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Intimacy as an Amputee 

Jennifer Latham Robinson


Written by - Jennifer Latham Robinson


Intimacy in romantic relationships and can be a struggle for anyone, whether or not that person is an amputee. But being an amputee can throw some additional issues into the mix. We asked some amputees to present their view points on the matter.

Nicole works in the medical industry and also presents with congenital absence of her left leg below the knee. This married 25-year-old amputee was very excited to share what she’s learned in her lifetime.


Brian was 13 when he lost his right leg below the knee, due to a traumatic accident involving a freight train. He is now 39, married with two children and works as an orthotic technician, making orthopedic braces.

Darcy is 23 and has only been an above knee amputee for 15 months. Her amputation was due to osteosarcoma. Through rigorous therapy, and because of her outstanding motivation, Darcy is ambulating impressively well. Despite her ongoing battle with cancer, Darcy is forging ahead with her education and inspires all those who know her.

Randy is 39 years old and has been married for 12 years. He and his wife, Tina, have two daughters, ages 9 and 6. In 2002, Randy lost his left leg at his knee joint when he was involved in a boating accident. He now wears a knee-disarticulation prosthesis. Randy is a manager at a large grocery store and travels extensively throughout Florida. 

Q: Nicole and Brian, why don’t you give yourselves some introduction.


Nicole: “I was born with a birth defect and as a result, my left foot was amputated. I received treatment through the Florida Elks, an organization that was very similar to the Shriners Hospital. Though the physicians knew that my foot would be amputated, I was five before the surgery took place. I am now 25 and I still remember much of the experience. Before the surgery, I remember lying on a medical table breathing from a balloon and counting back from 10, 9, 8… laughing until eventually I fell asleep. I remember my rehabilitation, being jealous of the children who got to have therapy in the pool, walking in between metal rails, and holding myself up by my arms. I still vividly remember spending the nights after my surgery in a crib, asking for my physician to come and see me. Still today, hearing certain songs send my mind racing back in time, happily colliding with the lucid imprint of a hospital that will forever endure in my head. And beyond my surgery, I remember my check-up appointments. They always included several physicians and tons of medical students closely examining my leg, its shape, and function. Could I stand on it without my prosthesis? Could I walk to the end of the room and back? Could I remove my prosthesis, so that the physician could examine it more closely? Oh, the cold hands on my warm skin!”


“In those days, I would miss school to see a doctor, now I would miss work. I am a college graduate with a full-time job in the medical industry. Although I plan to begin pursuit of my Masters Degree next semester, I am currently employed as a project manager with a fortune 500 company. My job requires me to travel to local hospital sites and install medical technology software. I work closely with cross functional hospital staff, providing support, and training. Not only is my job mentally stimulating, but it is also physically challenging. Though it never slows me down, my days rarely offer opportunities for rest. My circumstances have never excluded me from accomplishment, nor have they hindered my ability to excel. I enjoy life as we all should and on most days, depending on the traffic, I usually find nothing to complain about! As I anticipate in the future, I find myself optimistic and believe myself to be equipped for the challenges that lie ahead.”


Brian: “I’ve been asked to think about how being an amputee has affected my life in certain areas, including self esteem/body perception, intimacy and dating. On first thought, I refute any affect, thinking that being an amputee has not changed me or my life and has had no affect on me. But after some reflection, I’ve come to realize that this way of thinking has been more of a goal than a reality of life, and while I believe I’ve reached that goal of not being affected by being an amputee, there is no question that it has had an immeasurable and continuing effect in my life. I lost my right leg in 1982, due to a traumatic accident involving a freight train and a 13 year old boy who though he was indestructible. That is a day that will live in my memory forever, and believe it or not it will not be remembered as one of the worst days in my history. Thinking back as a 39-year-old husband and father to two boys, the one thing I remember more than the noise, the pain, or the fear, is that my parents love me and that my actions can affect many people, especially those close to me.”


Darcy: “My name is Darcy and I am 23 years old. In June of 2006, I lost my left leg above the knee to a rare pediatric bone cancer called Osteosarcoma. I just graduated with a B.A. from the University of South Florida and even though I'm still battling cancer, I plan to go on to graduate school up north to
finish my education.”

