In this one instance, they wanted me to pleasure their nipples, but I couldn’t quite see their motions. They were probably touching that part of the body for me to understand, but I couldn’t understand that. So they had to voice it out. The other person has to let me know if there is something specific.
I think that is why I find erotic novels the best because my screen reader or the audio facility can read out to me what’s happening and that’s, you know, audio porn.
I have realized for a long time I have a foot fetish. I find it very sexually attractive. Sometimes I will feel that it’s more on the asexual romantic side but there are times when I feel that it’s more on the kink side that I fall. I’m still not sure. What also attracts me is when the shirt is unbuttoned from the top and a patch of skin is visible – I don’t know if it qualifies as [attraction for the] neck or “mid-chest” areas. Even the glisten of sweat is hugely attractive – if the sunlight is penetrating inside the room and falls on the other person’s skin, that turns on me too much. Sweat, in general, turns me on, but more so when I can see the glisten of light falling on skin. Or any corporeal interactions turn me on – sipping from the same cup, sharing a cigarette. Sometimes I like that the person is unkempt – you know messy or ungroomed, like when the beard is not groomed or the body hair isn’t shaved – that’s attractive. Even someone’s voice is encouraging. What I also like is when the other person takes charge, or in a dominating position where they can tie my hands or control my hands, that is a very orgasmic feeling.
I have not liked penetrative experiences as much [so far]; I like foreplay — it satisfies me more or even the romance part satisfies me more. The face of the person is important for me to have a constant connection with the front face. I feel when the other person’s face is not nearly visible — or that the other person is at the back or I’m at the back — then the passion goes down. So it’s important for me to have a sustained connection with the face of another person. Any missionary position is the most satisfying for me because of this.
What turns me off are these labels – top, bottom – people want to know what label I identify with before we enter into a sexual interaction. I don’t think ejaculation is the purpose of sex all the time, at least for me. Identifying with a particular label makes me feel confined, which limits my feelings. Maybe vanilla sex satisfies me sometimes, but sometimes hot foreplay satisfies me more.
I find the idea of penis rings very fascinating, but I had to ask a friend to get it for me. If I had been non-disabled maybe I would have explored these things openly. I have wanted to explore sex in different locations: washrooms, staircases, corridors, parking lots. For me, the risk is higher because I can’t see if someone is actually seeing.
With my disability, and in terms of sexuality, I think my house is a safe place. One in which I am powerful, maybe even more powerful than the other person even without a disability. Because when I’m inviting someone home, then I know my house — it’s almost as if my impairment is not disabling at home, because it’s accessible. So even I’m a little bit unsure, I just call people home because I know this is a place where I am empowered.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.