#SexColumn: Sexuality of people with disabilities
3 Nov 2020
By Sharon Gordon
I have recently been asked to do a talk about sex and sex toys to a group of deaf women and I am so excited at being given the opportunity.
Last year I did menstrual health education at a school for hearing impaired. I had to arrive early so we could establish sign for the words and concepts I’d be using. I’m excited to establish sign for our toys and how you use them.
In 20 years I have never done any sort of education, party or ladies night with the focus being people with disabilities. It’s a crime that we haven’t but we’re going to fix that.
I want to stress that I do know that sexuality is more than sex. ‘It encompasses gender identities and roles that opens in a new window sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.
Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. It is influenced by psychological, economic, political, social, and biological factors. Sexuality is a natural and healthy aspect of living, and it’s a part of who you are.’ www.sexanddisability.org.
I want to talk about sex. The sexuality of people with disabilities are so often overlooked and as with any subject if it is not dragged into the open and discussed myths and taboos run rampant. One of the most obvious myths is that people with disabilities are often not seen as sexual beings, don’t need or want sex, are oversexed, have greater needs than sex, can’t have sex, don’t need sex education, shouldn’t have children and much more.
Humans, regardless of your condition are sexual beings with sexual fantasies, feelings and aspirations like anyone else. Just because someone is blind, deaf or paralysed does not negate biological feelings. People with physical disabilities are often seen and treated as childlike, which doesn’t help the cause.
We rarely talk to our abled children about sex so how much harder if your child is disabled?
Loving touch is important. We see it in abandoned babies. Those babies that are touched, held and caressed develop far quicker than those who don’t. As we get older, we still need loving touch. Read my blog on hugging.
I have an acquaintance who does massaging. She has a client who suffers from severe muscular dystrophy. His entire body is knotted up and in pain. He can barely open his hands. He came to her for a massage to relieve the muscles, but she found that just touching and stroking him with care and love worked absolute wonders especially in opening his hands. It seems a shame that he has to pay someone to show him care.
Because we allow the myths and taboos to continue I think it is incredibly hard for someone with a disability to have self confidence and find a loving partner. It’s hard enough when you don’t have a disability.
But it is possible. Just look at the motivational speaker Nicholas Vujicic born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder (called phocomelia) characterized by the absence of arms and legs. He has found love and fathered 2 children.
Which brings me to another myth, that a disabled person should not have children because their children will also be disabled. The truth is that an able bodied person has just as much chance as a disabled person of having a perfectly ‘normal’ child. As I write this, I just know that I don’t have all the protocols and language right so forgive me I just want to start the conversation.
Many people think that sex takes place only when a man puts his penis into a woman’s vagina but that is just one way. In reality, we have sex in many different ways. Kissing, touching, masturbating and oral sex are all sexual activities.
The myth of a ‘real’ or ‘correct’ way to have sex might lead persons with disabilities to believe that because they can’t see, feel, or move their bodies in certain ways, sex isn’t for them.
Sex is for everyone, even though the mechanics of it can vary. There are no rules governing what sex can or cannot be, except that it should involve consent (see last week’s #sexcolumn), and safety.
Sexual acts don’t have to look, sound, smell or feel like anything apart from what works for the people who are involved. You may have to adjust your position or your bed, lock your wheelchair and get creative. We have some great pictures on wheelchair sex called ‘Hot Wheels’.
There are many sexual aids to help sex be as pleasurable as possible. If sex is mostly in your head, then having a physical limit should not be a barrier to pleasure.
To most non disabled people, sexuality and disability seem to be unconnected terrains – disabled sexual desires are by and large assumed to be non-existent. The reality is that persons with disabilities are sexual beings with sexual fantasies, feelings and aspirations like anyone else.
They may be unable to express their sexuality fully not so much because of a disability but because of the assumption that they are not sexual. Other barriers include restrictions on their mobility, negative societal attitudes and the lack of educational, entertainment, social and health services and rights that other people have. (Source: ‘Sexuality and Disability in the Indian Context’ TARSHI working paper.
Let’s be the generation that changes these perceptions, starts talking about sex and disability, dispelling the myths and taboos, ensuring great sex for everyone.
If you are disabled, or have any experience in this field, I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.
Please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org