Sex and Disability 101

People with disabilities being viewed as ‘not sexual’ means living in a world that makes them feel like they aren’t sexy, or like they aren’t potential sexual partners. For the abled community, this perception reinforces the unfair sexual prejudice surrounding disability.

The abled community’s perception of the disabled community reinforces unfair sexual prejudice surrounding disability. The idea that people with disabilities are not sexually active comes from the impression that sexuality and disability only overlap in instances of victimization, abuse, and purity. People with mental disabilities specifically are seen as childlike and therefore unable to process the complexities of sex and pleasure. But there are wider ranges of disability that are not often considered.

Many people with disabilities lack the rights and privileges that would allow them to have intimacy and relationships. Sometimes, this forces them to keep their relationships platonic thereby fulfilling the idea of their not being sexual beings.

Fortunately, and despite major drawbacks, sexually disenfranchised groups are working to break these misconceptions and open the doors for people with disabilities to be sexually liberated and expressive.

Sexuality and sexual relationships are essential to a healthy life as they are important for overall physical, emotional and social well-being. In fact, the World Health Organization details that sexuality is a basic need and an aspect of being human that cannot be separated from holistic life.

Historically young disabled people are excluded from dominant processes of socialization and learning that would have prepared them for love, sex, and reproduction.

Due to the activism by sexually disenfranchised groups, mentally disabled persons are slowly receiving the type of comprehensive education on sex and sexual expression that is important for youth and adults with different levels of mental ability and literacy.

Additionally, sufficient education on sexual rights and differences between ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ sexual choices and exchanges will put mentally disabled people in a position to not only sexually thrive but also resist sexual violence and abuse (SVA) in different social spaces.

For individuals with physical disabilities, advances are being made to help them enjoy sex. Some of these interventions include specialised sex toys and physical aids (such as bed modifications or ‘sex furniture’), suitable sex positions, or through the services of a qualified sex worker.

Sex work: an important component

Sex work extends further than paying for sex. In the context of persons with a disability, it can also be about assisting in the process rather than participating. ‘Intimacy coaches’ help with a variety of things including relationship coaching, anatomy coaching, “body mapping,” which is a process of going through different areas of the body, in different forms of touching, to figure out what one likes, and physical interventions like putting on a condom or getting into a certain position.

The developed world is light years ahead in their support of assisted sex. In the Netherlands, it was reported in 2013 that citizens with disabilities were eligible for a government-funded scheme that financially covered up to 12 occasions of sexual service per year.

In the UK where conventional sex work is currently legal, a non-profit telephone-based service called the ‘Para Doxies’ is moving the struggle forward by having volunteers find trusted sex workers specifically for people with disabilities and based on their needs.

Founder, sexual activist and former brothel madam Becky Adams told the Sun about her intention to open a brothel for the disabled in 2013, saying “Sex work polarizes opinion. Disability is also an old taboo. Sex workers and disabled people are alike in that they are both vulnerable and have very little voice in society.”

Because of the blanket way in which sex work is viewed, it is illegal in most countries. By not including all context in which it is necessary, this illegality compromises the quality of life for those who require assisted sex.

Perception affects self-image

The body positivity movement is also having a profound impact on changing the perception of what is sexy. Model and disability advocate Cacsmy Brutus also known as ‘Mama Cax’ became one of the first disabled models to appear on a New York Fashion Week runway for the Spring 2019 Chromat show. She, among others, are helping dislodge the idea that there is only one standard of beauty.

A controversial topic in the world of sexuality and disability is Devotism. Devotism is the sexual attraction towards people with disabilities. The idea that this attraction is defined as unique or some kind of fetish points to the damaging perception that it is considered abnormal.

However, Devotism at least encourages the appreciation of people with disabilities as sexual beings and Devotees arguably help to cultivate positive self-image and confidence.

‘Sex and Disability’ author Robert McRuer found that Devotism renewed self-assurance in a group of women with disabilities. He wrote, ‘Women who had felt profound shame about their bodies reported significant gains in their self-confidence after discovering Devotees.’ Some women even stopped hiding their disabilities as they previously had.

As the world interacts with different facets of disability more and more, the key thing to remember is that physical or intellectual disability doesn’t change sexuality or the desire to express it. Although disability may affect the ability to have a ‘regular’ sex life it does not remove the need for one.

Source: Love Matters

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