There are very few moments that can happen in your life that will change everything forever. In a split second your relationships change, your job, your finances, your home, your clothes, your independence. One moment gone terribly wrong and it’s all different. On May 23, 2010, Rachelle Friedman was playfully pushed into a pool by her best friend at her bachelorette party just weeks before her wedding. She hit the bottom of the pool head first, breaking her neck and causing a severe spinal cord injury. She had to face a difficult fact. She was now paralyzed from the chest down and would be a quadriplegic for the rest of her life.
She could have easily given up on life. Instead of constantly wondering, "why me?" or "what if?", she made the decision to move forward in her life with positivity and determination. Thirteen weeks after her injury she began playing adapted sports such as wheelchair rugby, hand cycling and even surfing. Within a year she had appeared on The Today Show, Headline News, MSNBC, Inside Edition and numerous news outlets both nationally and internationally to share her story of love, commitment, loyalty, and perseverance. She has been featured in Cosmopolitan magazine, In Touch magazine and as a guest on Vh1's Couples Therapy. Her book, The Promise, was recently released.
Friedman has made it her mission to spread her story in hope of inspiring others to make the most of each day they are given. “Why waste your time harping on insignificant things?” she asks, “Believe in defining your life by the positive moments and not the negative.”
I sat down with her to talk about an issue that many people wonder about, but are too afraid to discuss due to misconceptions: her sex life. Society tends to view disabled people as limp, asexual beings who are devoid of any sexual desire or need for intimacy. We shove any possibility of them having sexual urges under the carpet, or erase it from our consciousness altogether.
Friedman's message reads loud and clear: She is a lively, sexual woman, and her sex life didn't simply stop because of her accident. She is continuing to live her live to the fullest, and she is intent on transcending and shattering stereotypes concerning disabled women's sexuality. She, and other women with disabilities, may be in a wheelchair, but that doesn't make her any less sexy or worthy of love. It is time that we construct a new narrative surrounding what it means to be a disabled female, one that embraces the beauty and diversity of all women, as well as their dignity and autonomy as sexual beings. People with disabilities should be included, rather marginalized, in our consciousness surrounding who we can perceive as sexy and beautiful.
Here is what she wants you to know about her sex life as a quadriplegic woman:
She is Fully Capable of Having Sex:
"As a female, it doesn't require movement to be penetrated so there's no barrier to having intercourse. I'm fully capable of having sex even though it is totally different. Luckily I'm pretty lightweight so Chris can pick me up or move me into a good position. I'm able to hold my legs back from behind the knee since I don't have the ability to utilize my leg muscles to maintain a position."
She Has a Vibrant, Active Sex Life, And So Do Other Quadriplegic:
"People think that we can't have sex and I think many people think we can't be sexy. No, my sex life isn't what it once was. We were a very sexual couple and this injury did add a barrier that we needed to overcome. But based on what I hear, our sexual connection is seemingly more intense than many people I know. A person having a good sex life with some paralysis is not unheard of. I play wheelchair rugby and a lot of the guys have gotten married and had babies. It's actually very openly discussed in the community."
Her Sex Drive Didn't Just Go Away Because Her Accident:
"Sure not every moment is perfect. My body doesn't always cooperate, but we adapt. I mean don't most husbands want a wife up for anything? Even though I can't "get there" like I used to, all the hot heavy feelings and emotions leading up to that are still there. He enjoys making me feel good and of course I feel sexy and wanted when I can make him feel good. My advice for a good sex life? Talk about it with your partner. How can it improve if you don't?"
Her Body Responds To, And Craves, Sexual Stimulation:
"No, the orgasms are not better, but there are parts of my body that have increased in sensitivity like my neck. There is a nerve called the vagus nerve that is associated with sexual pleasure and this nerve completely bypasses the spinal cord. I can't feel skin on skin below the chest but my body responds to sexual stimulation in a very intense way. No, I don't have an orgasm like I used to be my body craves intimacy just like anyone else."
She Keeps Her Sex Life Fun And Spicy:
"I can do multiple positions but missionary is the easiest. We like to keep it spicy by playing with multiple positions like from the side or from behind. We tried me on top but that was a little too much work."
Society Needs To Change How It Views Disabled Women's Sexuality:
"I think people wonder why I'm so open to talk about sexuality in the media, but let's be real, if society thinks we aren't capable of being sexy and intimate then it's a barrier for men and Women in my situation when it comes to finding relationships. If you see an attractive Woman in a wheelchair out at the bar and you think she's not capable of sex, you may not bother flirting. Misconceptions are the reason I think some people with my injury are single. So I do it for them. I was given a voice through the media and I intend to use it to educate people. I know people have a hard time talking about sexuality. But I don't."
Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.
Images: All Images Courtesy of Rachelle Friedman; All Revolution Studios (1, 3, 5, 6); Martha Manning photography (2); Ira Goldstein for PhotoAbility (4)