This article was written for a book which Professor Walter from Freiburg, Ev. Fachhochschule (Christian University of Applied Sciences) has published (2003). Copyright by Nina de Vries.
"A human being is part of the whole that we call universe, a part apparently limited by time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest of the world, a kind of optical illusion of consciousness. This illusion is a prison that restricts us to our personal desires and our affection for a few people near us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison through the broadening of our spiritual horizon and our empathy to embrace in totality all living beings and the beauty of Nature." Albert Einstein
The way our society deals with sexuality is based on a misunderstanding: that it is something spectacular and extra-ordinary. It is a fact that we are created through sex. We are sexual beings. We cannot possibly be anything other than that. The processes that have taken place to create or to „produce“ this body are incredibly intelligent and utterly moving because they make it so obvious that we are helpless towards this miracle called life. It is all „happening“, there is nothing to be „done“. There is an intelligence at work that is simply stunning. And all that started because two people decided to have sex. Maybe it was pleasurable, maybe it was boring, maybe it was painful or nothing more than a kind of a sneeze, maybe it was ecstatic. In any case it was sufficient to bring a female egg and a male sperm together.
Sex is our beginning and although one could call these processes stunning, as I just did, they are at the same time completely natural.
Wondering is the beginning of recognition (Plato)
Another basic misunderstanding is that life is synonymous with form. Life is formless and moves through forms. Whether these forms are labelled „tree“ or „human being“, „black“ or „white“, „man“ or „woman“, „thin“ or „fat“, „disabled“ or „healthy“ - these are names, definitions, labels that describe form and colour, not more and not less. They shouldn´t be mistaken for life itself. We limit life with our definitions, our words. We live in an incredible miracle.
The fact that we have no control frightens us. So we act as if we „know“. We label, compare, distinguish, judge. We try to put the ocean in a jam jar, so to say. That is what science is often misused for: knowledge instead of wonder. The illusion of control instead of a gazing in awe.
We limit ourselves with these definitions, these ideas about how everything is or should be. That is what „dis-ables“ us, not the form which we are in.
I imagine that if sexuality would be seen as „unspectacular“, something that belongs to us like the need to eat, drink and sleep, and if life wouldn´t be limited to definitions about form, there would be much more room to PLAY! A woman wouldn´t be so overly concerned about her weight that she thinks she needs to do a diet before she can have satisfying sex with a man. A 14- year old girl wouldn´t starve herself or binge and vomit in order to „belong“.....A disabled man or woman might have the same opportunities to experiment as so called healthy people have, instead of going through this world with downcast eyes and being looked at with pity or being embarassedly ignored.
For me personally it has been an enrichment to be able to touch so-called disabled, imperfect people. To be close with people who cannot avoid experiences of helplessness and dependence. Simply because they need the help of others in order to survive.
The fact that it is my viewpoint that life can´t be put into words and definitions has also helped me to see sexuality from another angle. I am not my body, I am hosted by a body. Through this body I can experience this three dimensional reality. Like a kind of space suit. It gives me 5 senses with which I can feel, smell, hear, see and taste this material world. That what I would call my essential self is a mystery. I have „landed“ here and it is up to me to take it as an adventure or as a curse. In my opinion the same counts for any other person including a so-called disabled person.
My work is also an opportunity to reflect upon my own hang ups, ideas, prejudices. To become aware of my own narrowmindedness and to expose myself to this abundance called life.
Sex is the vehicle.
I have a job because of the limited way sex is being dealt with in our society. That creates the demand for that which I offer. I offer the possibility to make the experience of touching, smelling, feeling another human being for its own sake = without a certain goal.
Something that actually could be the most natural thing in the world has turned into something exclusive.
Since about ten years I work almost exclusively with mentally disabled people. I prefer to work with the ones that are not able to „perform“ or to „do it right“. People that live in their „own world“. Who cannot calculate their actions to ensure a certain acceptance from the so-called „normal“ world. Where there are no „deals“ possible and only the moment counts. Also in the work with autistic people, I cannot be routinous, nor mechanical. I must be aware and present in any moment, of any thought, mood, touch, intention. These people are highly sensitive to falseness and inauthenticity. In that sense it is a more real being- together/meeting than that what we usually call being-together where two ideas of eachother, two (hi)stories, two expectations meet -rather than two people in that given moment.
