Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wheelchair Users Need Physical Intimacy Too

This post isn’t about sex; that’s a separate topic that I could address here someday, but I probably won’t. Also, this isn’t about physical therapy, professional massage, or contact between a caregiver and a disabled person while showering, getting dressed, etc. It’s about loving, tender, nonsexual intimacy.

For most of my life, I’ve not been an affectionate person. Kim, however, has a normal, healthy desire for human touch. Back in my pre-MS days, when Kim became affectionate, I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t sad when it was over, and I rarely initiated. I would have been content with no physical intimacy at all outside of the bedroom.

Maybe I became this way because the warm, loving hugs I used to receive from my mother ended abruptly when I was five years old. After her accident, she stayed in various hospitals for almost a year, and then she used a wheelchair for the rest of her life. That chair came between us.

Or maybe I would have been like that anyway, because I’m, well, a man.

It’s difficult to achieve a quality embrace when you’re sitting in a wheelchair. Shoulders touch, but that’s about it. Because the standing person has to lean over so far, the hug rarely lasts long. Plus, there’s this, which I wrote in a previous blog post:
If you do come in for the hug, please approach from my left side. If you approach from the right side you may hit my joystick and send me flying. Yes, that has happened.
Now that physical intimacy has become more difficult for me to achieve, I’ve decided it’s something I want. Isn’t that always the way? What I used to consider almost an invasion of my personal space, now makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like a real boy.

One opportunity for me to experience nonsexual physical intimacy is while lying in bed, liberated from my wheeled contraption. Our bed looks like a king-sized mattress, but it’s actually two twin mattresses butted up against one another. We are always experimenting with hand railing systems on either side of my twin mattress to help me adjust my position a little bit in the middle of the night. Having a railing on the outside of my mattress doesn’t interfere with intimacy. However, the railing between our two mattresses might as well be a brick wall. A few days ago we removed that railing, and Kim slid over and cuddled with me for a long while, and it was nice.

I need to eliminate barriers like this, because Kim’s touch heals my damaged body and nourishes my aching soul.


  1. Mitch,
    Your willingness to reveal and discuss topics that are often unsaid and hidden is refreshing and so meaningful.
    Often, a wheelchair prevents even caring people from physically and emotionally touching the handicapped person. They just often do not know what they should or can do or what is acceptable and appropriate. Often, as a result, they do nothing.
    When our son George was so incapacitated, he craved the loving touch of his estranged wife or a loving woman who could still see him a a man. I knew this even though he tried to hide it because he was always a kisser, hugger and physically expressive man. On his deathbed, his wife and two oldest children came to say goodbye. We were in Florida and they still lived in Michigan.
    George begged her to kiss, hug and stroke him. He sang and joked. It was the real George again, and for a few days he was happy.
    Yes, loving touch soothes the aching soul and is the greatest gift we can give to each other.

    1. Hilda, you are so right. Wheelchairs are an obstacle that have to be consciously overcome. I'm glad to hear that George was open to physical intimacy up until the end.

  2. totally understand where you are coming from and ironically happy to see that it is not just me who feels this way

    1. Loretta, thanks for commenting. I'm getting the same sentiment from a lot of people.

  3. Great post Mitch! Thanks for sharing. Made me think.

    1. hello Darren! Glad you liked it. When I can make a thinker think, I've done well, I think.