Sex while disabled is loaded with taboos and unanswered questions. Does it feel different? Do you have the same sexual urges? And what kinds of prejudices do you meet as a person with a disability?
Read on as Gabi, who was born with a physical disability, the diagnosis cerebral palsy, describes and answers the prejudices linked to sex and disability.
I have a physical disability. Amongst other things, it means that I feel tension different places in my body pretty much constantly, and I use a walker, crutches, or, on the days where I don't have the energy, a wheelchair so I can move around in the world. My disability has been with me since birth and has given me a greater understanding of the world, which I don't think I would have gotten under different circumstances. When I view my body in relation to others, I see a body that moves a little slower, a little more crooked and a little more careful - maybe especially in relation to feeling sexual desires.
One of the reasons it took me a little longer to feel my bodies sexual desires, was that I needed to take some time to discover how I felt most comfortable moving around the world in a body outside the norm, which in itself is a long and far from linear process. The whole sex and desire thing didn't come until I felt comfortable in my body, and learned how to listen to and feel my bodies needs.
When I was 19 years old, I felt the first sensation of tingeling and trembling energy flowing through my body. I had just found my way to the queer community of Copenhagen - a community that seemed so open and accepting of bodies just like mine, which I was so touched and happy about. But as time went by, it turned out that prejudices and assumptions about what my body can and cannot do was alive and well here too.
Lets take a closer look at those prejudices. Because even though it hurts to focus too much on other people's biased assumptions about who you are and what you can do, it is important to understand in order to undertand how people with a disability experiences being excluded - even from communities that promotes themselves as being open and accepting of everyone who is queer, regardless of bodysize, gender-identity etc.
Can you even have sex?
When I receive this question from able-bodied people (that means people without one or more disabilities), it is often based on the idea that I "can't move my body" or get into the positions needed for sex. To be honest, it is not guaranteed that I can lay down completely in missionary, if that is what my sexual partner would like, or we discuss and agree about it beforehand. But you shouldn't label me or my body as non-functioning when it comes to sex, just because I can't stay in certain positions for an extended period of time without pain or tension in my body. When you are with another person, disabled or not, I always think it's important to talk about your expectations in relation to what you need and want in order to have a good experience. If you don't talk about your expectations, you might risk overstepping your partners boundaries. By talking about it beforehand, we can all just enjoy ourselves without having to be nervous about cramping up right in the middle of it. If it does happen, it's okay to say stop, change position and try again, as well as talk about what to do to make the experience even better the next time. No matter what, talk about it so everyone knows what to expect, because that will allow you to be more relaxed, because you know what will happen. By talking about it, your tensions might fade, but if that is not the case, that's completely fine too. Openness and communication are key.
People with a disability do not have a sexuality, right!?
This prejudice is closely related to the idea that disabled people can't even have sex. In my experience, a lot of people think that disabled people can't have sex, and therefore they don't have a sexuality or experience desire. When people assume that we don't get the concept of sexuality, or that we are asexual in the sense that we feel no sexual desire at all, it is important for me to say that of course you can be asexual and disabled. Because there is as many ways to feel sexuality for us, as for abled-bodied people. So please don't assume that you know anything about my sexuality just based on my disability.
Prejudices' about disabilities in popular culture
Lastly, I would like to share my thoughts on how popular culture depicts people with disabilities. In the movie In Your Arms (2015), the main character has a psychical disability, which in the long run would mean that he would need help with everything and would no longer be able to "get it up", as he puts it. From the start of the movie, the man spends most of his waking hours mourning what he "lost". Later, when he ends up at the hospital because of a fall, he decides to contact a clinic in Holland, who will help him end his miserable, crippled life. The narrative is that disabled people are so deeply distressed about their bodies, that it's easier to just end it all. Because it's so much better to not exist, than to exist with a disabled body.
How do we move on?
Well, I think it really revolves around the conversation between you and your partner about what you like - disabled or not. Remember to listen to your body's signals, so you don't end up doing something you don't want, or something your intimate partner finds uncomfortable. Lastly, and maybe most importantly: Be open to sex in new ways, and watch what happens!