7 wheelchair racers in the middle of a race

Disability Resources & Educational Services

Nice to Meet You: Getting to Know Our Bodies-Sept/Oct 2014

Getting to know your body can be intimidating or scary. At the same time not knowing your body or how it functions can be even more worrisome. We might not know what is normal or we might have questions about our physical response. Not knowing cuts us off from parts of ourselves.  When those parts are our genitals or reproductive organs, it can cut us off from our sexuality.  But some people don’t want to know or are uncomfortable knowing about their bodies.  Others have never been given permission to get to know and explore their bodies and how they work. Still others don’t see the benefit of looking at, touching, examining or exploring, especially if they aren’t sexually active or in a relationship.  It’s important to allow permission for all values and comfort levels and to know that if we don’t want to learn about our bodies, that is OK.  But if we are curious, it’s also important to know that self-exploration is normal, healthy and OK, too.

In addition to any emotional or mental barriers to getting to know our bodies, physical or sensory-motor limitations may challenge our getting to know ourselves better. You may not be able to see or feel parts of your body. In the book The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability, authors Kaufman, Silverberg and Odette discuss the idea of a sexual blueprint or “map” that we construct for our bodies. This map can tell us which areas we can see, touch or feel. It can also help us determine the areas where we have more or less sensation (inside & out) and the textures, rhythms and responses of our bodies. Exploring and knowing all of these can lead to a healthier sexuality. If people cannot see their bodies, they may experiment with touch and sensation. If they can’t position themselves to see certain areas, they might use a mirror. Or, a person might close their eyes and envision various parts of their body and tune in to any sensations and feeling they might have.  If you require assistance (someone to hold a mirror for example), consider who could support you in that-a friend, partner, or a doctor may all be able to assist you.

Sometimes people will ask “what’s the point?” Or, “Why would I want to touch myself?”  Aside from experiencing pleasure from touching, being familiar with our bodies can lead to better health outcomes. For example, men who perform testicular self-exams and women who perform breast self-exams will both learn what is normal for them (some breasts are normally lumpy) and what isn’t. Detecting any abnormalities early can lead to better prognosis.

Ultimately, whether or not to explore your body and how that exploration looks (touching, no touching, examining in a mirror, etc.) is a personal decision. Make sure it’s a decision that feels good to you!