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Disability & Sex: Disabled People are Not Automatically Bad Sexual or Romantic Partners

Disability & Sex: Disabled People are Not Automatically Bad Sexual or Romantic Partners

Amidst the dozens of emails I receive a day for blog related stuff, one stood out the other day. It asked if I was interested in writing a post for their blog on sex and disability. I was highly suspicious at first, as it was from a porn site, Lustery.

Was it legitimate or risky? But after doing some research on their website, I decided to say ‘yes’. They seemed truly passionate about raising awareness on sex and disability, and it didn’t seem like a scam at all. It is also a highly stigmatised but important topic that needs to be addressed in society.

From Taylor & Francis Online:

“Stigma and discrimination can be real or perceived, with important implications for the health of populations, including the delivery of sexual and reproductive health care, making these obstacles critical public health concerns.”

Modern Society’s Portrayal of Sex

Sadly, the portrayal of good sex in society, or even any sex at all, rarely involves disabled people. How could a person who uses a wheelchair, walking stick or another form of mobility aid even have sex? How could a person with an invisible illness that causes chronic pain be even ‘up to task’?

In this era of dating apps and quick swipes, options for sex partners are technically unlimited. One night stands are all too common, and even seen as a form of masculinity or independence.

Pornography can also create unrealistic sexual expectations or fantasies. I am not disputing that these are bad or good things, but they do cultivate some faulty thinking in relation to sex and disability.

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Can Disabled People Have Sex? Do They Even Need It?

Myths & Associations to Disability & Sex

They perpetuate the myth that disabled people are non sexual beings or asexual. Or that they’re not ‘worth’ wasting time or effort having sex with. Why should you, when the sea is full of able-bodied people who are ready to play?

Words that are often associated when people think about disability are (wheelchair) ‘bound’, ‘restricted’, ‘limited’, ‘immobile’, ‘slow’, ‘weak’, or some other negative connotation.

Whereas sex is often seen as ‘wild’, ‘fun’, ‘vigorous’, ‘spontaneous’, ‘active’, ‘hearty’ and ‘requring lots of stamina’.

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Myths & Associations to Disability and Sex

What Do We Really Know About Disability & What Accessibility Means?

Where is the overlap that matters most? The intimacy. The social, mental and emotional connections. The flourishing and nourishing of love. The communication and relational depth. The sort of human connections that deep down inside, we crave for the most.

From the ‘Fight the New Drug’ website (a great website for such topics, by the way!), an article titled ‘The Percentage Of Sexless Twenty-Somethings Is Now A Record High, But Why?’:

“A disturbing amount of porn emphasizes dominance and violence, things that don’t have a place in a safe, consensual, and mutually satisfying relationship where sex is involved. There’s a lot more to sex than just the act of intercourse itself—things like trust, sharing, cuddling, intimacy, and love.”

And if you do not live with a disability or chronic illness, what do you really know about a person’s physical limitations? Yet society lumps them all into one group. An example is the fact that many restaurants and public spaces claim to be accessibility friendly, just because they have a ramp for wheelchairs. But not all disabled people need ramps or wheelchairs, and ramps are not a one-stop solution for accessibility.

I will not delve further as this is one gigantic topic of its own! But there are many great blogs written by disabled people that you can search for to learn more.

It’s Okay to Have a Thought by Instinct, But What You Act Upon After Matters Most

I wouldn’t be surprised if a healthy person reconsiders any sort of relationship with a person, should they learn that they have a disability. A ‘defect’. I experienced this firsthand myself. It does take a different kind of commitment and understanding that not everyone is prepared or selfless enough for.

I wouldn’t blame anyone for having this initial, reactive, instinctive thought, however. As human we have an innate wiring to survive and to propogate.

But as with any thought, it’s what you act upon that matters. It’s important to keep an open mind and to question our thoughts, as they aren’t always true or correct.

How do you know that someone isn’t a good sexual partner based on the mere fact that they have a disability? Have you asked their opinion or thoughts about it? Do you know their actual limitations and abilities? What you do really know about disability, if at all?

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The Importance of Questioning Our Thoughts - They Aren't Always True
It’s Okay to Have a Thought by Instinct, But What You Act Upon After Matters Most - Quote

Social, Physical & Sexual Needs as Any Human Being

To be human is to need connection on all levels, including social. In fact, social pain and physical pain have a shared neural circuit. James Coan, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, says, “Humans have this dire need to connect. Our brains have learned from brutal evolutionary lessons that social isolation is a death sentence”.

