'I related to how Mark felt about his body' ... John Hawkes and Helen Hunt in The Sessions. Photograph: FoxSearch/Everett/Rex Features
When I heard a film had been made about sex and disability
, I was worried. How could a film about a man who survived polio
as a child, and who now wants to employ a "sex
surrogate" to take his virginity, be anything other than gross? I was ready to cover my eyes – but I didn't need to. This is a wonderfully sensitive and beautifully acted film.
Like Mark, who is played by John Hawkes
, I contracted polio as a child. But he spends many hours in an iron lung and is near immobile, whereas I have never used one – I was born in Kenya and they didn't have them at the time – and I'm a Paralympic wheelchair racer
. Nor had I ever heard of a sex surrogate. I've been asking disabled friends about it, and most of them haven't either. It's opened their eyes; some of them are saying they'd like to try it.
I could very much relate to the way Mark feels about his body. He's ashamed; at first, he can hardly bear for Cheryl (Helen Hunt
) to touch him. When I was a teenager, I felt the same way: boys were starting to notice my friends, and I couldn't imagine anyone ever finding me sexy. Eventually, I just decided that I was beautiful the way I am. Mark goes through a very similar process.
There's a lovely moment when he says something like: "God must have a wicked sense of humour – he made me." I feel the same way. If you have any kind of religious belief, you learn to accept yourself – to understand that your disability is not a curse, but that God has made you in his own image.
I'd have liked to see the film look at post-polio syndrome
[a condition that affects polio survivors later in life]. I have it, and many people don't even know it exists. But that's a small criticism. This is an important and educational film. I hope it will help people to understand polio better.
• Anne Wafula Strike's autobiography In My Dreams I Dance
is available through the British Polio Fellowship (britishpolio.org.uk; 0800 018 0586). The Sessions
is out now.