I’ll never forget that day—burnt, overly salty soft pretzel in one hand, the other wiping away my warm tears from being in excruciating pain. I broke down sobbing on a mall bench because I couldn’t walk from Sears to JCPenney without feeling every agonizing step. The intense worry on my mom’s face as she held my clammy hand is an image forever burned in my brain. She could do nothing but hold me tight amid a sea of strangers and weep as well.
We’d been through this many times before, but my pain grew worse with age. I was born with hip dysplasia, which means my hip socket doesn’t completely cover the ball portion of my upper thigh bone. My first grade gym teacher explained it like this—if you put a tennis ball into a tea cup, it fits perfectly. But I didn’t have a teacup; I had a saucer, one a tennis ball would never fit quite well in. God, the universe, or whatever divine spirit you believe in graced me with not one but two bad hips. My parents didn’t notice anything wrong until I was five years old and limping around a damp soccer field.
My limp didn’t go away, and I’m not exaggerating when I say every single person I came in contact with always glanced at my feet when I walked. The questions were endless: What happened to you? Why are you walking so weird? How did you hurt yourself? As if I’d been run over by a Honda Civic and needed a tragic backstory to justify my walk. It was a part of me I could never hide, and I labeled myself a freak. The pretty girls at my school could cross their legs in sundresses and run a mile in gym class—things I couldn’t do without searing pain settling in. Boys didn’t look at me, and if they did it was to make fun of my walk.
When I was 19, shortly after my breakdown on a mall bench, I had two hip replacements at the same time. The stiffness had gotten so bad I could no longer stand it, and surgery was the only solution. The aftermath was absolute hell; the doctors tried to get me up and walking within that week, but my screams and cries were so horrifying that my sister fainted from seeing me suffer. I binged too much trash TV in bed, attended extensive physical therapy, and spent months relearning how to walk. Eventually the harsh pain faded, and I no longer had a noticeable limp.
This is when boys started really seeing me. They weren’t focusing on my limp anymore, but rather my face, my boobs, my butt. I naively based my worth on how they saw me, and their approval gave me the confidence I’d always ached for. Looking back, I know how awful it sounds. But all I cared about was experiencing everything I’d crushingly missed out on in high school.
Things really changed for me when I got a job serving stale fries and cheesy dippers at my local bowling alley. The place was utterly disgusting, and the boys weren’t much better. But I loved every ounce of attention their big, bold eyes gave me, and I would flirt constantly. There was one in particular I was excited to see; he was lanky, sarcastic, and appeared as if he knew every attack combo in Magic the Gathering. He was a cute dork, and I was obsessed.
After Snapchatting a ton, we decided to hang out alone one day. I remember my friend’s mom asking me if I had condoms before he came to pick me up. I almost burst out laughing. “It’s not that kind of hangout,” I (stupidly) said.
Once he picked me up, I started rattling off all the things we could do that day: “Mini golfing… The mall… Ooh, how about the movies?!” He suggested going to a parking lot behind the business districts near my house. My chest immediately tightened. It’s not that I didn’t want to have sex in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon; I just didn’t know how. He parked his Toyota Sedan in a deserted lot and gestured for me to move to the back seat.
I have to preface this by saying I’d never kissed anyone before this moment. When he first planted his chapped lips on mine, I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. I moved my mouth in such a fast and sloppy motion that I couldn’t wait for the embarrassment to end. We awkwardly slipped off our pants and he pulled out a condom. Once on, he told me to get on top. I struggled to straddle him, feeling a sharp pain in my hips. I knew early on the surgery hadn’t cured me. I think about how I walk with every step I take. If I don’t, I fall back into my old habit of walking on my toes. My back is screwed up from years of improper alignment. I still can’t move my body the way I want to, no matter how hard I try.
He grew increasingly frustrated. “No, just move your hips like this!” He snapped, trying to shove my hip bones down with his aggressive hands. Once he realized I couldn’t, he tried thrusting his pencil dick up into me. I was drier than a piece of stale Subway bread, so it barely went in. We switched positions, but (surprise, surprise) missionary doesn’t work well with two awkward virgins in a car.
For some unfathomable reason, I still wanted him to like me. The very next day I discreetly purchased a dildo just so I could practice crouching down on it. I cried when I realized I wouldn’t be able to without immense pain.
When the flirting ended and our feelings of distaste grew, he threw my bad hips back in my face. “You couldn’t do anything,” He snarled. “Why the hell would I keep hooking up with you?”
It destroyed me. I kept searching for approval from guys and longing to enjoy sex. I hooked up a lot in college, but every time, I was worried about my hips limiting me. This was it; there would be no more surgery. I had to accept the fact that I couldn’t ride guys in fun, wild Kama-Sutra positions and that they probably wouldn’t want to have sex with me again. I always sacrificed my own pleasure to please them. If my hips started aching, I would hold out for as long as possible until the pain was unbearable. Most would get irritated; how dare I stop them when they were so close to finishing?
Thankfully, after hating myself and my body for so long, I found the love of my life. He doesn’t get mad when I can’t arch my back in doggy or lift my legs in missionary. He takes the time to understand my condition and work with me, making sure I’m comfortable at all times. We’ve discovered positions that work well with my hips (have y’all ever tried spooning while having sex? Highly recommend) and I don’t dread the experience anymore. I can’t change my body, but I’ve learned to love it through the good and bad. Finally being accepted for who I am feels great, but I wish I never based my worth on others’ perception of me in the first place. I don’t need a man’s approval to feel valued and happy; if some guy berates me for not being able to squat on his dick, then he can fuck right out of my life. Realizing that sooner would’ve saved me years of self-hate.
People with disabilities deserve to enjoy sex just as much as everyone else. Never fuck someone who doesn’t accept you. If you’re looking for a partner, find someone who respects and understands what you need—no matter the circumstance. They’re out there, I promise.