Disfigurement and Intimacy

Sitting in the forest

Many of us remember our first time. The nerves and the awkwardness, not knowing what to say or what not to say. But few of us remember having to conceal our disfigurement. Leave stretch marks and cellulite aside, you are more concerned about hiding your “most” undesirable trait. The one society has told you over and over again, makes you different.

I was born with brachymetatarsia, which means I have short fourth toes. Aside from my knuckled fingers and my short fourth toes, everything else looks “normal.” I hate using this word, because I really don’t think anyone is normal.

When I lost my virginity, it was to someone I loved. We hadn’t been dating for long, but we had been friends for a while, which eased my coming-out about my little toes. He was very mature about it and didn’t seem to care that much. After a couple of years, we decided to part ways and I decided to play the field. This is where it turned tricky.

How do you bring up to a one-night-stand that you have disfigurement? You don’t. You conceal, conceal, conceal until you sober up and decide it wasn’t worth it. How could I possibly enjoy myself when I had to constantly hide my toes under the covers? Lights off please!

I get to work with a lot of women that have different types of disfigurement and the topic of intimacy comes up fairly frequently. One of my volunteers told me she would cringe every time her fling would caress her back while dancing, because of her scars. One of our blog contributors, told me that even though her partner and her have a baby girl she still refuses to walk barefoot around the house. Will my husband still find me desirable after I have lost all my hair?, asked one of our blog contributors that has alopecia.

Our enjoyment of intimacy, pure and unaltered, is dependent on us feeling comfortable. To put this simply, we will never enjoy sex to the degree we deserve, if we don’t quiet the voices in the back of our heads. Hung up on a trait or the entire body, at it’s baseline the self-talk goes something like this: “You are not good enough”, “You are damaged goods”, or “You are NOT”.

This is not only about enjoyment. This is also about advocacy. I worry that because of our disfigurement, we are coming into an unlevelled playing field. If you already have qualms about your body and on top of that have a disfigurement, you can quickly start thinking that you don’t deserve the best. This concerns me because what happens next is we let others disrespect us. We choose toxic mates and then, decide to stay in toxic relationships for too long. We fail to advocate as strongly as we should for ourselves.

When I met my last, and final boyfriend, I decided to switch it up. The night I knew I wanted to take the relationship to the next level, I decided to tell him. I was born with this genetic condition, that caused me to have brachy… The knot in my throat was there, just like it was every time I would choose an awkward silence over a response when people asked me “what is wrong with your toes?”

I can’t remember exactly what he said because it didn’t matter. He has an uncharacteristically strong attention-to-detail. He said something along the lines, I knew something was up because of your fingers... He had been wondering, he was honest and was glad I stepped up to the plate. I was met with kindness and no judgment. We are getting married next year.

Photo by: Bridget Collins

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