Nicky Park

Editor of Life & Style.

Sexual healing for the disabled

Rachel Wotten is a sex worker. She specialises in servicing people with disabilities.

Since she was a teenager, the Sydney-based sex worker has been intrigued by the taboo industry. While she was studying psychology at university she broke into the business, and has remained in the field for nearly 20 years.

Today, about 50 per cent of her clients are people who have a physical or intellectual disability. She has provided sexual services for people with muscular dystrophy, brain injuries, spinal injuries, encephalitis, deaf and blind folks - any adult who can provide informed consent.

"I treat all my clients equally and if they happen to have disability, so be it. I just need to know how I can adapt my service to accommodate their needs," Rachel says from her Auckland hotel room.

"Sometimes I forget what the actual label of the disability is, because for me, it's more important to know ... how their bodies move and function and how I can best adapt my services to meet their needs."

Rachel's flown in to New Zealand for the screening of a documentary about her work, Scarlet Road. In the film, we meet two of her regular clients, John (who has MS) and Mark (who has cerebral palsy).

"Rachel makes me feel like I have a girlfriend," Mark says in the film.

His mum explains: "With your other kids you don't have anything to do with their sex life, but Mark needed that little bit of help."

Rachel's sexual services are sought after by the clients themselves, or friends, family and carers who want to help satisfy the intimate desires of the person living with disability. Before their first meeting Rachel will nut out the client's sexual history (whether or not they're a virgin), what they're wanting (to learn more about their body, to have a shower with a woman), any restrictions they may have (colostomy bags, feeding tubes) and practicalities (like location and payment).

"I don't think it's a matter of me setting out to specialise. It just happens that I am non-discriminatory. And I find people fascinating. That's one of the things I like about my job, that I get to meet a whole different variety of people. And I get to learn different things from my clients."

Rachel has a lot of compassion for people living with a disability, and wants other people to be empathetic. That's her reason for being so public.

"People shouldn't treat people with disability any differently than they want to be treated themselves," she says.

"We're only one car accident away from being in the same position.

"(Also) we're an aging population. We're getting older, it's just normal, our bodies start breaking down and don't function as well."

Despite failing facilities, everyone still craves intimacy, she says.

"You have to remember that the largest sex organ of our body is our brain. Humans, while we're very tactile creatures, also it's about that connectivity being acknowledged as a human being, having that interaction and sharing ideas."

There's also a psychological condition which Rachel addresses called "skin hunger."

"It's a craving of skin to skin contact.

"For some people they're very isolated. For some people, who are very reliant on others, the only contact they get is when people are transferring them from their chair to their bed... when they're brushing their hair and brushing their teeth and washing their bodies."

There's a very important difference between this sort of practical contact and the sensual touch that Rachel offers. This is shown during a shower scene in the film, comparing a carer's wash with a "beautiful" and "fun" steamy sexy shower with Rachel.

"Scarlet Rose tries to dispel some of these myths that sex work is all about wham, bam, thank you, Ma'am. There's a whole range of services that we provide."

However, Rachel won't reveal her full repertoire, instead turning around the question: "What kind of things would you do when you're spending quality time with someone?

"...There's heaps of things I don't do, but there's lots of things I do do. I'm very good through my experience at learning how to negotiate and talk to a client.

"... It's only as far as the imagination and the consent."

Scarlet Road is screening in New Zealand as part of the Documentary Edge Festival. Check out the website for screening times.

For more information about sex workers and disabled people visit Touching Base.

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