Prague (AFP) - Tomas Pik has lost nothing of his lust for life despite the crippling disease that confined him to a wheelchair five years ago as the nerves in his limbs withered.
The 26-year-old Czech has relied on prostitutes to meet sexual needs, but says many refuse after they learn he has the rare neurological disease Friedreich's ataxia, the symptoms of which he first experienced a decade ago.
"Being handicapped, you don't have much self-confidence, and when a prostitute turns you down, it's quite the blow," he told AFP in the Czech capital Prague.
Now there is a new paid service on offer for the country's disabled, one without the risk of rejection.
Sexual assistants meet carnal needs, but they are also trained to help the handicapped discover and manage their sexuality.
The EU member of 10.5 million people is the first ex-communist country where the service is on offer, following nations such as the Netherlands, an early pioneer in the practice, Denmark, France, Germany and Switzerland.
It took about two years to get the service up and running using know-how provided by Swiss partners, according to Lucie Sidova, head of the Rozkos bez rizika (Risk-Free Pleasure) organisation helping women in the sex industry.
Sidova told AFP that like prostitution, the service is not a crime under Czech law.
Pik, a bespectacled second-hand charity shop worker, runs a Facebook page promoting sexual assistance and never misses an opportunity to spread the word.
Sipping coffee from a cup he has trouble holding, Pik explains that specially trained sex assistants are not out to retain clients, but to ultimately help them find a lover of their own.
- Hugs, kisses, nudity -
"The task of a sexual assistant is to teach the disabled how to engage with their sexuality and sex toys and the right way to masturbate because no one else will talk to them about that kind of thing," he said.
"The sexuality of disabled people is a big taboo here," added Pik, who has had one tantric massage from an assistant since the service got the go-ahead from authorities late last year.
The range of services varies -- sexual assistants can go as far as intercourse with their clients, but some draw the line at massages and instruction.
"I don't offer penetration or even oral sex but only touches, tantric massages, hugs, kisses, nudity," says Iva, an assistant from a town northeast of Prague who calls herself a sex teacher.
"Some people with mental disabilities or complex handicaps can't even say what they want so I have to use pictures to find out."
Iva is one of five sexual assistants working with Risk-free Pleasure. They charge up to 1,200 koruna (45 euros, $50) per session.
"Many disabled people don't have a partner. They are, say, 35 years old, so I open the door to sexuality for them," says Iva.
She insists on only meeting a client a handful of times at most to prevent him from developing too close of a bond with her.
- Risky business -
"Disabled people are often full of pent-up sexual energy," she said, adding that some may be impulsive and aggressive at times.
"When they release that sexual energy, and it's the strongest energy you'll find in the body, their mood improves and they are easier to handle," Iva told AFP.
Although sexual assistance itself is not illegal, the Risk-free Pleasure NGO still walks a fine line as they can advertise the service but cannot themselves put assistants in touch with clients. That could carry charges of procurement, or pimping, which is a broadly defined crime under Czech law.
The service is still in its initial phase -- Iva said she only had two clients in January -- but Lucie Sidova is hoping to boost the current roster with additional assistants, including men, in the future.
She said they have already received one thank you letter from a man who used a sexual assistant.
"After many years of looking for a partner in vain, his self-confidence grew so much that he told us he wasn't coming to the next session, that he has a girlfriend now."