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Page last updated at 09:41 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 10:41 UK

Dirty talk for blind people


By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

An erotic audio site is marketing itself to blind and visually-impaired people. But have disabled people been excluded from the world of "adult" entertainment?

Lud Romano - who runs an internet communications business - was on holiday in South Africa with his partner when they discovered erotic audiobooks on iTunes.

They found the idea of a single voice reading aloud to be a little "empty".

"If you're going to get an erotic charge from that, you have to do a lot of work yourself," he says.

He decided there and then to commission a series of short radio dramas which would be made available from a website.

The original target audience for Clickforeplay was sexually confident, upwardly-mobile young women - the sort of people who felt comfortable about buying erotic fiction from a High Street bookshop or browsing the more female-friendly "adult" shops.

The 12-minute chunks of audio sold, but not in vast numbers.

"They [the plays] weren't costing anything, neither were they earning anything," said Mr Romano.

After a failed attempt at the "soft porn" market - "people wanted it a lot harder than we could ever achieve in the audio domain" - he looked at what was available for blind and partially-sighted people.

Erotic audiobooks

He was surprised to discover how under-served the market was in terms of adult material.

This is not to suggest that there is nothing "out there" for people who do not have access to standard print or video

For instance, the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) has erotic fiction in its audiobook library, as any mainstream library might have.

Pornographic actress with Playboy tattoo
Many people view mainstream pornography as exploitative

And general audiobook companies have sections dedicated to erotica which can run to 200 or so titles.

But one of the few dedicated erotic offerings for blind people that Mr Romano could find was a website containing an archive of audio recordings of American volunteers describing what they could see while watching hardcore pornography clips.

A brief listen to a couple of the audio files at the site is probably enough to convince most people to entertain themselves with something a little more improving. Deadpan, monotone descriptions of mainstream porn might even seem to the casual surfer like some sort of prank.

"It's just so bad, it's ridiculous," Mr Romano says.

His approach has been to get beyond what he describes as the "bored housewife meets young pool cleaner" type plot and to aim for something that will appeal to more sophisticated tastes.

He has a group of three writers who are simply told to "write naughty stories".

The plays are then recorded in a suite of rooms in north London "as live".

Man with laptop
There are erotic audio sites but few are marketed at blind people

"It's not actors gathered around a microphone - they really act this, dynamically."

For those who worry about the exploitative nature of pornography, it might be reassuring to know that Mr Romano's actors do, of course, keep their clothes on.

Each drama has a setting that is "ripe for erotic development", according to Mr Romano.

One concerns the interaction between an artist, his female assistant and a nude female model.

Another is set in a laboratory in which two male scientists accidently discover a powerful aphrodisiac which their female boss insists upon trying. Unfortunately, she uses all of it before they can analyse it and produce another batch.

Each drama costs around £2,500 to produce.

Mr Romano's firm has signed a deal with a company which gives text-to-speech output from webpages and magnifies the text as well.

Society's reluctance

And while some people may disapprove of the enterprise as just another example of the internet being used to disseminate sexual content, it will be welcomed by those disability rights activists who believe the exclusion of disabled people from the sexual arena mirrors their marginalisation in other areas of life.

Writer and performer, Mat Fraser, says that making adult material available to disabled people is an intrinsic part of inclusion.

"It is the erotic that helps us to feel alive, real, included, and disabled people have so much to offer the world of the erotic and the adult," he said.

Society's reluctance to accept disabled people's sexuality is perhaps based on a deep-rooted but unspoken belief that they should not reproduce.

Sex shop
Many disabled people feel excluded from the world of 'adult' entertainment

This is a prejudice that is being challenged by activists, artists and writers, like Penny Pepper - a writer of erotic fiction that includes disabled characters.

"We are tired of being nannied and denied the rights to sexual expression that non-disabled people take for granted - so on that level, at least, we should fight for equal access to view and enjoy such material," she says.

Certainly, the RNIB makes sure that a wide range of tastes is catered for when choosing material for its Talking Book library.

The library's manager, Pat Beach, says the main problem is access to printed material per se - less than 5% of books published in the UK ever appear in large print, audio or Braille.

"We do not act as a censor - erotic fiction can be found on our shelves just as it is in a public library or a bookshop," he says.

Others believe that - because disabled people can experience difficulty in forming intimate relationships - accessing erotica and adult entertainment can provide an alternative outlet.

"As part of the wider campaign for barrier removal, it is really important also to remove barriers to erotica and sexual expression for disabled people," says disabled academic, Tom Shakespeare.

Mr Romano has already begun discussions with the RNIB, hoping to find an avenue to make more blind people aware of his product.

Below is a selection of your comments.

This throws up an interesting dilemma - do we support feminism against porn, or disability rights? What do feminists who may be disabled think?
Andrew Turner, Stoke On Trent

More power and success to Mr Romano. We able bodied people tend to forget that people with disabilities still have the same feelings as everyone else.
George, Woking

Fascinating article, although for any disabled singletons reading in despair, it is entirely possible for a disabled person to have a functioning, sexual relationship. I have had a boyfriend for about five-and-a-half years, and am perfectly consenting. I was born with Asperger's Syndrome. Steve (my boyfriend) says that it's a fantastic idea that no one should be excluded from any activity that able-bodied people can do, there is far to much disablism.
Amy, Dudley, England

Hooray, about time, although a straight, able bodied woman I truly believe that all forms of erotica should be equally available to all who wish to access it, no discrimination should mean exactly that - any volunteers required
Rosie, Lancaster

So why aren't the actors actually 'doing it', without their clothes on? This sounds very patronising to me. If real hardcore sex is ok to be watched, why can't it be heard too? I'm sure the squelching sounds would be nice for someone trying to get themselves in the mood.
rebecca, Norwich

As a purveyor of pornography through the traditional medium of an adult shop, it is refreshing to see attitudes to this material relaxing a little. As a responsible retailer, I would welcome any person over the age of 18 into our premises, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or disability. Indeed, we have regular customers with varying disabilities, both single and in couples who appear to enjoy a healthy sex life. I for one will be actively seeking out material such as this and stocking it gives access to all. Sexual freedom is a right for all and if people with disabilities require assistance to allow them access to this freedom, who has the right to prevent it? If we were discussing access to the theatre instead of pornography, I fear the attitudes may be a little different!
Stuart Gilbert, Evesham, Worcs

I think this sounds like a great idea, and I'd be surprised if it was just blind people who were interested in it. I wonder if the comments made about young women being comfortable buying erotic literature is related to the imagination aspect, something missing from video porn. I have quite a few female friends who read erotic novels, but who I laugh with about how over the top porn films are. For those who find imagining scenarios more attractive and powerful than viewing them, I'd imagine that erotic podcasts would be an attractive alternative.
Gemma, Edinburgh

The key here is to differentiate between erotic content - which has a place, and pornography which is another word for wrecked lives, the degradation of women and putting money into the pockets of pimps, spivs and lumpen small businessmen. Why would any sane person want access to the latter?
James Snipe, Bolton

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