Randy: “My name is Randy and I am 39 years old. I have been married for 12 years. My wife’s name is Tina. We have two daughters: Riley is 9 years old and Regan is 6 years old. I have worked for Publix Super Markets for 19 years in the meat department. Currently, I work from the corporate office in the meat training department and I am responsible for 40 stores. I am a knee-disarticulation (above knee) amputee. I lost my leg in May of 2002. Wow, I can’t believe it has been that long! I lost my leg in a boating accident. I was on a jet ski and a boat ran over me. The boat propeller went up my left leg. No bones were broken, but the muscles and arteries were destroyed. In the hospital the doctors could not save my leg, so they had to amputate it. I did have other injuries, but none as bad as this one… so, you sometimes overlook the other things. I am very lucky to be alive. I have always had a positive attitude… before and after my accident. I feel that is why I recovered so quickly.” 

Q: Nicole, can you explain what it was like to go through puberty as an amputee?


Nicole: “I never really felt any different than my friends in this area. Biology has a way of reducing us all to equals in this arena!!”


Brian: “At 13 I went from hanging out with other kids my own age to cruising the town with my friends’ older siblings, who were 17 to 19-years-old… and doing things that the older guys did, I grew up a little faster than my friends of the same age. By the time I was 16 or so, and started hanging out with my own age group, I was the most experienced than my peers at ‘recreational’ activities.”


Q: What are your feelings on body image and dealing with the perceptions of others?


Nicole: “Dealing with perceptions is big. I believe it is especially difficult for people who carry a great deal of their identity (and self-esteem) in their physical appearance. I’ll admit that I made a conscious effort not to define myself as solely a physical being and not to compare myself to others. I learned very early on that self acceptance would come from loving the image that faced me in the mirror and the only perception I ever had to accept would come from within myself. This didn’t eliminate others’ perceptions, or misconceptions of amputees, or of me as a person. I definitely encountered ignorance! But it did help me to find the value of myself both internally and externally, and as this grew strong, so did my self-esteem and the perceptions of others became less meaningful.”


Brian: “I grew up in Minot, a small town in the northern part of North Dakota, with a population of 35,000. After I lost my leg, there was a short period of almost celebrity status. Everyone knew who I was and most had a watchful eye out for me as the next years unfolded. To try and help explain some of my battles with self-image I think it is important to know that I was a 13-year-old boy when it happened, literally overnight… but of my particular circumstances, and being 13, I don’t remember having the feelings of, ‘what will others thing of me?’ at the time.” 


Darcy: “This question is pretty hard for me to answer because I am still struggling with who I am as an amputee. Adjusting to the new me has been very difficult, disappointing and stressful and unfortunately, I have not reached a point where I am completely accepting of myself. At times I’m sensitive to people’s stares. I don’t mind talking about my prosthesis, or how I lost my leg, but most people just stare and move on and don’t feel it is tactful to ask questions. When I first got my prosthesis I wanted it cosmetically covered immediately thinking I could hide why I walked a bit slower and with a small limp. Now, I have decided to only cover the foot because I feel more comfortable knowing my so-called ‘secret’ is out in the open. I also choose not to cover the leg because it’s not who I am anymore. I am not the girl with two legs. I am an above knee amputee, who is trying to accept herself.”


Randy: “As far as my feelings on my body image, obviously I would rather have two legs. But since I don’t, I guess I would say it really does not bother me. Anyway, not everyone can lean their leg up against the night stand when they go to bed. As far as the perception of others, I worry more about the way I see myself. If my perception of myself is good enough, then nobody else’s perception matters.”


Q: Did being an amputee affect your dating life?


Nicole: “As an amputee, I was more sexually exclusive than my friends. I think it made me more selective in the relationships that I chose. Now that I am an adult, this is something that I look back on and appreciate! Because my relationships were deeply connected before they advanced physically, sex was less awkward and more enjoyable. When first getting to know someone, there were still butterflies and nerves, but there was also excitement and romance! I think these feelings are universal and being an amputee didn’t change that. Beneath the surface, I was confident and there is something very alluring about confidence. I think being an amputee has affected my relationships positively in the sense that it has affected me. It forced me to accept myself without the conditions of others’ acceptance. It also forced me to look beneath the surface when encountering people and situations. On the surface, a man walking in the sun under an umbrella may look ridiculous. Deeper though, one may learn that the man is battling skin cancer and requires the umbrella for protection. So many possibilities assemble reality and I began to seek an impartial reality at a very young age. As a result, I matured faster than my friends and was much quicker to see the different flavors of people. I began to notice the differences between peoples’ reactions and quickly realized the power of information. When I explained to people how I became an amputee, their understanding narrowed a gap between them and me. Humans are innately curious; the term rubber-necking comes to mind! Accepting the curiosity as something free of judgment made me especially open to questions about my leg; I actually prefer that someone ask me about it as opposed to not. The mind’s time is better spent acquiring knowledge than making assumptions!”


