Updated: Jan 11, 2022
Lead image by the incredible @lizrajchart.
Pleasure and sexuality are fundamental parts of the human experience. Relationships, intimacy, lust, love and sexual satisfaction are important for quality of life, and are a transformational source of comfort and joy. Not only does it feel good – having a fulfilling sex life is one of the greatest ways to feel human.
We know people with disabilities have sexual needs, but we also know huge taboos exist in this area. Keep reading to bust six myths about sex and disability, and to hear from Heather Morrison, the co-founder of That’s Handi, an incredible business creating the first line of sex toys for people with hand limitations.
Myth 1: People with disabilities aren’t sexual
One of the biggest barriers for people with disabilities is the assumption that they are not sexual. People with a disability can have sexual urges, and have sex, they can be with sex workers, and masturbate.
How they chose to have sex may depend on someone’s ability, however, sex is not so linear – 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. But really sex is clunky, awkward! 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 consensual).
Myth 2: People with disabilities only have sex with each other
This attitude only limits the possibility of developing loving relationships. It defines someone as having a disability first, and being a person second. As long as all people are happy, safe, and consenting, they can enjoy a healthy sexual relationship.
Myth 3: People in a wheelchair can’t feel sensation in their genitals
It’s important to remember that people use wheelchairs for a range of reasons. This means that many people can still have full sensation and function in their genitals– including those with spinal cord injuries.
For some people, their disability can impact sexual function such as a loss or change in sensation, difficulty controlling the muscles, and struggling to maintain engorgement, erection and arousal.
Even so, some people who don’t have feeling below the waist can still climax. For example, some people with a Spinal Cord Injury can report feeling an orgasm, but in another 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 stimulation.
Myth 4: People with disabilities just ‘lie there’
Having a physical disability doesn’t mean you can’t play an active part in sex. 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.
Further, sex is about pleasure, not just penetration and not just genitals! Instead, let’s reframe ‘sex’ to be an enthusiastically consensual, highly pleasurable desired experience, that may or may not involve genitals or end in climax.
Myth 5: People with disabilities can’t employ sex workers
While the specific laws differ state to state, sex work is legal in most Australian states – 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 personal choice and there’s certainly no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to this scenario.
Myth 6: People with disability can’t identify as LGBTQI+ and belong to the community
It should go without saying that as with any part of the community, people of all ability can and do identify as LGBTQI+.
Image via @emmawondra.
Talking about sex and sexuality is often seen as being off limits, – even more so when it’s about people with a disability. I had the pleasure of speaking with Heather, the co-founder of That's Handi, about sex and disability. Her words deserve a space of their own. Here are my favourite takeaways.
G: What do you wish everyone knew about sex and disability?
H: Sexual pleasure and sexuality is a fundamental part of human experience. Love, lust, pleasure, play and release are all ways that we feel human. People with disabilities are people who have sexual needs.
G: How is pleasure transformative?
H: Pleasure is a release from the daily grind. People with a disability are often touched for therapy or care. So when they’re touched for pleasure it’s a different way of experiencing their body. Pleasure is also an amazing pain relief, if you’re experiencing pain, orgasm is one of the few ways to relieve it.
G: Why must we make sexiness more inclusive?
H: If you look at media and you don’t see anyone like yourself represented then you won’t feel worthy of sex. It also shows able-bodied people that there are many ways of being sexy. Sexy has transformed. Now we know that the more vulnerable and confident you are the more sexy you become. This has a huge impact on society.
If you'd like to find out more about That's Handi and their incredible work, check out their website.