What I want to make possible in these sessions is a real presence, authenticity, a real experiencing. I don´t want to feed the kind of horny images that are produced by the mind and are stimulated by porno movies. I want to invite the unexpected, the unique personal expression instead of the programmed/ conditioned/ mind-made performance.
In any case, that is my aspiration and that means that I have to empty myself of limiting ideas about how a session should develop. In the work with mentally disabled people, that are completely out of all our behavioural codes, I also have the freedom to move outside of any routine/ plan.
With this open attitude I can show my body to a man, who up till that moment never had the opportunity to come close to and touch a female body. Then it can have a freshness and a childlikeness to it. The pornographic is directly related to the forbidden. Pornography can only exist because sexuality has been made into something sinful, dirty and dangerous for centuries. If sex would be an open issue, pornography would be boring. I believe that the seeing and touching of genitals in itself for example doesn´t need to produce this kind of horniness.
I myself had sexual relationships with men and women. I am happy about these experiences because they allowed me to find my own unique way of expressing my sexuality. They made it possible to move away from „standard-sex“, following routines.
Greed comes from the mind, from the idea that there is not enough. Wanting to hold on too. Greed and wanting to hold on are in the way when I want to really feel and experience. In order to really feel and experience one needs to focus the full attention on the sensual level and that is not possible when I´m busy thinking. We are all affected by these programmings and we have all lost the ability to really feel. That means it needs to be rediscovered and trained. That is why it is necessary to have the opportunity to make experiences/ to try out.
And then of course there is the biological aspect. At a certain point a pressure builds up in the body. Hormones are produced. That is the way the body is built. There are people who cannot masturbate because of a physical disability or because they are mentally incapable to understand or discover a technique. This dissatisfaction, pressure or longing can turn into anger, aggression or auto-aggression. Most of my mentally disabled clients have pulled the attention of their caretakers and/or parents by extremely (auto)-aggressive behaviour. Or by demanding intimate touch from people who cannot give it to them in the way they want it/ need it. It doesn´t happen often that someone is coming simply because it would be nice and enriching for them to have this experience.
Female clients are rare. Is it because the female sexual organs are hidden and therefore easier to ignore?
Sexuality is something beautiful, pleasurable, an opportunity to experience joy......etc. It is rarely lived that way. I don´t want to go into the reasons why. I just want to state it as a fact and let my work develop from there.
Since some years I offer mini-workshops for professionals working with disabled people. It often depends on them (and on the parents of course) if their clients can make use of the service I offer, when they need it.
In these mini-workshops it is my goal to make clear that these professionals have a responsability in this issue that they can only live up to when they have reflected and are at ease with their own sexuality. We look at what we have been told by our parents, what attitudes and viewpoints they have handed on to us. I use a questionnaire and playful exercises. How do they feel with this issue? How do they deal with their own sexuality? Which prejudices are there about paid sexual services? I make my work transparent through words and also by showing films that were made for television. It is an opportunity to ask questions. Where do they feel helpless? Which are their worries concerning this issue, in their work? In my opinion it is of great importance to discuss this openly. To have a chance to express certain things can be unburdening. In the end, my intention is to create more relaxation with this issue. Their clients will benefit from this. I benefit as well, of course, as I might get the possibility to work with them. The following are some examples of feedback of participants of such workshops:
„Thank you for the heartful, attentive atmosphere; It has given me much food for thought.“ / „Thank you for your openness and your stimulance to ask myself questions I never asked myself up till now.“ / „I am calmer now. At first I was afraid when I heard of the experiental part of this workshop. It was pleasant and good although it is a difficult issue.“ / „I haven´t thought about my sexuality with this intensity since a long time.“
Menno is 38- years old and has the Down-Syndrome. He comes to me since about six years, once every two months. He lives in a small unit for mentally disabled people (with assistance). Our contact was initiated by one of his caregivers. I was told that he had sexually abused a woman living there (also disabled). It was said that she wasn´t entirely „innocent“ to the incident. I meet the caregiver and Menno´s father. His father doesn´t say much and seems to be a bit uncomfortable in the situation. The contact with the caregiver is pleasant and effective. When I meet Menno for the first time, I encounter a rather shy man, definately not a greedy or violent person. We also talk about what has happened. I like his directness, his simple honesty. He doesn´t pretend to feel guilty nor does he defend what he has done. Soon after our meetings have started it becomes clear that he labels me as „his girlfriend“ and enjoys that very much. I always remind him of the fact that I am his „masseuse“ and not his girlfriend and that with me he can rehearse and learn things he can then make use of in his meetings with other women. I evaluate the meetings with his caregiver and find out that Menno gives him detailed reports of what happens in these sessions. We decide that Menno´s tendency to idealise me and label me as his girlfriend is OK. He is very stubborn in that respect. And it doesn´t seem to affect the quality of the rest of his life in a negative way.