Brian: “Dating was, I think, probably the same for me as it was for everyone else… with the added thought of ‘would this person get freaked out by my leg, or would it not matter’. I do remember a few girls not wanting to go out with me because of my leg. There were others that wanted to go out with me because of my leg, but all the others in the middle accepted my leg as a part of me… a part of me that happened to sit in the corner at the end of the night.”

Darcy: “Dating is incredibly intimidating for anyone in my opinion and as an amputee I have more to worry about. Going out with guys is very hard for me since I am a fairly new amputee and haven’t had a lot of time to adjust to the new lifestyle. Dressing for dates in awfully stressful for a woman but on top of asking the regular questions, “Do I look fat?”, “Does this make me look too promiscuous or too prudish?” I have to figure out if showing the prosthetic or hiding it would be better. Since I am insecure about being an amputee, I have a hard time believing a man can be attracted to me with a missing limb. I have a habit of comparing my ‘new self’ to my ‘old self’, which obviously does not make the dating life very simple or easy. I have dated two men since my amputation and both of those relationships were learning experiences as well as a chance to see I can lead the life I once led 15 months ago. Unfortunately, my dating life is further complicated because I am currently battling cancer. I have talked to and met several women amputees that are in successful relationships which gives me much hope for my future love life. With time, I feel I will become more comfortable with dating and hopefully, I will find a man who is compassionate and sensitive to my needs.” 

Randy: “Being an amputee did not affect my dating life because I was married at the time.” 

Q: What about the concept of intimacy as an amputee?


Nicole: “In my opinion, intimacy requires vulnerability. Physically, I am at my most vulnerable when I have taken my leg off. Being emotionally or mentally vulnerable becomes more complicated! I accept the notion that good can stem from being responsibly vulnerable and this is how we grow and learn as people. I believe that if we constantly shield ourselves from vulnerability, we stunt development.”


Brian: “My amputation never limited my physical ability to be intimate… after all, where there’s a will, there’s a way. But true intimacy, such as I experienced with my wife of 11 years, has nothing to do with my physical nature, but our love, trust, and respect for each other.”

Darcy: “Being an amputee for only a little over a year hasn’t given me a lot of experience with intimacy. I still have the fear I can’t perform in the bedroom in the same way as I once was able to. Certain positions are not as easy anymore; therefore, I’m even more insecure about being that vulnerable. I often get too caught up with how the guy perceives me, rather than focusing on the experience at hand. This advice would be useful to anyone but especially an amputee not completely secure with the way they look. It always helps me when my partner encourages, compliments and reassures me constantly in order to build confidence during those intimate times so I can have a fully satisfying experience” 

Randy: “I do not feel any differently now than I did before my amputation, as it relates to intimacy with my wife. I feel that maybe it has gotten better.”


Tina (Randy’s Wife): “I feel our intimacy has gotten better because when you almost loose someone you love, it really makes you realize how much you love them. I do care what happens to Randy, but I am not going to let something that happens to his body change the way I feel about him. I fell in love with Randy as a person… his personality, sense of humor, willingness to forgive people, he is easy going… I could keep on going but Randy hates it when I get all sentimental.”


Q: One very basic, and sometimes embarrassing, question I’ve heard asked is, “Do I leave it on or off?”


Nicole: “For me, there is no rule; if it’s on when we start, I leave it on. If it’s off when we start, I keep it off. I have never gotten to the point where all clothing has been removed and thought, ‘Let’s find something else to take off’… We’re usually ready to move on by that point!”


Brian: “Honestly, it depends on the situation. Sometimes if I need leverage, I leave it on!”


Darcy: “I have never had sex with my prosthetic on. Since I am an AKA, I imagine it would be more difficult to maneuver around with it on but I’m sure with time, I will try it out. I can see both ways having their perks so I am definitely not opposed to leaving it on or off.”

