How to enjoy a sexual relationship when you have a disability

Many disabled people are over the moon when they eventually find somebody, because the struggle to do so has been so enormous. They cherish each other and every moment of time they spend having sex. They work hard to make it as good as possible. And many succeed in having a really beautiful life together.

Image by David Steinberg, 

Sadly, they may still face many hurdles: when one wants to go somewhere and the other doesn’t have the energy, when the house is too small for two wheelchairs to move around, when parents, PAs and health professionals interfere with privacy, when one person keeps getting seriously ill or their progressive condition deteriorates rapidly.

It may be easier said than done, but try not to be insecure or possessive. These two things eat away at sexual relationships and destroy happiness. Just be assured that your partner loves you but everybody needs a break and time to themselves, that most people fancy lots of other people and sometimes they even have sex with them. This is the world we live in. It need not have any derogatory effect on your love for each other or the passionate times you enjoy having sex together.

If you always fly off the handle when your partner speaks about others in an admiring way, they will stop telling you about such things. Then the trust between you has gone. Once trustful communication has gone, you are on the slippery slope of misunderstandings, misinterpreting why the other person is behaving the way they are, and feeling bad about yourself. Take responsibility for yourself and your sexual satisfaction, and share the responsibility to communicate about sex with your partner.

Don’t blame disability for what goes wrong. A successful sexual relationship requires two people being nice to one another, fancying one another and communicating their desires, needs, limitations, and problems clearly. Disability is not a barrier. Never be afraid to ask to be touched, or to touch, whatever else you are doing.

Many people who answered the survey conducted for the Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability, said that living with a disability enhanced their sexual communication: “Disability became a catalyst for change and growth that most non-disabled people cannot imagine.”

If one of you has a progressive condition, there will be changes in your sexual activity and you can either look upon this as a disappointment or a challenge. Which do you think would bring most fun?

Some disabled people decide that it’s most practical to live apart and enjoy a part-time relationship. This is a very modern view – not living together and getting together for pleasure rather than house chores and sleep. Film stars choose to live in separate mansions, so why not you? It’s very important for some people to have their own space. It’s also important to know that you are not inhibiting your partner from many of the enjoyments you cannot share with them. That may or may not include sexual enjoyments. In Outsiders, some disabled people select part-time affairs as a comfortable and secure way to enjoy a relationship.

This might not be so convenient for disabled people living far apart, when the journey is so exhausting that it takes two days to recover, which is not very sexy. Accessible housing is not very easy to find, and many disabled couples feel stuck in this trap. Plus they are nervous of leaving their family and support network of friends to move to another area to live near, or with their lover.

One of the things that is barely discussed in sexual relationships is money. Most British people muddle along, playing it by ear, sharing expenses and decisions about who can buy what. Many disabled couples have the extra burden of living in poverty and have the extra expenses of transportation, special adaptations to house and clothing, and few opportunities to earn money on the side. A sexual relationship doesn’t need money but when there are disappointments due to not being able to afford things, resentments and squabbles build up. Add to this, the fact that medication, depression, pain and some disabilities can reduce libido, it may seem surprising that disabled people manage to enjoy any sex at all.

If neither of you can move, and cannot get into positions for oral, vaginal or anal sex, you need help. The TLC website puts disabled people in touch with sex workers who will work as enablers. So far as we know, the state is not yet willing to fund such work, but we live in hope!

If you experience sexual problems, please do not hesitate to call the sex and disability helpline. If you need to consult a health professional locally, remember that they should give you clear and simple advice, using models, films, diagrams and illustrations. They should also point you towards group discussions with other disabled people. By talking about sexual matters in a group, you learn from each other and can become more assertive in insisting on the help you need. Peer support from group participation can be really helpful in improving your inter-personal communication skills, which may have floundered and need smartening up to re-establish a satisfying relationship. The sharing of concerns with peers might also serve to relieve some of your anxieties, once you realise that others are in the same boat.

Disabled people do have excellent sexual relationships because of this simple fact: under the covers, you can get lost in lust, forgetting the fact that you cannot walk, talk, see or hear. When you get down and dirty, humdrum worldly things just don’t matter.

A sense of humour and a respect for the most important thing in life, love, brings disabled people to a place where you can enjoy sexual happiness.

Dr Tuppy Owens

Outsiders and Sex and the Disability Helpline

Outsiders the website features leaflets, our book Practical Suggestions, copies of our magazine INSIDE which updates Practical Suggestions and resources. Our club is a self help group for physically and socially disabled people to find partners. Our group the Sexual Health and Disability Alliance campaigns for the sexual rights of disabled people, formulates policies and runs a conference.

Sex and Disability Helpline 0707 499 3527 11am – 7pm weekdays.

Sexual Function in People with Disability and Chronic Illness – A Health Professional’s Guide by Marcia L Skipski and Craig L. Alexander. Aspen 1997.

Sexuality and neuromuscular disease: a pilot study. 1983 International Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine 5, 21-26

Posted in Sex, Sex And Disability