Published: 06:00, 01 September 2020
| Updated: 07:54, 01 September 2020
A kinky sex night hosted in Kent is helping improve the lives of people with disabilities.
Hundreds had been looking forward to this year's Sexual Freedom Ball to be held just outside Sittingbourne until lockdown put paid to their plans.
The event transferred to the county last year after being staged in London and those behind them say they offer a much-needed chance for people with disabilities to enjoy a range of sexual experiences, including fetishes, that able-bodied people take for granted.
Organiser Val Clarke from Rochester said: "This [the cancellation] is deeply sad. The ball allows both physically and mentally disabled people to feel normal and sample a fetish night like other people.
"It is a chance for them to dip their toe into the water to see if they like it. They can watch floor shows and dive in if they want, or just stay on the sidelines."
The ball, which was to be held at Hartlip not far from the M2's Farthing Corner service station, is an important source of income for the Outsiders Club which helps those with disabilities find dates and explore their sexuality.
It was founded in 1979 by porn star, author and sex therapist Rosalind 'Tuppy' Owens in her subterranean flat in Mayfair. She is now 75 and living in a Highland croft.
She wrote the Sex Maniac's Diary and starred in Lady Victoria's Training, among other titillating tales, alongside Sittingbourne "bad boy" Simon Lindsay Honey, who was expelled from Borden Grammar School.
Honey has since made a lucrative career out of performing in adult films under his stage name Ben Dover after a short-lived career as a rock drummer with bands such as Edison Lighthouse, White Plains and the Ian Mitchell Band fronted by the former Bay City Roller guitarist. He also had a spell as a male stripper under the name of Hot Rod because of his resemblance to Rod Stewart. He now lives in Surrey.
The Outsiders Club was set up so socially and physically disabled people looking for love could find partners. Some are in wheelchairs with spinal injuries. Some have disfigurements or trouble moving because of arthritis or multiple sclerosis.
Others suffer from depression, agoraphobia or have cerebral palsy.
Val said: "The venues we pick for the ball are totally accessible. Many clubs list themselves as being accessible but then limit wheelchair-users to one floor.
"We ensure everyone can move around the whole venue freely. But there is more to it than just installing ramps, stair-lifts or building special props like spanking benches low enough for wheelchair-users.
"Some guests may be blind or deaf. It is important that if they are indulging in, say, a bondage session they can still communicate their 'safe' word to their partner to signal them to stop. Special signs must be agreed. It may be dropping a hanky or a flower.
"And we never use strobe lights in case anyone has epilepsy.
"Our priority is to provide a safe environment. We have stewards to help. If people become over excited there is always a quiet place they can relax with a cup of tea. And if the bar is too high for them we have special runners to get drinks."
She added: "On those nights we use specially selected acts so our guests feel comfortable. It's all about inclusion."
Entertainment can include "interactive strip shows" and "tactile stripping" where blind members can enjoy the sensation of touching models' outfits made of silk, velvet, rope or bubble wrap.
The balls, usually held twice a year in the spring and autumn, were staged in London until last October when they switched to Kent, mainly to keep costs down. Both planned dates this year have been cancelled.
Val said: "By definition, many of our guests are the most vulnerable in society with immune issues. We couldn't afford to take the risk."
According to Tuppy, Britain leads the way in looking after the sexual needs of the disabled. There are 11.6 million registered in the UK of which 5.7m are of working age.
She said: "This is the only country where disabled people have their own club where their personal development is respected."
She launched the Outsiders Trust charity in 1981, the TLC website in 2000 which helps the disabled find sex workers, the Sex and Disability Hotline in 2003 and formed the Sexual Health and Disability Alliance in 2005.
In 2009 she was named one of the Family Planning Association’s 80 most influential achievers and in 2015 she won Unesco's Innovation Award of Sexual Health and Human Rights. In 2017 she launched the School of Sex for Disabled People website.
She said: "Everyone wants to find someone to love and most people want to find someone to have sex with. It's natural. But most disabled people find getting a partner the most difficult job of all. Many have been teased or bullied at school, rejected by adults and have lost confidence."
One woman member who uses a wheelchair said: "People don't think wheelchair-users have the same sexual needs as everyone else. But we do."
Another, a young man also in a wheelchair, said: "I've tried to meet females in social settings but a lot of people when they see the chair go out of their way not to talk to me."
Video: Beware adult themes - Tuppy Owens talks about the Outsiders Club
At least one sex club in Kent, the House of Rua, remains closed.
A spokesman said: "We are aware some clubs have already reopened with an 'only play with the person you arrived with and stay away from others' rule but that's an unrealistic expectation and very unlikely to be enforced.
"We pride ourselves on being a safe place for all to enjoy themselves. So, whether or not we agree with the current guidelines, we will abide by them."
It's 'dungeon', though, is open for private hire for groups of up to three from the same household (£40 for two hours) and is apparently Covid-19 friendly with a rigorous cleaning routine between sessions and an endless supply of wipes.
It gives a whole new meaning to the term safe sex.