Jennie Williams, director of disability charity Enhance the UK, shares her awkward sex and dating moments as part of our End the Awkward campaign. Two thirds of people who are not disabled feel awkward around disabled people. We want to put an end to this, break down barriers and maybe even fall in love.
Update: Jennie’s story has inspired Malteaser’s to create an advert based on her story. Watch the advert on Youtube.
I have degenerative hearing loss, which is believed to be linked to a heart condition I have called long QT, also known as sudden death syndrome.
For communicating, I wear two hearing aids which I rely on a lot. I am also an extremely good lip reader and use British Sign Language (BSL).
People tend to associate hard of hearing with old people, so people often say to me, “Oh, yeah, my Nan wears a hearing aid, we shout at her. I think she has selected hearing… Chuckle chuckle.” I would be a very rich woman if I had a pound for every time I heard that, and yep, I mean ‘heard that’ because I can still hear things.
Telling people about my disability
When I am at work, I tell people from the off that I am hard of hearing and for them to please look at me when they are speaking to me or keep their hands away from their mouths. When I am in a social situation, however, things can be very different for me.
I tend to just struggle on a lot of the time, laugh when everyone else is laughing, strain to keep up and, even worse still, I apologise. I guess I don’t want to embarrass people and make them feel like they are not including me.
Dating with a hearing impairment
There can be some real perks of dating someone with a hearing impairment – we can get you into the theatre for free or cheap – same with the train. A lot of us can lip-read conversations that you were never meant to know about and get all the gossip. Winning!
Though dating someone with hearing loss can be awkward at times. When you are getting down to things and having a good old snog, the last thing you want is your hearing aids whistling every time the hot man – in my mind he is always hot – puts his fingers through your hair.
And then your aids end up flying out of your ears, onto the floor and the dog runs in and eats one of them. That is a true story, killed the moment I can tell you.
My favourite awkward date
I was single, living in London and looking for a boyfriend, so I did what many people do – I joined a dating site. I was chatting to a guy who looked cute and we had a bit of banter by email.
We met on the South Bank and went onto one of the boats on the river and had a drink. We chatted about work as you do. I may or may not have been twisting my hair and trying to make my lips look all pouty and thinking, ‘I really fancy this guy.’
I went to get my lip gloss from my bag and out fell both of my hearing aid batteries. They are really small and the guy said, “what on earth do they power?” I explained my hearing loss and he replied, “why do deaf people do this?”
Cut to him waving his hands in the air, scrunching his face up with the tongue in his bottom lip making weird groaning sounds. I thought about throwing my drink in his face but that would have been childish, and a waste of a drink, so I explained about British Sign Language and the culture behind it.
I don’t think he got it at all but he was embarrassed. He didn’t know what to say, so he offered to take me for a ride on his massive motorbike – not a euphemism – around London and buy me dinner. I am very shallow.
My next favourite subject… sex
Sex is great. But it can be a little awkward if you are hard of hearing and someone is trying to whisper sweet nothings in your ear. You can mishear totally which results in jumping up, turning on the lights and saying, “you want to do what to me?!” Again, true story, and I won’t tell you what I thought he was saying.
When I was younger I was having a fling with someone who was deaf and we always had to have sex by the door in case his olds came in. Or we would put towels down against the door to try and block it from being opened, but always having one eye open just in case. Real romance.
I started the campaign Undressing Disability three years ago.
It’s about challenging misconceptions around disability and ensuring that better access to sexual health, sexual awareness and sex education is granted to disabled people.
Most people I know and talk to want a loving relationship, to feel loved and to love. Any sense of intimacy between two people who care about one another is so important. Even if it’s a one night stand – let’s face it, most of us have not only slept with people we ‘love.’
We all want to be found attractive and sexual relationships are the most natural thing in the world. Sadly, Scope’s new research shows that that only five per cent of people who aren’t disabled have ever asked out, or been on a date with, a disabled person.
Am I surprised by this? No, of course I am not. Am I motivated to keep pushing the campaign until these statistics change? You bet I am!
Help us End the Awkward this Valentine’s Day.
Find out how you can get involved in our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.