The Sex Educator Teaching BDSM to People With Disabilities

Robin Wilson-Beattie didn’t get the support she needed to rebuild her sex life after an aneurysm, so now she dedicates her life to helping other people with disabilities.

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Dec 4 2017, 3:35pm

It’s impossible to miss Robin Wilson-Beattie when she walks into a room. With chin-length purple hair, perfectly drawn red lips, and cat-eye glasses, she looks like she walked off the pages of a punk rock Sears catalog from 1960. Then there’s her walker, which is covered in flower stickers.

Wilson-Beattie is a disability and sexual health educator spreading the message that people with disabilities want to have sex—and that they’re into the same things as anyone else, from missionary to full-on BDSM.

“People just assume that people with disabilities aren’t interested in having sex,” Wilson-Beattie told Broadly. “I don’t understand that thinking at all. It’s part of human instinct. Having a disability doesn’t mean you don’t want to eat. Or you don’t breathe. Or you don’t want to sleep.”

Wilson-Beattie was born able-bodied, but an extremely rare birth defect caused an aneurysm in her spine in her early 30s, disrupting the sensation and function in her lower body. One week after she found out she needed surgery to remove the aneurysm, doctors also told her she was pregnant. Wilson-Beattie continued with the pregnancy while relearning how to do everything involving her lower body, like sitting up, walking, using the bathroom, and having sex.


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Though the doctors spent weeks teaching her bladder and bowel function, the segment on sex was only 45 minutes. The patients in her rehabilitation facility were separated by gender, like a middle school health class, and shown a film featuring women talking about sex after a spinal cord injury.

“The film raised more questions than it answered for me,” Wilson-Beattie said. “It made it sound as if your sex life was over and would be nonexistent in the future. It was very discouraging and dire about the ability to express yourself sexually, in my opinion. I remember getting angry and thinking it was bullshit.”

Despite complications from her spinal injury, Wilson-Beattie successfully carried her pregnancy to term and gave birth to a healthy baby girl. And while she wasn’t very sexually active during the pregnancy, she was eager to rebuild her sex life once her daughter was born. She quickly learned, however, that she was going to have to figure that out on her own.

“Doctors are a product of our own society,” Wilson-Beattie said. “A lot of them don’t get disability awareness and sexuality education.”

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She decided to use her experience to fill the void doctors left, speaking on panels about disability and sex, acting as an inclusivity consultant to sex industry companies, and coaching and teaching sex ed to individuals and groups with disabilities.

After dealing with health care providers who assumed she couldn’t have sex and constantly questioned her lifestyle and partner choices, her first goal was was to help able-bodied people understand that folks with disabilities aren’t children and can be trusted to know what their own bodies need and can handle. “We have agency over our own bodies,” she said. “We have the right to make decisions about what we want to do and what we don’t want to do. Getting past that attitude is probably one of my biggest hindrances.”

Robin Wilson-Beattie (center) on a Staford MedX

Able-bodied people also don’t always grasp how people with disabilities have sex, Wilson-Beattie said, because they think of “sex” as “penis-in-vagina.” The world of sex for disabled people, however, is much broader by necessity. Some can’t use their genitals at all. Instead, Wilson-Beattie teaches her students to broaden their definition of “sex” and discover other erogenous zones.

“After my spinal cord injury, I found that I have a spot on my neck that’s extraordinarily sensitive,” Wilson-Beattie said. “I can orgasm from having that spot on my neck stimulated. Other people talk about being able to orgasm by having their thumbs stimulated. People with disabilities are used to adapting because the world isn’t built to fit us.”

Recently married for the second time, Wilson-Beattie is open about her polyamorous marriage. Both she and her husband date and have other partners. She loves smashing the myth that everyone with a disability is heterosexual and monogamous. Disability is a “human condition,” she said, so it doesn’t just affect one type of person. There are disabled people of every race, age, nationality, gender, sexuality, and relationship structure. Having a disability doesn’t determine who you’re attracted to, she pointed out.

And it doesn’t determine who’s attracted to you, either. Wilson-Beattie gets angry when people make assumptions about the type or “quality” of person she can attract as a romantic or sexual partner. She’s had health care professionals make comments about how surprised they are at her many successful partners when they “can’t even get one” themselves. One nurse pointedly asked her, “How did you get him?”

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Having a disability also doesn’t determine how you like to get off, apart from physical limitations that force some people to make adaptations. Wilson-Beattie practiced BDSM before her spinal cord injury, and she still practices it today. BDSM is about finding paths to arousal that involve different parts of the body. For folks who have no or limited use of their genitals, Wilson-Beattie says, BDSM can be an excellent way to explore and enjoy sex and intimacy.

“I had a nurse practitioner once when I was giving a workshop on BDSM and disability who said she’d never recommend any of her patients ‘indulge’ in BDSM,” she said. “She said you should have a note from your doctor in order to participate. And I said, ‘Excuse me, ma’am. I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you. We have agency over our own bodies. We have the right to make our decisions about the things we want to do and the things we don’t want to do.’”

Wilson-Beattie is determined to challenge mainstream ideas around what it means to be desirable. She believes that embracing your body—for both able-bodied people and those with disabilities—is key to feeling sexy. “We’re taught that flaws are ugly," she said. "I had to define what beauty meant for myself. It’s a feeling. I feel beautiful. It took me a while to get here, but feeling beautiful allows me to feel sexy.”

“I love my body, my scars and all,” she added, tearing up. “I think my scars are a testament to my strength and my power. I have battle scars that show that I’m here and I fought to live. This is the body I have. This is what I got. And I’m more than making the most of it.”