At just 18 years old, a car crash resulted in Sophie becoming paralysed from the chest down. Due to a lack of representation of disabled people, Sophie had no idea what her life had in store – and whether sex would ever be possible again.
Author, presenter, and award-winning disability advocate, Sophie is giving a voice to disabled women, sharing her dating journey, and her search for her happy ending
When I was 18 years old, I’ll admit, I was horny. The kind of horny that meant I was practically insatiable. I loved boys, I loved the smell of them, I loved the feel of them, I loved nothing more than being on top of them.
As a typical naughty teenage girl, other than playing sports or getting in trouble with my girlfriends, my priority was to be in the arms of a boy.
The day I received my A-level results, I went to a party with my friends to celebrate. On the way home, I was so distracted by a boy sitting beside me in the passenger seat, a boy I had longed to be with, that unfortunately, due to my lack of driving experience and the fact I was speeding, I lost control of my car and crashed.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I woke up in hospital and found out the full extent of the damage I had done to myself. In the crash, my skull had been fractured on impact, my nose crushed by the steering wheel, my jaw dislocated and eye socket crushed, but worst of all, at the place where my seatbelt crossed my chest, my body had twisted in the wrong direction and my spine had been damaged. I was told that I was paralysed from the chest down, and that I would never recover any movement or feeling from there down, ever again.
But, on hearing this distressing news, my main concern wasn’t about walking again, or about running, kicking, or dancing, all I could think about at that moment was whether I would be able to have sex again.
I had never met a paralysed person before. In fact, I was the first physically like disabled person I had ever met, and therefore I had no idea what was possible for a woman me and, I realise now, I did have some very harmful ableist ideas about disabled people – some of which were soon solidified when most of the boys in my life began to reject me.
At that time, my rehabilitation revolved around me regaining my independence, learning how to transfer into a wheelchair for example, or learning how to catheterise, and how to look after my paralysed body, and I was so consumed with these tasks that I found the rejection too much to deal with.
I decided to do all that I could put thoughts of my love life, and certainly my sex life, to bed for the time being, and concentrate on getting home again and rebuilding my life. But the rejection cut me deep – more deeply than I cared to admit – and it would take me years, decades even, to recover from. Especially when I did finally start dating again, and men treated me so differently from how I had been treated before my crash.
Photography by Edo Dream
Since my car crash, I’ve had a number of relationships, I even got engaged once. But none of them have been easy. Being with a disabled girl appeared to give men a license to behave like they were heroic, lapping up praise from strangers for being with someone like me. But behind the scenes the relationships were, at times, toxic. There was the partner that laughed at me when I fell out of my wheelchair, the one who would take my wheelchair away from me when we had a fight, the one who left me in the sunshine to get second-degree burns after we had a row, the one who convinced me he should have sex with someone else as I couldn’t satisfy him.
Some of the relationships were good, but many were unhealthy. And it was due to the fact that those ableist ideas about what a disabled woman like me deserved, had never been resolved. Quite simply, I didn’t think I was good enough for anything better.
And then, a couple of years ago, the day that lockdown happened, my latest relationship ended. Being single at 36 was not what I had in mind. But it turned out to be a blessing, as I decided to write a book, a memoir about what had happened to me.
In writing it, I looked back at my past and realised how unhelpful and my beliefs have been. I have come a long way and today, I feel stronger than ever before. I refuse to indulge those ideas anymore. After all, as I wrote in my book, “You don’t nearly die once, not to make the most out of living twice!”
Starting all over again is difficult for anyone, and combine that with past negative dating experiences, the prospect was even more daunting.
One thing I’ve never done in all these years is online dating. I was in a relationship when that began, and I thought I had dodged that bullet. I would watch my friends successfully and unsuccessfully grapple with the realities and consequences of putting themselves online, from the sidelines, hoping that that would never have to be me.
As a disabled woman I am rarely hit on, hardly noticed, so being ghosted, I thought, would take on a whole new meaning. Being judged so superficially would pack a more painful punch.
But having finished writing my book and feeling braver than ever, I have decided to take the plunge and go online dating. Despite having the same fears any of us have when putting ourselves out there, selecting a handful of the best photos to show ourselves online, writing a profile that will attract the attention of the right person, I am going for it, choosing to believe in my worth and enjoying the process.
Because, disabled or not, we all deserve love, intimacy, passion, and pleasure. We all deserve a happy ending, and I’m off to find mine!
‘Driving Forwards: A journey of resilience and potential after life-changing injury‘ by Sophie L Morgan is out now (Sphere, £16.99).