There are many different kinds of disabled people and many kinds of disability, all with their own different social and sexual problems, so forgive any generalisations and things that don’t apply to you. This has been written for readers who don’t know many disabled people, to let them know some of the things some disabled people have to put up with, find out how great disabled people can be as lovers, and learn more about how to make things better.
Image by David Steinberg, www.davidsteinberg.us
The focus here is on the problems disabled people can face. You may recognize some of the difficulties, while many of the ways we can all help can seem pretty obvious with the issues identified.
• Hardly any disabled people seem to manage to share flats with people their own age. Many live with their parents, even those who go to college may return there. Naturally, parents cramp their style when it comes to sex and forming relationships. Even if your mum is happy to help you into bed in the afternoon so you can masturbate, it feels a bit weird. Most parents are not that liberal and discourage sexual relationships forming, especially with their daughters.
• Those disabled people who live in a residential home may have little privacy. Even if there is a lock on their door, bringing someone back home for sex will probably not be allowed. If you want to have sex with another resident, you may require the agreement of the staff, the board, the other residents and your relatives! Imagine how likely they all are to say yes! Even masturbation is furtive.
• Over 50% of blind people live alone. This can be quite lonely, especially in cities where neighbours are unfriendly. In suburbia, your most helpful neighbour may disapprove of visitors staying the night.
• Independent living is encouraged for people with mobility problems, although finding an accessible flat can be a nightmare. You hire a team of PAs to look after you. It’s very important to hire people who won’t disapprove or refuse to help if you start an affair. Disabled people who don’t meet many other people regularly fall in love with their PAs, fancy their health visitors like mad, and feel they will never be loved or fancied back.
Out and About
• Disabled people sometimes get told they are very brave – just for going about their everyday activities, and this can be very annoying
• You sometimes get mockingly asked personal questions like, “Can you do it?” Even more annoying
• You get patted on the head and even kissed by strangers. How annoying is that?
• People speak to your PA (personal assistant) instead of directly to you, as if you have no brain or are deaf.
• Whereas young able bodied men are considered “virile” if they flirt and put themselves about, disabled and older men are often considered “”lecherous”.
• People using wheelchairs find that other guests talk over above them, even pass plates of food over their heads.
• People fancy your PA. (PAs are always young and gorgeous!)
• A certain kind of predatory person makes a bee-line for you, thinking you are vulnerable, bores you and assumes you are “available”.
• Girls flirt with disabled men because they think they are “safe”.
• People assume you will be hard work and they are out for a bit for fun, so avoid talking to you
• Because it’s PC to involve disabled people – equal opportunities and all that, the PC crowd will be friendly – that is until it’s time to cop off, and you’ll be left on your own, because these trendies are seeking a wealthy, good looking, fit partner.
Forming friendships and Relationships
• Each disabled person goes through the process of coping with everything that their disability brings, coming to terms with it, and finding ways to express their sexuality. This might have been a very long journey, which many disabled people don’t even start until they are in their 30s.
• Disabled people can often find it extremely difficult to start sexual relationships. People seem to want to just be friends. That is why the Outsiders Club is so important (see Resources, below).
• Being accepted can be very difficult. One autistic lesbian related, “I joined the local autistic club and they did not accept me because I am a lesbian, and I joined the local lesbian club and they did not accept me because I am autistic.”
• Despite improved wheelchair accessibility, loop systems, etc., going out socially is becoming increasingly difficult for disabled people. This is because venues are rarely honest about their accessibility and many clubs and restaurants are in old buildings, with staircases and tiny toilets. Out in the street, everyone is in a hurry and rushes past you. The cost of travel is rising. One Outsiders member told us that it was nice to have someone else to talk to other than the meals on wheels, postman and the annual phone call from his daughter in Australia.
• Ignorance about disability means that some people fear it is “catching”, making disabled people feel like lepers. Touch deprivation is a form of torture. A 72 year old blind man called the Sex and Disability helpline and told me that he had never ever even had a cuddle in his life.
• Some disabled men complain that their care workers and health professionals actively interfere with their efforts to make friends with women, to prevent them finding girlfriends.
• Other disabled men complain that women are fascinated to have sex with them as an object of curiosity. To be dumped afterwards.
• The biggest hurdle can be lack of speech. People with cerebral palsy whose speech is affected, people with stammers and stroke survivors who have lost their speech, all have a terrible struggle to form sexual relationships because everyone wants to be with someone they can have a natter with. People with speech impairments fear others will be too impatient to wait for them to find their words, or they may read what the CP person is typing into their speech machine. This fear is often unfounded, but lack of self esteem prevents the disabled person from taking that risk.
• Many disabled people have very low esteem. Even if they have accepted their disability and have grown to quite like themselves, being rubbished by the medical profession, rejected in the work place, and stared at in public with a pitying eye, continuously reinforce negative feelings. This is especially so with people with learning disabilities and people with disfigurements. Too often, disabled people accept unequal relationships, for example, being there for the drunk who occasionally pops by from the pub for a shag.
• “Disabled people make the best lovers” – so claimed one 40 year old woman with Juvenile Arthritis who was 4ft tall and horny. She had joined Outsiders and was making the most of the male members! Her reasoning was that disabled people are highly experienced at asking for what they want, clearly.
• Disabled people may not be able to function the same as other people but they are good at finding ways around difficulties. Sex can still be highly enjoyable without erections, orgasms, legs, arms, sight, hearing or speech.
• Disabled people sometimes struggle to view their bodies as a source of pleasure, and sex helps them do so, which is a very positive step.
• As you know, sex is really good for you, and sex is especially good for disabled people. It can take away their aches and pains. It can help them face the stigma from society. Sex can even lessen impairment. After the second orgasm, someone with CP and no speech can actually talk for a short while!
• Fortunately, many sex workers pride themselves in the fact that they see disabled clients and help them on their way. There is a special website for this called TLC, listed below.
• Disabled people who are into BDSM say that they sometimes incorporate their impairments into the sex play. You can read more about this in Playing with Disabilities listed below.
What you can do
1) When you get to know a disabled person, offer to take them to parties and places where they will meet new people, because it is sometimes very difficult for them to meet potential partners.
2) Look beyond the disability. All of us will end up disabled one day, and it’s just another aspect of life. Your experience of highly articulate, extraordinarily beautiful people will tell you that these qualities do not make people happy or nice. Ask yourself, is the status of a good-looking able bodied partner more important to you than a happy relationship?
3) Acknowledge disabled people as sexual, just like everyone else. Make saucy jokes, talk about sex, gossip about lovers, just like you do with other people, and ask their opinions, encouraging them to join in. Most disabled people don’t get much chance to talk about sex.
4) Be respectful. Disabled people are often very special people.
5) Don’t “dis” them: try a disabled lover.
Dr Tuppy Owens
Outsiders and Sex the and 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. www.outsiders.org.uk. 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. Sexdis@outsiders.org.uk
Playing with Disabilities by Angela Stassinopoulos.
The Nazza Plains Corporation, 4640 Paradise Road, Suite 141, Las Vegas, NV 89109-8000. ISBN 978-1-934625-48-4
TLC-Trust. For disabled men and women to find responsible sex workers, therapists and teachers www.tlc-trust.org.uk