A seminar for the visually impaired- Sexuality and intimacy- by Nidhi Garima Goyal
It was our website (www.sexualityanddisability.org) that made Sushmeetha Bubna, the Founder- Director of Voice Vision – a computer training institute working for the overall development of the visually impaired (VIs) – consider the need for a discussion on sexuality and relationships. She had expected that organising a seminar on this subject would meet with resistance, but the intensity of potential participants’ hesitation was more than she had predicted. However, with repeated emails to VI e-groups and texts to the connected network of VIs, the session finally hosted 33 participants on 26 August 2012, at the Hiranandani College of Nursing in Mumbai
The day-long seminar titled Sexuality and Intimacy was broken into three major sections, with doctors, counsellors, and activists at the helm. Some of the experts had never actually interacted with visually impaired people before, and were apprehensive about conducting the sessions without any visual aids. But this meant that it was a learning experience for them as well. The session helped them grow more sensitive to and aware of the issues. For example, the importance of using the words ‘nondisabled’ or ‘sighted’ rather than ‘normal’, or describing a picture they would usually just show, etc.
The sessions carried out were:
Session 1: Know Your Body
For the comfort of the participants, sessions for men and women were conducted in different rooms. Senior gynaecologists were invited to speak about anatomy (particularly of the opposite sex) and the functioning of the reproductive and sexual organs. Since simply a verbal description would not have been enough, each participant was given the opportunity to get a tactile sense of the human body on life-size anatomical models. Men and women brought up various questions and concerns, which resulted in vibrant discussions on menstruation, hygiene and reproductive health, intercourse, sexual satisfaction and orgasms, and contraception.
Questions like ‘How will a woman discover that she is menstruating without seeing?’ and ‘How will a man know that his partner is turned on?’ were asked. The participants shared their experiences and the speakers enabled the participants to consider other senses like touch, smell, and sound to find their answers. The session concluded with a hands-on demonstration of the use of condoms on penis models.
Session 2: Sexuality and Relationships
Part 1: Sexuality
Participation in this session was ensured through the format adopted by the public health experts and counsellors who were at the session. Myths and misconceptions around sexuality were thrown open for discussion. Mythical statements like ‘masturbation makes you weak,’ ‘men have a stronger sex drive than women’, ‘during sex, the bigger the better,’ and ‘homosexuality is abnormal,’ were discussed intensely.
Part 2: Relationships
To encourage the sharing of perspectives, this session was conducted together for all participants. Through the use of case studies, sensitive issues like social prejudices around a VI being in a relationship, undesirability, or handling rejections were touched upon. The speaker challenged the participants with questions such as, ‘Do you think you are a beggar, and beggars are not choosers?’ and ‘Who will be the best partner for you – another VI, a sighted person, or a person with any other impairment?’, which enabled them to extricate themselves from the prejudices they had internalised
Session 3: Safety and Abuse
The doctor and public health expert conducting this session again employed the case study approach to talk about child sex abuse, domestic violence, and intimate partner sexual abuse. She was successfully able to draw in contributions and reactions from the participants.
At the end of the long and intense day, the participants were not only armed with information, but felt comfortable speaking about sexuality and abuse, and were left with food for thought as far as relationships and sex were concerned. The speakers were a satisfied lot, and maintained that the questions were not less or more than any other session they had conducted for the sighted community. The only difference was the requirement of giving VIs a platform and space in which to gain such understanding in an accessible format, and to constantly reaffirm the fact that visually impaired people are sexual beings who are entitled to their own pleasures – just like anyone else.
If you have further questions or are interested in joining the follow up forum for the seminar, please visit this link at Voice Vision for more details and to get involved.