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Sex and disability: the facts

April 14, 2016

There are still lots of myths about sex and disability lurking around – and we’re out to change that! So, we’re shedding a little more light on 10 common misconceptions about disability and sex.

Talking about sex and sexuality is often seen as being off limits, and even more so when it concerns people with a disability.

People with a disability are often seen as asexual, or even hyper-sexual, but we are out to prove just how wrong that can be.

Here are the facts behind some of the more common misconceptions about disability and sex.

Fact #1: People with disabilities can be sexual and enjoy sex!

One of the biggest barriers for people with disabilities is the assumption that they are not sexual. Not so! People with a disability can have sexual urges, have sex – possibly the adventurous kind if they choose, be with sex workers, and masturbate.

As some people may rely on others for support, there is a mistaken belief that people with a disability are childlike and therefore should not have sex. Whilst sex education is absolutely important for all people, ultimately the decision to have intimate relationships is up to the individual.

Fact #2: People with physical disabilities can have sex

The ability to have ‘traditional’ sex can depend upon someone’s disability, however, sex is not black and white – there are many ways to express sexual feelings such as kissing, touching, massaging, and other activities.

For someone with a disability, it may just require a little forward planning, creativity, assistance, and trial and error to find a position that is comfortable and enjoyable.

There is also no ‘correct’ way to have sex – it can be whatever people want it to be (as long as it is safe and between consenting adults). It’s true that not everyone can swing from the chandeliers but it’s also true that not everyone wants to do this, nor is this the definition of ‘real sex’.

Fact #3: People with a disability are sexy

What people find sexy and attractive is different for everyone, and desire is a mixture of many different factors. Personality, history, values, looks, sexual fantasies, timing, and a whole mix of other traits can determine whether someone will take your fancy!

The ideal of ‘beauty’ may actually have nothing to do with it – you do not have to be a supermodel or perform like a stud in the sack to be considered attractive or be a wonderful partner!

Above all else, attraction is a connection between people – and that’s it. How and why two people are attracted to each other is completely unique.

Fact #4: People with a disability don’t only have sex with one another

The attitude that people with a disability should only date and have sexual relationships with other people with a disability only limits the possibility of developing loving relationships.

Also, this way of thinking defines someone as having a disability first, and as being a person second.

The bottom line is, as long as all partners are happy, safe, and consenting, they can enjoy a healthy sexual relationship.

And no, someone is not noble for being in a relationship with someone who has a disability – this suggests that not having a disability makes you a great catch, and having a disability makes you a liability. Not true!

All relationships involve hard work and compromise, and living with a disability doesn’t mean you will contribute less to a relationship.

Fact #5: Some people who use a wheelchair can still feel ‘down there’

How do people who use a wheelchair have sex? The simple answer is, usually in bed!

For starters, it’s important to remember that people who use wheelchairs may do so for a range of reasons. This means that many people can still have full sensation and control ‘down there’ – including those with spinal cord injuries (SCI).

However, for some people, their disability can impact sexual function such as a loss or change in sensation, difficulty controlling the muscles, and some men may not be able achieve or maintain an erection.

Even so, some people who don’t have feeling below the waist can still have an orgasm from the more ‘traditional’ sexual activities. Women with an SCI for example, can report feeling the orgasm they had before their injury, except only in part of their body, such as above their waist.

Each person simply needs to get to know their own body and learn how it reacts to certain situations.

Fact #6: Sex is not just all about each other’s ‘privates’

Even if someone can’t get an erection or have an orgasm in the ‘traditional’ sense, there’s absolutely no reason they can’t enjoy sex.

People with spinal cord injuries have reported experiencing great pleasure from stimulation in areas like the arms, earlobe, neck, cheek and nipple – so much so that it can even lead to orgasm!

A lot of sexual pleasure is about what happens in the brain too. There are all sorts of ways to enhance this, whether it’s through fantasies, relaxation, meditation or breathing techniques. It’s all just a matter of working out personal turn-ons and turn-offs – and the best way to do this is with a loving partner you trust!

Fact #7: People with a physical disability don’t just “lie there”

Having a physical disability doesn’t mean you can’t play an active part in sexual shenanigans! Of course, while some positions may be tricky, there are many things that can help overcome the physical challenges – from using aids like wedges, sliding chairs, or swings, to finding a bed or table that’s at just the right height. Even a wheelchair can be a great aid itself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Fact #8: People with a disability can and do use sex workers

The rights of people with a disability to choose to be with a sex workers has been quite topical with movies such as The Sessions staring, John Hawkes and Helen Hunt being released.

While the specific laws differ state to state, prostitution is legal in most places in Australia – and there’s no ‘rule’ excluding people with a disability from using their services. In fact, there are organisations who specifically train their staff to cater for people with a disability, for example, Touching Base and Rachel Wotten of Scarlet Road.

Of course, choosing to be with a sex worker is a very personal thing, but it’s not black and white and there’s certainly no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to this scenario.

Fact #9: People with disability can identify as LGBTQI too

It should go without saying that as with any part of the community, people with a disability can and do identify as LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex). However, as sometimes people with a disability are incorrectly seen as being asexual, people forget this fact!

Sexuality and sexual preference is a very personal thing. Some people are attracted to the opposite sex, some have a same sex attraction, and others are attracted to both sexes.

Fact #10: All people need to learn about and understand sex

Ensuring all people are informed about sex education and have access to resources is of utmost importance. Learning about consent, STIs, contraception, pregnancy, and safe sex is all a part of this education.

People with a disability need to be provided with a comfortable environment to talk openly about their experiences. If any complaint is raised, it must be acted upon appropriately by family members, service providers, and the criminal justice system.