A Winter Paralympian is using the global platform to push for a better understanding of sex for people with disabilities. Here’s what he said and what he wants to change.
Athletes at Beijing’s Winter Paralympics are not just breaking down sports barriers on the slopes and ice — Argentinian skier Enrique Plantey is pushing for a bedroom revolution.
The 39-year-old and his non-disabled Spanish girlfriend Triana Serfaty have published a practical guidebook called “Sexistimos” — a nod to the Spanish term for “we exist” — about disability and sex.
They hope it sparks an open conversation on what is a difficult topic for many. “People are afraid to talk openly about it,” Plantey, who is a paraplegic, told AFP.
“The main problem is that many people with a disability think they can no longer have a sex life and give pleasure, and this is not the case,” added Plantey, who came fourth in the giant slalom alpine skiing sitting category.
Some people living with disabilities experience anxiety about sex — such as whether a partner will find them attractive, pain issues, concerns about fertility and a lack of confidence.
For some there’s also worries about logistical issues such as getting from a wheelchair into a bed.
Society often considers people with physical or intellectual disabilities as “non-sexual” — many live in isolation and don’t have long-term romantic partners, according to Disabled World, an independent organisation that provides health resources.
But there are signs that attitudes are changing. The issue broke new ground when Hollywood actress Helen Hunt starred in 2012 film The Sessions, about a polio survivor’s quest to lose his virginity with the help of a sex surrogate.
Dating websites specifically for people with disabilities are also helping many find romance.
Plantey, a three-time Paralympian, has used a wheelchair since sustaining a spinal cord injury as an 11-year-old.
Growing up he lamented a lack of information and resources about how to have a healthy sex life as a young man using a wheelchair.
He uses Viagra but does not have sensations below his waist. Nevertheless, he said it was possible to “find sources of pleasure in all parts of the body, not just the genitals”.
Serfaty said it was important couples try to communicate honestly about their practical needs and desires, without fear, judgment or embarrassment.
“This information exists. The problem is that it is often not disseminated,” said the 29-year-old.
Some medical professionals were giving people with disabilities incorrect information about sex function, Serfaty noted.
“His doctor had told him he couldn’t have sex,” she said.
“But since he got to know his body, he realised that wasn’t true. You have to see for yourself what you’re capable of. No one can decide for you.” The couple have turned to Tantric sex techniques and their book and corresponding Instagram account draws on their personal experiences.
Argentina’s flag-bearer said the couple’s efforts to promote the topic of sex and disabilities was paying off — generating a lot of interest in the Athletes’ Village in Beijing.
“Many in the Paralympic village come to me to talk about sex and ask questions,” Plantey said.
“Just the other day, someone — I won’t say who — came to find me, in front of my room, to ask me for Viagra,” he laughed.
AUSTRALIA IN DANGER OF WORST RESULT IN 34 YEARS
Australia is on the brink of its worst Winter Paralympics medal haul since 1988 after Para-snowboarder Ben Tudhope missed the podium in the Men’s Banked Slalom SBLL-2 on Friday.
The Aussie co-captain had previously won Australia’s first and so-far only medal of the 2022 Games in the Snowboard Cross on Monday and was considered an equal chance in the Banked Slalom.
But the Paralympic course offered little favours to the Aussie, who managed to improve his time from the opening run but ultimately finished ninth.
“Not the result I wanted, my worst result of the season, but I can’t be disappointed,” Tudhope said.
“I sent it on that second run, I tried to go as hard as I could and do a few different things but it wasn’t enough to get on the podium.
“I was feeling great, I was really ready to compete and I do like the course but it definitely doesn’t suit my (strengths).
“For Banked Slalom I love a really tight course that is quite steep where you have to maintain your speed and here, the Paralympic course is awesome … but just a bit too open (for me). Something I need to work on is how to gain speed out of turns, and so for the next four years that’s got to be what I’m doing.”
China’s Sun Qi — the man who Tudhope beat-out for bronze in the Snowboard Cross – produced a massive boil over to claim gold ahead of Finland’s Matti Suur-Harami and Ollie Hill of Great Britain.
The course played perfectly to the strengths of the hometown hopeful, who prior to Beijing had rarely featured near the pointy end of international competition.
With Tudhope’s Games now over, Australia’s best hope of a second medal falls on the shoulders of retiring four-time Paralympian Mel Perrine.
The 34 year old, who won bronze in the Giant Slalom and Super-Combined in PyeongChang, will race for the final time on Saturday in the Women’s Slalom Vision Impaired.