Randy: “Do you leave what on or off? Well, we asked that question before I got my first prosthesis, but once you have a prosthetic limb you basically know the answer. For above the knee, take it off… it gets in the way. Plus, it is an excuse to take it off.”

Tina (Randy’s Wife): “Yes! We did ask this question! This was very important to me because we had a very good intimacy level before his accident and I did not want that to go away… and it has not gone away. When we are together we do not even think about him not having a leg… everything is just like it was.”

Q: What makes you feel attractive or sexy?


Nicole: “I feel attractive and sexy when I feel confident. Confidence, for me, comes from many places. I take pride in how I look, in what I do and, most importantly, in who I am. If I were given the opportunity to change places with anyone in the world, I would turn it down. Honestly speaking, I am fully content with the person I am and with the body that carries me. I would be lying though if I said I felt 100% confident everyday! In the times that I’m just not feeling it, I allow myself to be in that funk, knowing that tomorrow I’ll have moved beyond it. The important part for me is remembering that each day ends at midnight, no matter what I’ve been through! What I find attractive or sexy in others is intelligence and humor, as well as an ability to view encounters from relevant perspectives. When I’m in the presence of people like that, I see them as attractive and sexy and they make me feel likewise.”


Brian: “I never tried to hide my leg, but in an effort to make myself more attractive to the fairer sex, I did what other guys do… I worked out to tried to build a good physique, grew my hair out, because what girl could resist Bon Jovi hair? Parachute pants and bandanas seemed like a good idea at the time. If I looked like my friends, my deformity would not be noticed. Now my goal is not to look like everyone else, but I try to move as seamlessly as possible. I want people to see me walking by and then notice my leg. Probably my favorite comment is, ‘I couldn’t even tell you had an artificial leg… you don’t limp or anything’. That makes me feel like the years of practice, and some hard work early on, has paid off in my ‘mastering’ my prosthesis.


Darcy: “I am a 23 year old woman, so when I want to feel attractive, I get dressed in a cute outfit and go out with my friends to a local bar or club. I don’t feel comfortable wearing short skirts or dresses anymore, so instead, I wear a pair of tight jeans, a sexy top, and a cute pair of shoes. Obviously, being hit on by a guy always helps build my self-esteem as well as having a man who doesn’t stare at my prosthesis in a negative way. I have added acrylic toenails to my prosthetic foot, so when I wear flip flops, sandals, or any other nice shoes, I’m able to feel good that my feet are matching with pretty toenail polish. Maintaining my attractiveness is attained by pampering myself with manicures, pedicures (both feet!), body massages, new hair styles, and great makeup. All of these extra steps help me become more confident when going out in public.”


Randy: “What makes a person feel attractive or sexy? Thongs! HAHA!”


Q: Do you have any personal stories that would help other amputees?


Nicole: “As a child, my parents used to tell me, ‘The only difference between you and other children is that you have one more step when getting ready in the morning. You have to put your leg on before you can brush your teeth.’ I’ll never know what it’s like to have 2 ankles or ten toes, but I’ll also never know what it’s like to wake up with naturally blond hair! The point is that my parents taught me from a very young age that we are all unique. What matters is that they didn’t stop there. They also instilled in me the idea that being an amputee, though it requires more maintenance than a head full of blonde hair, is as trivial a difference between two people as the color of your eyes or hair. And although I could see physical differences between myself and other children, it never stopped me from recognizing the similarities. And the similarities far outweighed the differences.”


Brian: “I guess after 25 years of being an amputee, I think learning how to use my disability in a positive way, whether it’s changing the public’s opinion about amputees, or possibly inspiring someone to never give up no matter what challenges you face, has had a truly positive effect on my life.”

Darcy: “Having cancer and losing my leg has made it very difficult to be able to find a guy willing to start a relationship with me. Being faced with both obstacles at once makes it hard to determine whether it is the illness or the amputee part that guys are having a tough time dealing with, but either way, the past 15 months has been stressful on my love life. 

Randy: “We had a very good intimacy level before I lost my leg. Our intimacy level has not changed; in fact, Tina and I feel that it has gotten better.” 

Tina (Randy’s Wife): “Yes! When you love and care for someone, it does not matter how they look. We all change physically with age and with children. This is just like one of those changes. True love is more than just skin deep. Since we have been married, Randy has lost a leg and I have gained weight. See? It all evens out.”

 


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