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Seven years ago, Stephanie Dixon, the 17-time Paralympic medallist who was widely considered to be one of the best female swimmers in the world, appeared on billboards across the country.In the ad, Dixon, then 26, exudes confidence and defiance in a black one-piece suit: her eyebrow is cocked, her arms are crossed, and her biceps look cut as she poses next to a slogan that reads, “She doesn’t want your sympathy.

“It looks like I was designed to have one leg, like a mermaid’s body,” she says.

Dixon looks every bit the poised, self-possessed Olympian, and she was—except for one area of her life in which she felt painfully insecure.

“People assumed I was very confident in my body, traipsing around in a bathing suit,” says Dixon.

“But that’s very different from being considered a sexual being by someone you’re attracted to.” For years, Dixon was afraid that potential partners would be disgusted by her body. I just didn’t think anyone would want to have sex with me,” she says.

Because she is missing her leg, she also has only half a bum and half a pelvis, and she was worried that her vagina was disfigured—she’d never compared hers to anyone else’s.

Growing up in Brampton, Ont., Dixon’s sex education came entirely from friends (and one incident where, at her mom’s insistence, she and her older brother practiced rolling condoms onto bananas).As a swimmer, she’d gotten used to using tampons at an early age.But accessing the world of dating and sex felt terrifying.In high school, Dixon wore her prosthetic leg under jeans every day to fit in, but it wasn’t until she was 15, and began competing in Paralympic competitions—where everyone was contending with some type of challenge—that she felt comfortable getting her flirt on.Still, that confidence didn’t translate to her day-to-day life outside the pool.By 19, she’d fallen into a pattern of only making out with men when she was drunk.In university, she would panic when someone showed interest in her at a bar.“Say someone wants to take you home—that is an awkward f-cking conversation,” Dixon says.“At what point do you let them know that one leg is going to be coming off?” Dating and sex are complicated under the best of circumstances.If you’re living with a disability, the obstacles and challenges extend far beyond the “does-he-like-me?

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