Anonymous on September 8, 2011

What do I need to know before dating someone with cerebral palsy?

I am an able-bodied gay man interested in dating a man with mild cerebral palsy (he uses canes to walk). But I’m a little nervous about becoming involved with him. I'm afraid of him becoming dependent on me and of me losing my freedom. I suppose I’m also concerned about handling the social stigmas attached to dating someone who has a visible difference in the way he moves and talks. Intellectually I know it is what's inside someone that counts (I’m attracted to him and he has a great sense of humor)...but I still have some prejudices. What are some ways for me to handle my own prejudices as well as social stigmas so that I can just date him like anybody else without a disability? And if we become sexually involved, what types of issues would I need to be aware of beforehand?

answered by Mitchell Tepper, PhD, MPH on September 8, 2011

First, I appreciate your honesty…as well as your courage and willingness to find ways to overcome your fears and prejudices around your friend’s disability.

The beginning of any relationship can be both exciting and stressful, including concerns about commitment, dependence and independence. And starting a relationship with someone whose physical disability you don’t understand can add another level of concern. Learning a little more about cerebral palsy might help...

What is cerebral palsy?Cerebral palsy (CP) is actually a group of disorders that affects a person’s movements, balance, posture and even speech. Although we’re still finding out what causes CP, we know it occurs when the brain doesn’t develop normally…which is typically due to genetic anomalies, infection in the womb, brain damage before or during birth, certain chemicals (like lead) and other problems in the womb or after birth.

Is there a cure for CP? No…but, unlike a lot of other health conditions, CP doesn’t get worse over time. Also, there are many treatment options for people with CP, to help them gain more control over their movements. That said, people with CP tend to show signs of aging earlier than most people as a result of the physical stress their bodies endure.

Do people with CP relate to others differently? People with CP have different ways of dealing with their disorder, and with the able-bodied people around them.To know for sure how your potential Romeo is affected by this condition – emotionally, sexually and otherwise – I would encourage you to have an open conversation with him.

An individual’s experience with CP is always unique, but some things that might come up in a sexual relationship are ways to communicate if he has difficulty speaking, comfortable positions for sex and the possibility of sudden, unintentional muscle movements. With a little patience, creativity and willingness on both sides, issues like these can be overcome.

As for dealing with other prejudices...sometimes learning about CP and the experiences of people with CP can help. It’s possible that your worries are unfounded. At the same time, out of respect for your could-be sweetheart, it’s not fun to be strung along by someone who isn’t interested.

Indeed, many disabled people complain that potential partners are too afraid to tell them, “I’m just not into you.” If you feel like you won’t be able to accept and love his disability as part of him, it may be best to acknowledge it and allow him the opportunity to find a partner who accepts all of him.

Talk about it. To help get to the root of your mixed emotions, I encourage you speak openly and directly with your crush…about your concerns, about him and about his disability.Just like any new relationship, you can also talk with him about what you’re both looking for in terms of love and companionship, and about your values and interests.

After getting to know each other better, you’ll both be better prepared to decide whether you want to start a romantic relationship. And from there, you can work with your new partner to learn about how to nurture his independence and work together on interdependence ⎼ a valuable aspect of any relationship.

I wish you both the best of luck in discovering the answers to your questions about yourself and your potential partner.

Related info:

Mitchell Tepper, PhD, MPH

Dr. Tepper directs sexual health education at An AASECT-certified sexuality educator and counselor, his areas of expertise include sexual dysfunctions, sexuality following disability or illness, pleasure and orgasm, relationships, and military and veteran couples' counseling. Dr. Tepper was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.

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