Life on Wheels with Gary Karp

WebMD Live Events Transcript

1.5 million people in the U.S. use wheelchairs. If you or someone you know is one of the millions don't miss this informative discussion with Gary Karp author of 'Life On Wheels'.

Event Date: 03/16/2000

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to today's WebMD's Live Program, Health Focus. Today's guest is Gary Karp, author of Life on Wheels. This program will begin at 5pm Eastern / 2pm Pacific. If you would like to ask Mr. Karp a question please type in /ask then skip a space type in your question and hit the return key. WebMD members are encouraged to ask their questions and bring up any concerns they may have regarding dealing with life in a wheelchair.

Welcome and thanks for joining us today Mr. Karp. The Last time you were on WebMD we covered a lot, but there still were many issues facing wheelchair users that we didn't get to because of time. So that said, let's get started. Can you begin today's discussion by telling everyone a little bit about yourself and why you decided to write this book?

Karp: When I was 18, in 1973, I fell out of a tree and injured my spinal cord, so being a wheelchair user for 27 years and having been very active in every level of my life, when I was presented with the opportunity to write the book I was excited to have the chance to clarify this experience, both for other people who are chair users and their families, but also to make an impact on the wider cultural view of disability, because it's so widely misunderstood and informed by myth, when in fact, it's just about people and how they adapt and everyabody wanting to do their best to get on with their lives and be independent and in control.

Moderator: Who uses a wheelchair?

Karp: Well, there are a lot of different reason why people use a wheelchair, in many cases, having spinal cord injuries. There are 10,000 people injured each year.Some injuries also involve loss of limbs, brain injury, or temporary wheel chair users like broken legs or knee surgery, like President Clinton had a couple years ago. There are people who have been chair users since childhood for such reasons as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or childhood onset muscular dystrophy, which, by the way, doesn't always occur in childhood, and is not necessarily life threatening.

Moderator: One thing we did not cover last time you were on was maintaining a healthy sex life. Many might even think it's impossible. Can you clear this up for all of us.

Karp: I would love to. First, people need to understand that every individual is different and the fact of being a wheelchair user does not necessarily preclude full sexual function. Many people do have complete sensation and sexual capacity, so this depends on the nature of the disability. But regardless of any functional impairment, absolutely everyone has a sexual nature, and has the desire to express it in some way. Given that we live in a world which emphasizes one particular form of sexual activity, namely "conventional" intercourse, everybody is disserved by this unfortunate limited view of sexuality. These images are promoted for commercial purposes and they foster the idea that you have to be young and athletic to have satisfying sexual experiences. This is not true for anybody and certainly for people who have disabilities, to the degree that there is limitation in sexual function, there is an adjustment process to face if there was a loss later in life. Someone born with sexual limitation, of course, doesn't know the difference. In either case, sex with a disability can be very expansive, liberated from this excessive concentration on intercourse, many people discover that there is a much larger world of subtlety, sensual range, intimacy, and experimentation, whether on their own or with a partner. Simple things like kissing, touching, and allowing the intimate process to unfold naturally are hallmarks of sex and disability. Some women - some able bodied women - report that they enjoy being with disabled men because they're not in such a rush to perform. None of this means that intercourse is not an option. Men have access to drugs like Viagra or injectible pharmaceuticals which provide for a reliable erection if they need that kind of support. Women who may have difficulty producing lubrication simple use KY jelly. And while at first they might have feared that loss of strength in their vaginal muscles would compromise their experience with a partner, in fact that can lengthen the period of intercourse and extend their mutual pleasure. So this is really about redefinition and exploration of this wide and miraculous world of sensual experience which is in no way precluded by disability.