Once after a massage he becomes very quiet and looks green in the face. I get a bit frightened and ask him again and again what is going on. He can´t tell me, he stops talking all together. I am worried. I call a taxi and bring him back in his living place (he always comes to me alone, with the underground). When we arrive there I find out through one of his „flat-mates“ that Menno has eaten all the cookies she and a friend have baked the night before. They are not sorry for him! Sometimes I mention his overweight and his binging to him in a rather playful, humorous way. I would describe our contact as friendly, heartful. I think that part of what I give him is the feeling of being a sexual, male being rather than a kind of sexless being because of his Down Syndrome. He tends to behave in a kind of macho way and lives partly in a fantasised world where he is a hero and actually not fat at all....
I try to let these sessions develop spontaneously so that we don´t enter into a routine which can happen easily of course when someone comes over a longer period of time. When I manage not to follow a plan and we have a „fresh“ encounter, surprises still happen. I massage him and usually bring him to an orgasm with my hand. We hold eachother, lie together, stroking and also talking. Certain parts of his body are very ticklish. It makes me laugh when I tickle him there and hear him bursting out in helpless laughter. Sometimes things he says can be surprising as well. I enjoy to find out how he sees the world. Especcially when a statement comes directly from himself. Of course he also picks up a lot and „performs“ accordingly. I like his slow attentive way of moving, dressing and undressing. He comes across as centered since he is simply not able to do 10 things at the same time like us „normal“ people.
These days it is his mother who makes the appointments. She has accepted me and asks me also how I am doing when we talk on the phone. Every Christmas and Easter he brings me a present and a card from the family. The sessions are paid out of his pocketmoney.
During the „Congress for Sexuality and Disability“ in Nürnberg (september 2000) I give an interview to a journalist of the German Press Agency about my work. At the end of our talk she seems to suddenly wake up and asks me with an astonished expression on her face „Are you also naked with these people???!!“ Although we have been talking with eachother for about 15 minutes it obviously wasn´t clear to her what we were actually talking about.
I am invited to participate in a television talkshow in Zürich, Switzerland. During the show I sit beside a physically disabled guest and answer questions about my work.
Among the audience are some mentally disabled people about whom little films have been produced that are also shown during the programme. These people talk about their sexuality in a such an honest way that one could get envious. It is touching. After the show is over there is a dinner for all the participants. The director of the home, where these mentally disabled people live, comes to me. He tells me that at first he didn´t want to participate in the programme because he had heard that I am also invited and he didn´t want to be associated with someone like me (who offers paid sexual services). Now he is happy that they did come because he feels we are on the same „wavelength“.
The contact to Gabriel. is established by his personal assistant (p.a.). Gabriel is 30 years old and suffers from Multiple Sclerosis since 10 years. I ask the p.a. why Gabriel doesn´t phone himself and suspect to be dealing with an eager „helper“ that wants to make himself important. The p.a. says that this is really not possible and when I meet Gabriel for the first time I realize it is true and I was prejudiced. He can only say letters and even that is hard to understand when one isn´t in daily contact with him. He is almost blind and is almost completely paralysed. He lives with his parents who take care of him in a very loving way. Through conversations with his p.a. (a man of his own age) he has opened himself by and by to this possiblity (paying a woman for intimate touch). When I go there the first time (his parents have gone for a walk) I realize that his mother and I have something in common and that is our interest in Buddhism. In the bedroom of his parents, where we do the session, there are many books I know and have read, standing on the shelves. I am happy about this and want to meet her. The next time I come she is there. From there on I come once a month for a period of 2 years. After the sessions we drink coffee together (sometimes his father joins us). The contact with Gabriel is good although he can´t talk. My intuition tells me that it is important for him that I am not drowned in pity. Because of the way I view life this is not the case and we are able to have a certain humor and lightness during the time we spend together. It is a gift for me to be able to be so close to someone who cannot avoid a situation I would be very much afraid of. I have a great respect for him. Sometimes this helplessness gets to me and some tears do come. I let them run without him noticing.
