Dating With A Disability
Sexuality is a significant facet of the human psyche, it is not a physical act, it is an internal energy that most human beings share. Of course sexuality manifests in a variety of ways with each person expressing their sexuality with different behaviours.
In 2006 the world health organisation explains, “A central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction”. However, when it comes to disability and sexuality, there is a silence that very few people break, as though it isn’t the most natural thing in the world. Let’s explore why that is and try to break down some of these taboos.
One of the most common misconceptions about disability and sexuality is the assumed asexuality of all disabled peo-ple. This goes hand in hand with the gross infantilization of people with disabilities. You have probably all at some point seen a person bend down to someone in a wheelchair and speak to them in very simple language, as they would a child.
This is rarely done with malice and is the result of a whole hoard of internalised ableism perpetuated by the media but it does seep into the sexual lives of those with disabilities. This is a problem that is never even considered by most non-disabled people.
Why is it not a topic that is spoken about and thought on by non-disabled people? Well, its because of the widely be-lieved myth that disabled people are inherently non-sexual beings. Consider that for only a moment and very quickly you realise that this myth is entirely ridiculous.
It’s a vicious cycle of not talking about sexuality and disability, not representing disabled sexuality in the media, which perpetuates the belief that disabled people are all non-sexual, and so the cycle continues.
It is important to note that some disabled individuals will in fact be asexual, just in the same way that many able bodied people are also asexual, but this is absolutely not a blanket statement for all disabled people.
This misconception is based on the misrepresentation of disabled people in media. This is why representation is so important. Along similar lines, many people assume that disabled people only date, have intimacy with and have sex with other disabled people.
There are multiple reasons that this is a common misunderstanding. Perhaps this can be attributed to the same infan-tilization of people with disabilities, the thought process as I see it online, is that some view it as ‘inappropriate’ for an able bodied person to be romantically or sexually involved with a disabled person because they are portrayed as vul-nerable individuals in society, therefore there is a fear that one could take advantage of a person with a disability as an able bodied partner.
Yet interabled couples absolutely do exist, they do thrive, they love in the same way non-disabled persons do and they have healthy sexual relationships. For countless interabled couples the able bodied partner also becomes a care giver for the disabled partner. There is a lot of discussion about whether a relationship can work with one being a caregiver for the other but there are plenty of couples who do this successfully and are open about maintaining a healthy sexual relationship.
If you’re interested in learning more about interabled relationships I would recommend looking up ‘squirmy and grubs’ on YouTube. They are interabled couple, Shane who has SMA and his girlfriend Hannah who is not disabled. They do a great job of demonstrating how normal and beautiful their relationship and their life together is with Hannah being both Shane’s girlfriend and care giver.
This idea of disability and vulnerability being heavily linked is forever an on-going discussion when it comes to disa-bility and sex. This is a difficult subject for most folks because obviously no one wants to take advantage of a vulnera-ble person. But to assume that all disabled people are vulnerable and therefore should not be allowed the right to own their own sexuality is repugnant.
In the UK disabled people have all the same rights as able-bodied individuals to have sex over the age of 16 as long as consent is given. However the issue of consent becomes a major topic of debate when it comes to disability because some believe that disability immediately negates any consent given by the disabled party.
However, Adults with disabilities display wide variability in cognitive and emotional growth depending upon their disability. It is not appropriate to refuse all disabled people their right to have healthy, consensual sex because they are all seen as ‘too vulnerable’ or unable to make their own decisions about their own bodies.
Disability should not remove ones bodily autonomy. Erica Monasterio of the University of California explains her baseline gauges for consent and disability (although these do apply to everyone) in a Lecture on health sexuality and adults with disabilities.
They are as follows; One must have the ability to express their consent. One must have the ability to respond appropri-ately to not being given consent or removing consent.
The knowledge that having unprotected sex can result in pregnancy and STI’s. The ability to determine appropriate times and places for sexual activity and the ability to recognise persons or situations that might be a threat.
As you can see, these guidelines for consent are exactly what you would expect for an able bodied person to be seen as fit to give consent.I have been working to show you that sex and sexuality for people with disabilities is mostly the same as able-bodied sex and sexuality and is nothing to be scared to discuss.
Obviously, there are some things that do change for a disabled person during sex and intimacy, for example accessibil-ity and mobility issues. The great thing about people with disabilities is that they often have to get a bit creative and think outside of the box when it comes to making things in daily life accessible and so when it comes to sex and inti-macy, this comes in very useful.
Sex aids such as sex furniture, hoists, and accessible sex toys and simply figuring out the best positions (even for cud-dling) are all things that can help create a healthier and easier sex life when you have a disability – this includes invisible illness.
Just as with all relationships or sexual encounters, communication is key, that seems obvious, but in this case commu-nication may avoid unnecessary pain and discomfort. This is especially poignant when it comes to invisible illness and disability, the only way to navigate intimacy and sex comfortably when you have an invisible impairment is to com-municate your comfort/discomfort levels. Contraception needs may also differ depending upon disabilities, for exam-ple some people with Spina Bifida are allergic to latex and so need latex free condoms.
These are all things that most able-bodied people probably don’t know. This is why representation in the mass media, film industry etc is so important. A brilliant example of the kind of representation needed is ‘special’ which is a wonderful Netflix
original about a gay man in his 20s with cerebral palsy which follow his endeavours with dating and sex.
Secondly, disability and sexuality needs to be taught about in sex education at schools. Nothing at all about disability and sexuality is taught at schools. I know that at my school disability was not included in the Sex Ed curriculum at all, and the special needs class at my primary school was excluded from our sex education.
These convocations need to happen in order to normalise sexuality and disability. Starting convocations around this topic is the best place to start on the road to ensuring healthy perceptions of sexuality and the disabled community.