Rediscovering Self-Pleasure In A Pandemic
As the pandemic was shutting down so much around us in early 2020, disabled people were disseminating advice on what it would take for everyone to stay home and take care of themselves. We wrote Twitter threads on masking, cross-contamination, and sanitation. Much of what we’ve all experienced during the pandemic – mainly that the deadly virus would also be a mass disabling event - was predicted early on by the members of the disability community. We also predicted the social consequences of COVID-19 and isolation: People would yearn for connection with one another, for a touch of kindness, love and lust, and would go hungry.
Today, it seems that the rest of society has “moved on” from protecting themselves and each other from the effects of COVID, and now Monkeypox and even Polio. Judging by how many ancient graves people keep digging up, we are in for several more viral pandemics. Yet they’re accepting serial reinfection of disabling disorders as an inevitability worth the risk of “getting back to normal.” But there’s one demographic who is unable to do so: disabled people. This now includes the millions of people who have Long Covid.
With everyone “returning to life as usual,” abled people have told disabled people to keep isolated as the world continues without us. It’s our “choice,” they say. It is a painful reminder that those around us do not believe disabled people have lives, loves, goals or relationships to return to and if we want to venture outdoors, we have to put our lives on the line to do so. Our health and lives remain still while everyone else snatches the opportunities for connectivity we so desperately want.
Self-pleasure is so much more than pure sexual gratification. It’s meditation. It’s exercise. It’s grounding ourselves in our own bodies.
Touch and closeness with others are a dangerous gamble, regardless of what the pandemic minimizers have to say. So what do we do when our bodies crave touch? I’ve been here before.
When it comes to sex and touch, my own experience has consistently been informed by my disability. In high school, I believed that because I wasn’t dating anyone, I was behind the mark on milestones I should be passing. No one explicitly spoke to me about sexual autonomy, other than to say that if I were to have sex, I should use protection.
Amongst the people around me, there was doubt that I would ever “do it,” and in my youth, prior to me growing some gall, I would join in the speculation with my classmates about what my body would be capable of in the bedroom. The desperation to be held and wanted made me do some wild things, including, at 19, chatting with way older men online who said they wanted nothing more than to fly me to where they lived and take care of me.
Imani Barbarin out in pandemic style
Spending my teen years romantically isolated made me feel like I was undesirable and unwanted. It wasn’t just that I was disabled; I was also one of only four Black girls in my class of 400. I could already feel that others viewed me as an obligation, so dating me would be a nonstarter. I accepted that I would likely spend my life alone without ever experiencing the rush of being physically desired. As I was implicitly and explicitly taught, bodies like mine are to remain alone. Touching someone like me when not medically necessary was out of the question. Disabled, fat and Black does not a lover, a partner make. Maybe, I was told to believe, with some weight loss and physical therapy, I could get them to see past that.
It wasn’t until after college that I intentionally approached dating (and stayed away from the Facebook chats with random men). Dating apps were their own obstacle course as I had to navigate people wanting a little taste of chocolate and whether or not to disclose my disability. When not fielding messages asking if I had an “attitude” like “those other Black girls,” I was trying to get them to understand that I can, in fact, have sex (in theory with no indication otherwise) and I wouldn’t be broken by their bedroom prowess.
At this point, I had given up on the idea of ever having a relationship and focused more on hooking up. I could find someone who wanted to sleep with me, but I couldn’t make anyone love me, I believed.
I would engage in self-pleasure, but it always felt like a substitute for the romance that I had always wanted.
In a world in desperate need of safer sex practices, self-pleasure is self-care.
Finally, I found a partner that wasn’t put off by my disability and didn’t fetishize my Blackness. We hung out under the pretense of being on a “real date” and then made our way to my bedroom. I was clear about the parameters of this particular meet-cute. But in that moment something unexpected happened: being desired felt empowering. Knowing I was wanted made me like my body, my rolls, my skin more.
Afterwards, my self-pleasure sessions got even better, because I understood I was allowed to be and be seenas sexual and desirable. With each new encounter, I was gaining confidence and feeling more at one with my body -- even with someone else in the room.
Now, just as safe sex has become more complicated due to our government’s poor management of competing pandemics, self-pleasure is even more accessible. In the prescient words of N’SYNC, we are in the age of the Digital Get Down.
I like the idea of consenting entities engaging in intimate acts over video and Bluetooth connected devices simultaneously. Companies in recent years have made a point to cultivate accessible toys that accommodate those with dexterity and flexibility issues. Since my hands are on poles (crutches) all day, I prefer toys in the bedroom that allow my wrists and shoulders to rest. The magic bullet type of toys often can be paired with apps or bluetooth, but for those of us feeling the pressure of purse strings, toys with wires and a remote control can make you feel old school, but financially prudent. Long vibrating dildos are also worthwhile as long as the controls are on or near the top and can be accessed without straining too intensely. If getting into position is still difficult, wedge pillows for disabled people have the exact same shape as sex pillows. (Come to think of it, a Hoyer Lift looks identical to a sex swing. Coincidence? I don't think so!)