Physical connection is another human need. Whilst it’s true that some chronic illnesses or disabilities can trigger pain from touch, that doesn’t mean that these people have no desire for affection.

“Connection is not an exchange of information. It’s an exchange of humanity. It’s an exchange of emotion.” – Sean Stephenson

Whilst it may be oversimplified, the five love languages provide a simple framework for “speaking your partner’s language”, with physical touch amongst them. We all need this to varying degrees, whether abled or disabled. I’ve had abled partners who were on extreme ends of the spectrum, and showed their care and love in very different ways.

On top of that, according to WebMD, there are 20 reasons as to why people have and need sex. This ranges from emotional fulfilment, human instinct, to feelings of duty. It’s often an overlap.

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Social, Physical and Sexual Needs as Any Human Being (Disabled or Not)

Formation of False Narratives Through Hyperconnectivity

Modern life is fast-paced, stressful and often worships a culture of busyness. This likely contributes to the faulty and dangerous conclusion that disability is a burden in general.

The internet ensures hyperconnectivity, yet miscommunication and false narratives have also escalated. The selective lens of social media, porn and advertising seep into our subconsciousness.

It’s almost brainwashing with the daily constant bombardment. In fact, one needs to make a real effort to break away from certain streams of thoughts after a while.

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False Narratives of Sex and Disability (Perpetuated Through the Warped Lens of Social Media)

Good Communication is Key to Good Sex

I’m sure you know of relationships that have ended due to poor or mis-communication. Sometimes this happens out of the bedroom, too.

Good sex requires sensitivity, compromise, give and take. This is true whether you have a disability or not. Every relationship possesses its own beauty, and also its own set of problems. No matter who you are, or where you come from in the world.

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Good Communication Is Key to Good Sex (Disabled or Otherwise)

The Importance of Sex & Disability Education

It’s important to take time to educate ourselves on disability. It might surprise you at how ‘able’ these people actually are in so many ways. Apart from research from reliable sources, the best way to learn is through disabled people themselves.

Ask if it’s okay to ask, then ask if you get the green light. What sort of disability do they have? How does it impact their day to day life? What do they struggle with? What do they love to do and are passionate about?

Some things you’ll have to discover on your own, but that’s the magic of building any relationship. You might be surprised at what you fall in love with and what they have to teach you – probably even in the bedroom.

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The Importance of Sex and Disability Education
You Might Be Surprised At What Disabled Have to Teach About Sex!

*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.

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Disability & Sex: Disabled People are Not Automatically Bad Sexual or Romantic Partners
Disability & Sex: Disabled People are Not Automatically Bad Sexual or Romantic Partners

  1. Julia Hussein & Laura Ferguson (2019) Eliminating stigma and discrimination in sexual and reproductive health care: a public health imperative, Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, 27:3, 1-5, DOI: 10.1080/26410397.2019.1697103
  2. Shah Sonali (2017) “Disabled People Are Sexual Citizens Too”: Supporting Sexual Identity, Well-being, and Safety for Disabled Young People, Frontiers in Education, 2, 6, DOI: 10.3389/feduc.2017.00046
  3. Zhang, M., Zhang, Y., & Kong, Y. (2019). Interaction between social pain and physical pain. Brain Science Advances, 5(4), 265–273.

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Katie Clark
April 18, 2021 08:03

I have thought about writing on the subject. I’m a bit too nervous, though. Sex raises dopamine, which improves mood and lessens pain. My husband and Ihave joked that whenever I have a headache, I need sex because it always clears it;)

April 14, 2021 23:57

You approached this topic so thoughtfully Sheryl. It’s so true that society has certain narratives around disability and sex that seem to be at odds with each other, yet that definitely doesn’t need to be the case.

Ellen Best
April 14, 2021 22:44

A tough subject handled so well. But in a world that thinks over sixty is too old for sex or intamacy let alone an over sixty with a hidden illness, still wanting sex … I am nit seeing attitudes changing any time soon. I overheard a man say “She can’t expect me to want her now she is soft and wrinkled, that is not what I married!” He was bald and rotund discussing his wife! It beggars belief. We can only hope our own partners have been tsught better!