and six other myths about sex and disability debunked
By Poorna Bell
Despite pockets of progress, such as online fashion retailer ASOS recently releasing wheelchair-friendly clothing, there is a long way to go when it comes to representation of people with disabilities.
Ignorance abounds because of narrow depictions of living with a disability. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to sex.
To counter this, people such as disability awareness consultant Andrew Gurza are driving candid conversations about sex and sexuality. Andrew’s Disability After Dark podcast addresses all kinds of stories around disability and sex. Andrew, who has cerebral palsy, told the Huffington Post last year: “Whenever we talk about sex and disability ― if we dare ― it is in this painfully sanitised way that tends to tell you nothing about the person with a disability, their sex or what they actually want ― it doesn’t shed any light on how it really feels.”
Here, four men and women debunk some of the myths and misconceptions they encounter about sex and disability.
1: ‘Sex with a disabled person must be pretty boring’
Actress Shannon Murray, 41, who experienced a spinal cord injury when she was 14, tells i misconceptions about sex and disability still come at her from all corners. “Just like any other human being, disabled people have desire. We want to be touched, to touch, to feel pleasure – why is that still such a ridiculous taboo? Why are intelligent people genuinely shocked when they learn that I have sex?
“If anything, I’d say some of my disabled friends are some of the more sexually adventurous and confident people I know. We have to be creative and find different techniques that work for us and spend every waking hour being adaptable to the environment around us.
“Sex is no different, though it’s much more fun.”
2: ‘I’m not a sexual being’
“There has been a real disservice done to disabled people by the mainstream media who have only told very one-dimensional stories,” Shannon adds. “You see disabled men who use sex workers, or people who are frustrated and angry at their bodies.
“It can feel very marginalising; it’s all very woe is me. I think that suits the idea that non-disabled people have about our lives: that we’re asexual, incapable or it’s too complicated. However if you venture on to websites or publications aimed at a disabled audience you’ll see a much more rounded and interesting experience.”
3: ‘Being paralysed means I can only have sex missionary style’
Shannon says: “Some of the misconceptions I’ve faced is that I can’t have sex; that I am incapable of having sex; that I must be numb from the waist down; that because I’m paraplegic I can only have sex in the missionary position; that I can only have sex in my chair; that I can’t feel pleasure; that I can’t give pleasure; that orgasms are impossible and that I can’t have children. All of which are untrue.
“It’s also interesting how frequently strangers think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask me about my sex life within an hour of meeting me.”
4: ‘I must be shy in bed because I have a disability’
Far from it, says Joanne*, 51, a housewife who is profoundly deaf. “When I first started having sex, because I could not hear anything, the sounds I was making were extremely loud. I only found out because the man I was having sex with put his finger on his lips in a ‘sssh’ motion. I got really self-conscious – I mean, how loud was I?
“So I decided to record myself masturbating, and asked my best friend to listen to it. To my embarrassment she said I was very, very loud! I soon met my now-husband and our first sexual encounters were strained as I always stopped before things got to a point where I thought I would start getting ‘excited’.
“Finally, I decided to tell him and he laughed because he thought it was his fault and was relieved. In a sensitive way, he said he would always let me know if I was getting too loud and I’ve sort of trained myself to be less noisy.”
5: ‘My hearing aid must be a turn-off’
“I love sex and hearing aids don’t stop me from loving it,” says comedian Samantha Baines, 31, who acquired her disability at the age of 30. “I mean, I do need to take my hearing aid out before sex as they aren’t good with fluids – I don’t want to see my audiologist and explain how I got spunk in my hearing aid.
“Taking your hearing aid out isn’t a very sexy procedure when you are in the moment. It’s a bit like taking your socks off or peeing after sex – it just has to be done.”
6: ‘It’s ok for disability to be treated as a sexual fetish’
Joanne says: “Growing up as a child I was made to wear hearing aids which really were of no benefit to me at all. When I used to go out I always was conscious of it and deliberately made sure that I wore my hair to cover them.
“When I got older, I looked just like any other woman, I just couldn’t hear. Except one guy I dated for a few months always wanted me to wear my hearing aids during sex. I think he found my deafness a turn-on which was strange.”
Shannon adds: “When the odd TV drama includes a story about disability and sex it is always negative or traumatic, or conversely our bodies are fetishised for the non-disabled gaze.
“People with disabilties are not curiosities, we are humans with wants, needs and desires. Treat us with the same respect you would any other person that you’re interested in. It’s really not rocket science.”
7: ‘You don’t look disabled so you don’t have to tell sexual partners about it’
“I’ve been guilty as anyone else of not seeing disabled people as sexual beings,” says Matt, “but I’ve realised keeping it hidden is so much harder than being honest about it. Around the time I was correctly diagnosed, I met someone in a club.
“After a couple of conversations over the next few days she started to realise that I had short term memory loss. For the first time I could be open with a woman about my memory difficulties, rather than pretending I’d just forgotten something as a one-off. Two weeks later, I’d lost my virginity to her.”
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