There are those who would say that these accommodations aren’t “real” or intimate enough. Not only does this discount the ways in which disabled people experience physical intimacy, it also diminishes the opportunities we all have for self-connection, for releasing any shame, guilt, ignorance or embarrassment we may hold about our own bodies.
In this sense, self-pleasure is so much more than pure sexual gratification. It’s meditation. It’s exercise. It’s grounding ourselves in our own bodies. And in a world in desperate need of safer sex practices, self-pleasure is self-care.
This isn’t to say that we don’t need other people or that self-pleasure is a last resort or a stand in for sex with others. It’s a valid-in-its-own-right practice that you can share with others or explore on your own as a way to know and love your body, with no judgment, as it is.
As disabled people, our lives are reliant on closeness, touch and letting others have a deep knowledge of our needs. We are aided, physically moved and treated by people who know us at our most vulnerable. Our ableist society doesn’t see us as we are: lustful, desirable, and wanted. Whether we’re living single, partnered, or isolating from potential partners to protect our own lives and each other, self-pleasure is a wonderful way to remind ourselves and the world that our bodies and our pleasure matter.
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This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
We, as women, pray to God for the type of husband we want, but do we pray for the type of friends we need? Many women often imitate singer Ciara’s prayer, hoping it will, too, lead them to their “Russell Wilson” – an equally yoked partner.
Yes, finding a life partner is a dream many hold close to their hearts, but how often do we put the same energy into asking for the friends that resonate with our souls? As with romantic relationships, our circle of friends can make or break us. Therefore, it is important to pray for our "tribe" with as much intention as we do for a life partner.
Our friends aren't just companions for brunches and spa days. They deeply influence our daily decisions, shape our outlook on life, and play a crucial role in our emotional well-being. True friends can elevate our spirits during life's troughs and cheer us on during its peaks. On the other hand, friendships that harbor negativity or toxicity can sap our energy, hinder our aspirations, and diminish our self-worth. This underscores the imperative of surrounding ourselves with the right tribe, a circle that fosters growth, ensures mental well-being, and champions genuine happiness.
Wouldn’t you want to be seen as a prize by your friends, like you wish to be seen as one by your future man?
When Ciara navigated the painful waters of her breakup with rapper Future, the “Level Up” singer didn’t leave her future to chance; she envisioned her ideal partner. She actively, consciously, and spiritually prayed for the type of man she wanted as a partner. This wasn't just about a rebound or a short-term fix. It was about intention, clarity, and knowing her worth. The universe answered in the form of Russell Wilson, a beacon of their love story many now admire.
And after years of women wondering what exactly she said in her prayers, she finally revealed it. The singer recorded her purported prayer on Summer Walker’s sophomore album, “Still Over It,” released in November 2021.
Her words had social media in a chokehold, as women and men alike uttered her words in every relationship video they would post.
Choosing Your Friends Wisely
It is pivotal for us to visualize the friends we desire. Consider: Are they genuinely supportive? Are they the kind of friends who push us forward without pushing us down? Do they offer loyalty without conditions? By detailing these attributes in our prayers or intentions, we offer a roadmap to the universe, directing it to the companions we seek.
While it might be tempting to seek out friends who fit into societal molds of “fun” or “popular,” genuine connection demands more. We should crave friendships that go beyond the superficial, where understanding transcends words, where challenges breed growth, and where loyalty isn't seasonal. It's not merely about someone to share mimosas with but about nurturing connections that understand and amplify our life's journey.
When our tribe aligns with our spirit, the transformation is holistic. With the right friends, our confidence doesn't just grow; it soars. We're exposed to broader perspectives, and our horizons expand beyond the familiar. The positivity emanating from such a tribe influences every corner of our lives, creating ripples of change and growth.
However, you must also ensure you’re ready for what you’re praying for. In my opinion, it is unfair to ask God to deliver friends who pour into you, but you do not pour into them. While prayer sets our intentions, our actions seal the deal. Seeking the right tribe means putting ourselves in environments that reflect our values and interests. Whether attending themed events, volunteering for a cause close to our hearts, or joining groups with shared interests, our actions echo our prayers, resonating with the universe.
Embarking to find the perfect partner holds depth, but equally significant is the odyssey of curating our tribe. The right friends don't just accompany us; they shape our lives in unparalleled ways. When we direct our intentions and actions toward finding our tribe, we aren't merely forming bonds; we're crafting our destiny. The adage goes: "Show me your friends, and I'll unveil your future." Elevate your tribe to a priority, nurture those bonds, and behold the transformative magic unfold.
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Feature image by FG Trade/ Getty Images