I Was Shocked to Learn My Disability Was Being Exploited On a Porn Site



A few months ago, a friend reached out to me and said she found videos from my Instagram on Pornhub. As you can imagine a million questions started racing through my mind, but not the questions you think. You see, I'm a paraplegic and my Instagram is dedicated to inspiring others like me that a new-normal life is possible. So I couldn't fathom how any of that content could be sexualized in any way. But more on that later. First, let me tell you how I got here in the first place.

Learning to Live with a Life-Changing Injury

It was 2016 and we were celebrating my husband's birthday and Thanksgiving with his family. We decided to call it a night at around 10 p.m. and got ready to drive back home despite the forecast warning us about a thunderstorm. I remember my father-in-law begging us to stay the night.

We were close to our home when our car hit a big puddle and hydroplaned. It flipped three times before hitting a tree, finally coming to a halt. Thankfully, my husband and our two dogs were unscathed, but my life had changed forever. The roof of the car had gone into my head compressing my spine. At the hospital, they determined that I had fractured my vertebra at C6, which punctured my spinal cord leaving me paralyzed from the waist down with limited finger function and one working bicep.

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I spent the next month in the hospital and then another month at a rehab facility, but the reality of my situation didn't hit me until I got home. I went from being surrounded by doctors, nurses, family, and friends to feeling totally alone.

A part of me had hoped that life would go back to 'normal' once I got home, but I quickly learned that there was no such thing. Even the simplest of tasks were challenging, if not impossible. I couldn't get on the couch on my own, I couldn't feed myself, I couldn't even go to the bathroom without help.

There were times I felt extremely frustrated with my body and even developed serious body dysmorphia. I would think of myself as just a head instead of one whole entity with limbs and extremities. That's because I couldn't feel the all of me—or at least, all of my physical body—anymore, so those parts of my body no longer fit into my identity.

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These are still things I still struggle with today, but with a lot of patience and time, luckily, I've come to understand that regardless of what I can and can't physically feel, I am still a whole person.

One of the things that really helped me get to that point was using Instagram to connect with other people, including those who share similarities to my experience and new condition. I was quickly able to find a community that was willing to be open and honest about what it's really like to live with a spinal cord injury.

It was through these new virtual friendships that I was able to find peace in knowing that I'm more than just my physical body. Being the best version of myself became my priority, and I slowly learned that my disability didn't need to hold me back from doing what I love.

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Before my accident, I lived a pretty active life. While I can no longer run or exercise like I used to, I love getting outdoors and being in nature. I even went skydiving using a special adaptive strap to keep my legs together and lifted up to my chest. 

I found that people were inspired by the videos I shared on Instagram of me being mobile and learning new things—even if it was simple stuff like getting into bed on my own. I started getting dozens of messages from people every day asking how I became self-sufficient in certain tasks and how I was able to maintain a positive mindset. I appreciated being able to interact with these people; if there was any way I could help someone else in my shoes, I wanted in.

Learning the Shocking Dark Side of My Disability

As with anyone who starts to quickly gain followers on Instagram, I did start receiving messages that I thought were strange. They were mostly from one person who claimed to be paraplegic as well but kept asking me questions he should have known the answer to if he was truly was.

After talking to some of my friends on Instagram, I learned that that person was what they call a 'devotee.'

Don't know what that is? Neither did I. Turns out, a devotee is someone with a devoted fetish. In my case, this guy who kept DM'ing me was aroused by people with disabilities and was trying to trick me into sharing information about my life as a quad for sexual pleasure.

To be clear, I don't think there is anything wrong with having a fetish and most devotees don't trick people into feeding their sexual desires. But this case was obviously different and infuriating. I immediately blocked this person and thought that was the end of it. But I was wrong.

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It was a few weeks later when my friend called me to tell me about my videos on Pornhub. I rushed online immediately.

To my surprise, the page featured hundreds of videos of paraplegic women from Instagram. All the videos showed women celebrating physical milestones like getting out of their wheelchair and into their bed on their own. Nothing they were doing was for the purposed of 'porn' or arousal.

Most of these women, myself included, had shared these videos to Instagram to help others struggling with a life-changing injury. None of us had consented for those videos to be used by people to get off. 

While anger and fury were definitely at the forefront of all the emotions I felt—after all, my trauma was being used for someone's pleasure—I couldn't help but feel incredibly embarrassed as well. Some of the videos of me that were being sexualized showed me at some of my lowest points. It made me feel like an object to be used by anyone at their disposal.

Needless to say, I demanded that Pornhub remove my videos, and after a long-fought battle, the site ultimately did.

Becoming an Advocate for People with Disabilities

Learning that my disability was being fetishized made me realize how much work there is to be done to humanize those within the disabled community. That's why I decided to get involved with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and became a part of their See Us campaign. The mission behind See Us is to highlight the realities of living with paralysis. By collecting stories about real people with disabilities, they are raising awareness to prevent social stigmas that overshadow our accomplishments.

I hope that by sharing my story, we'll get one step closer to a world where people with disabilities are seen as equals. We don't deserve to be fetishized and sexualized without our consent, nor does anyone, for that matter. We deserve to be seen as normal and capable of doing anything and everything they put their minds to. We deserve a world full of adaption that opens the doors for us to have the same opportunities that every other individual is given. That shouldn't include exploitation.

—  As told to Faith Brar

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This article originally appeared on Shape.com



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