Deafness and sexuality: out of the darkness
By: Edan Chapman
I have never heard an orgasm.
This isn’t exactly one of the highest items on my bucket list. Still, it does creep into my thoughts – usually when I’m in the middle of the act – and I wonder if sound really does enhance the experience.
I wonder a lot of things. I’m 30 and I have been completely Deaf since birth. (The capital D signifies a person who identifies as culturally Deaf, as opposed to someone who is medically deaf and continues to function in the hearing world.)
I am also slowly losing my peripheral vision. Right now, I’m legally blind and I use my cane to get around.
I wonder about my validity as a person. I do not consider deafness a disability. Going blind, to me, is a different story.
The reason for this mentality is simple – it’s about communication. As a Deaf man I am ‘different’, but I can still understand and be understood. No matter how absurd the subject, there are always ways to mime, write, draw and laugh. I have cues. When I think about what life will be like when my vision’s gone, all I can think is, ‘I’m fucked.’
One thing that will not be affected by my failing senses, however, is sex.
In the blackness of the bedroom, bias seems to vanish. It almost becomes a sensory deprivation experience for me until I touch the first smooth curve of skin. In darkness, I am completely blind. This, combined with my massage experience and my sense of touch and smell, can make the experience of foreplay and sexual intercourse quite overwhelming. This is especially true when it’s the first time with someone. Interestingly, it is that very first touch that locks it all in for me. I use my sense of smell to tell me where to kiss, and the black nothingness turns into the shape of a face.
Perhaps it is the absence of one and a half (almost two) of the five senses that heightens my remaining ones, elevating my own pleasure to hitherto unimagined realms? That would be cool, but I’m not arrogant enough to expect that I am the creme de orgasmee, the modern Bacchus crossed with Don Juan reborn.
It isn’t something you can really compare to other experiences. In sex, everyone is unique. There are the starfishes, the frantics, the zonked-out zen masters and the five-second-per-positioners. Lights on, lights off, streetlights, moonlight… the honest truth is that when I’m fucking, I’m no more or less than the next person. That really does give me enormous mental relief.
In today’s technologically driven world, where our sense of touch is reduced to pawing a tablet screen or banging a keyboard, this sense of equality may be the reason people are addicted to sex. It may be the reason people crave it so desperately. When computers supposedly validate our own self-worth, it’s no wonder we go out and get smashed in the hopes of letting our clothes and our guards down, and doing what our bodies are screaming at us to do: to be intimate, to become part of a whole, to give and receive comfort.
Archer #3 is out in November, 2014. Subscribe to Archer here.
The Deaf community has quite a lot in common with sexually diverse communities. We face discrimination every day for things out of our control, and we have decisions made on our behalf that are irrelevant or outdated. This is slowly changing for the better, but prejudice tends to snake its way through generations, and this is something that won’t change easily.
Despite this, meeting people has not been a huge challenge for me. Like the LGBTI community, many Deaf people prefer the comfort of their own sub-culture, and tend to stick with each other. I’ve never subscribed to that concept – I mix with everyone. People are too interesting. If I am willing to give a person a smile and some time, we can bridge the gap between us. Yes, it is difficult to muster the enthusiasm at times, and, some days, I give up. I’m only human.
In truth, though, I find it harder to connect at a Deaf party than at a hearing-person’s party. Sign language is fantastic and beautiful, but the one downfall is that it is difficult to have a private conversation. At a Deaf party, this becomes tricky when you’re trying to surreptitiously convey to someone that you a) are interested in them, and b) would enjoy the pleasure of their divine company. That may be one of the reasons for the bluntness of many Deaf people – I mean, what are you supposed to do? You bite the bullet and walk straight up to someone and start talking. Yes, it is obvious to the entire room. Too bad.
Now, imagine the opposite: I’m in a room full of people. I can understand a couple of them, due to their wonderful grasp of body language, or because their lips are easy to read. I haven’t the foggiest idea why everyone is laughing, or pointing at a particular thing, but I don’t care. I have the option to choose the direction my night takes.
If the party stinks, that’s it. But if there are genuinely interesting people, all I need to do is approach, wave hello and motion that I’m deaf by clapping my hands on my ears. Then I whip out my phone and write into it, to sus out the kind of person I’m talking to. If we click, great. The rest is fun and easy.
Speaking to a woman I’m interested in is a similar experience. Eye contact. A smile. Witty words on a phone. A carefree attitude. It’s all common sense, but I have one extra requirement that most people do not: I just need people to not freak out. Be cool; I’m a person and you are, too.
I do find myself wondering how, in the future, I am going to impress the opposite sex. My eyes are fucked. I get tired easily when I go out, and the club scene is slowly losing its appeal for me. Then there’s the exaggerated phallic symbol of my cane, which probably scares off 99 per cent of my prospective partners.
(I’m kidding, of course, although there is more truth to these fears than I would like to admit.)
Everyone has their struggles. Mine are almost invisible and, for the most part, I do a pretty good job of being a vibrant, positive, you-only-live-once kind of guy. Sometimes I do it so well that people actually take it as truth.
And, speaking of truth, in the end, does it really matter if I hear an orgasm or not? Perhaps we should go ask a bear in the woods.
Edan Chapman is 30-year-old photographer. He enjoys cooking food and massaging friends. Edan has lived and worked in many countries in his quest to perfect the art of living.
This article was originally published in Archer #2, June 2014.
Archer #3 is out in November, 2014. Subscribe to Archer here.