Not long before he dies a television documentary is made about this situation. Gabriel wanted to participate and he enjoyed it although it was also completely exhausting for him. Apart from interviews with me and his mother this film also shows us lying together, naked, kissing and touching. Normally I don´t offer oral contact but here I made an exception because our possibilities were very limited. This film has been shown many times by me and by others (on congresses, events for professionals) and has touched many people´s hearts and helped to open them up for this situation. With „this situation“ I mean, someone who is in need of an intimate, sexual meeting without having the possibility to create this, deciding to organise it as a paid service.
Gabriel´s father, who was against his participation in the documentary, now recognizes its meaning and calls it Gabriel´s legacy.
His mother and I still have contact almost three years after his death. We meet, drink tea, go for a walk, visit an exhibition....We talk very honestly about relationships, fears and challenges. We share laughter and sadness.....
The contact with Adam is initiated by his Gestalt-Therapist (g.t.). He is 21 years old and highly autistic. Through years of training and exercising he is partly able to communicate with signlanguage. Mostly he communicates through sounds and facial expressions. He lives in an institution (about 500 kilometers from Berlin) with other autists and some deaf people. His g.t. who knows him since he is a child, works with him once a week. In these sessions she also uses a technique called „basale Stimulation“. Through years of caring, inventive and loving work/ assistence he is now able to receive touch and to allow a certain amount of contact. His mother saw me in a talkshow on TV and had asked the g.t. to establish contact. In that time it was becoming obvious that Adam had sexual wishes. He had erections and tried to touch and get in close physical contact with women (his g.t., his mother, caregivers and women on the street). A direct relation was made between his (auto)-aggression and his unfulfilled sexuality. He tried to masturbate and hurted himself. It needed someone to give him direct instructions.
In the first session we ever did (3 and a half years ago) he spent 1 1/2 hours trying to find the courage to approach me. He danced around, ran several times out of the room, always to come back and the highlight was him allowing me to put my hand on his back. Since then I was there about 30 times. It is not possible to give a short description of the development.
One session can be so completely different from the other. There is no so called steady development. There are moments of „succes“ = Adam relaxes in the situation and has the courage to experiment. I must always allow him to lead me. Because of his autism he has a strong need to control the situation. In that sense the challenge for me is to be there and continuously invite without putting pressure on him. Not an easy thing to do but a very interesting experience. Sometimes he has also „flipped out“: ripped off his clothes, screamed, urinated on the floor. His g.t. and a male assistent are always right next door and come immediately to take over in such situations and take care of him while I take care of myself: this kind of behaviour also provokes fear in me. After such a somewhat violent event Adam once made it clear to me in a beautiful way that his „flipping out“ is not personally against me: he took both of my hands, looked into my eyes and made a kind of humming sound and nodded „yes“ with his head a couple of times (eyecontact is not happening that much). I have been told that he sometimes sits on his bed in a completely calm and peaceful manner for quite a long time after such a session. This is unusual as he is mostly hyperactive. Because he cannot speak I am dependent on the observations made by the people around him. I´ve also met his mother. She accepts it as a fact that he has a sexuality and because he cannot create his own sexual encounters she finds it natural to help him by organising it.
In the meantime he also has erections during our sessions and he has somehow become more male, as if he is more in his body. Although I have not shown him directly how to masturbate he has found a way to do it.
Contact and Information:
Nina H. de Vries
Sexual Assistance & Advanced Training
00 49 179 - 42 40 379
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Close encounters of the lovely kind