Before her amputations at age 21, Bonnie Jones flaunted her sexuality. “Afterward,” she says, “if somebody knocked on the door — even the UPS guy — I wouldn’t answer.”
Today, Jones, 40, enjoys a healthy intimate relationship with her partner, Richard Haubner, with whom she shares a home in Southern California. But the journey, she says, was far from short and far from easy. “At first, I was judging myself so harshly that I saw a person who had nothing to offer,” she says. “Eventually, I realized that I still had the person I was inside, but I was pushing her down.”
Jones’ experience reflects that of many women who struggle to build close relationships after a disability. Some obstacles are givens: feelings of loss and shame, awkward new beginnings and, usually, at least one bad match. But the road to intimacy doesn’t have to stop there. Hold out, say the women who’ve gone further, for good sex and true romance.
Picking Up the Pieces
For many women, it’s the image in the mirror that deters them from rewarding relationships.
“It was always very hard — and it still is — to believe that someone could love my body the way it is,” says Lisa Golem, 36, a C4-5 quad from Verona, N.J.
Golem, injured at 14, says she wouldn’t even risk rejection until she was 27, when she went on her first date. During the intervening years, she protected herself from male attention with 120 extra pounds. “Being heavy, I didn’t have to deal with the issues of sexuality,” she says.
During graduate school, Golem encountered people who were open about sexuality. When she felt ready to let someone get close to her, the extra weight fell off in nine months. “Something inside me had changed, so I felt like presenting myself as open and willing to date. For some reason, that seemed to attract people.”
Other women describe similar turning points. Bonnie Julian, 47, L1, was devastated by her first husband’s reaction to her injury. “He just couldn’t find my body attractive. He couldn’t get turned on by me,” she says.
Julian, from Littleton, Colo., became depressed and was ashamed to be seen in public. “I didn’t want to go anywhere. My oldest daughter was 11, and when we’d drive to the store, I’d ask her to go in and get things for me. She was one of my saviors, though. She said, ‘No, Mom. We’re both g