Perrine finished fourth in the same event in PyeongChang but enters as an outside medal hope at best after a Covid and injury-interrupted lead-in to her final Winter Paralympics.
Rae Anderson, Mitch Gourley, Patrick Jensen and Josh Hanlon will also compete in their respective Slalom classifications on Saturday and Sunday, though none are favoured to medal.
If Tudhope’s bronze remains Australia’s only medal of the 2022 Games, it will be our worst tally since a team of five failed to feature on the podium at Innsbruck in 1988.
“It’s been a really tough build-up and that’s exactly what it is; the preparation going into it was definitely altered for us,” Tudhope said.
“You’ve got countries in Europe and America who can train all winter so when we’ve been stuck in Australia for the past two years, they’ve just been progressing and getting better and better.
“I think Australia has done a really good job … and I’m sure we will do a lot better in years to come.”
With at least two, possibly three Winter Paralympics still ahead of him, Tudhope urged young Australians with disability to give Para-snow sports ahead of Milan-Cortina 2026.
“I hope how we showcased our sports has inspired so many other athletes and other people to come into Paralympic snowboarding in Australia and around the world. I do not want to be the youngest on the team at 26 in Italy – I’ve done that three times now, and I want new blood in (the team),” he said.
“It’s been an absolute honour to be team captain. I (want to) thank Australia, our Paralympic team for picking me at a young age, and I hope to lead this team for many more years to come if Australia will let me.”
DANGEROUS POLLUTION LEVELS PLAGUE GAMES
Air pollution at the Winter Paralympics is approaching levels three-times the benchmark for concern with an Australian team doctor comparing the competition conditions to those produced by bushfires back home.
Paralympics Australia chief medical officer Dr Steve Reid told News Corp his team had been closely monitoring the Air Quality Index (AQI) and Particulate Matter (PM) levels since arriving in China and both had risen drastically since Tuesday.
“Once it gets above 50 we start to be concerned about people performing outdoor exercise for long periods. Today in Yanqing, the PM2.5 is around 130,” Dr Reid said.
PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is two and a half microns in width, or roughly 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair.
“The bigger stuff (PM5, PM10) gets filtered through the nasal passages and upper airways and the really small stuff (PM2.5) gets down into the small airways and causes things like broncho constriction, airway inflammation and asthma, so it’s the 2.5 that we pay most attention to,” Dr Reid said.
“If you’re an asthmatic they can trigger asthma, but if you’re someone who doesn’t normally get asthma, if the air is polluted enough then you can get nasty respiratory symptoms – and even if you don’t develop respiratory symptoms, if you’re exercising outdoors in a consistent fashion, your performance (can be) blunted and you lose that performance edge.
“A PM2.5 of 130-140 would be something (that might occur) in Australia (during) bush fires – those might be the times we see those numbers being reached and when we might be cancelling outdoor sporting events.”
At Yanqing, close to where Australians Mel Perrine and Rae Anderson competed in the Women’s Giant Slalom on Friday, the AQI topped 158. It was a similar story in Chongli for Ben Tudhope in the Para-snowboarding, where the PM2.5 hit 156 prior to his first run in the Banked Slalom.
The tell tale toxic fog first descended on the Winter Paralympics on Wednesday, which led Dr Reid to send a message to athletes and team officials warning them to keep windows closed and limit time spent outdoors.
He said air filtration units left behind by the AOC were being used by staff and athletes in the village to drastically lower the PM2.5 levels while indoors, and direction had been given to limit exposure where possible.
“You can’t take away from the fact that this sport that’s practised outdoors and (in) winter sports, what they have to do is just be efficient with their work,” Dr Reid said of the Australian athletes.
“Thankfully we’re not dealing with cross-country skiing (which) on a day like today there would be much more concern.
“I think those would be the sports where you would have a higher level of concern … you can expect their overall performances will be compromised by performing endurance sport in those conditions.
“We’re dealing with downhill athletes where they have a really intense effort over a couple of minutes. So it’s very much a matter of: inspect the course, (do) a couple of warm-up runs, into the lounge, do your competition, back to the lounge, recover, and get home.”
Dr Reid said a number of members of the Australian delegation were managing asthma symptoms while in China, adding there had so far not been “any major problems”.
“We’re just really getting them to increase their preventive medication, which is really something that counters any inflammation, and making sure they increase those while they’re here,” he said.
“We haven’t had any major problems but I know even myself, just being outside the other day I was aware that my eyes were stringing a bit.”