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The film making us face the idea disabled people have sex

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‘Yes We Fuck’ is an uncompromising look at the reality that disabled people have sex lives too. We caught up with director and disability activist Antonio Centeno to find out more

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Yes We Fuck

As a society we’re becoming more accepting of sexuality in all its guises and forms – and rightly so. 2015 could be seen as the year when trans issues finally broke through into the mainstream after decades spent on the margins of society, while more and more women in particular are joining the sexually fluid revolution. And yet for all of our talk, there’s one conversation that we’re not having – about how disabled people have sex.

Spanish director and disability activist Antonio Centeno wants to tackle this prudishness head-on. His film Yes We Fuck (which is co-directed with Raúl de la Morena) is a no-holds barred look at the world of disabled sexuality, with uncompromising visuals (of people having sex) and a strong sense of moral purpose. Centeno shows human intimacy in all its forms, and what strikes you from watching the film is that the issues faced by disabled people when it comes to their sex lives aren’t so dissimilar to those faced by the rest of the population.

Watching the film, which recently showed at the British Film Institute’s Flare festival, at times makes for uncomfortable viewing. You’re discomfited by the fact that the sexuality depicted on our TVs and in popular culture almost uniformly represents one experience: that of heterosexual intimacy between two able-bodied, cis-gendered people.

Yes We Fuck is an uplifting, refreshing corrective to the narrative that disabled people are in some way sexless, made noble by the struggles they undergo to assimilate into a society that is in many ways ableist. The film isn’t perfect – sections are too long, and while Centeno wants to depict the reality of disabled people having sex, at times the camera lingers too long or in a way that feels intrusive. It’s clear that this is very much a passion project from the fledging director, and one which could perhaps have profited from tauter editing. Nonetheless, it’s rare to see a film which so profoundly makes you confront your own prejudices to recognize that we all of us share a common humanity and a common desire to express that humanity through the most natural act of all – the act of fucking, of course.

To find why we need to get on board with the fact that disabled people fuck like the rest of us, Dazed caught up with Centeno at the BFI. Below is the transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for flow and clarity.

 

Can you give us a bit of background as to why you made Yes We Fuck? Is this an issue that’s particularly close to home for you?

Antonio Centeno: By background I’m an activist and I’ve always advocated for helping disabled people, or those with functional diversity as we prefer to call them, to lead independent lives wherever possible. For us, this is a political issue. If we want people with functional diversity to have real lives – not merely to survive – then we need to be visible sexual beings. We need to break this infantilised image of us as children, to show that people with functional diversity are sexual beings, people who desire and are desired. So by giving them a sexuality, we politicise the issue.

You depict real-life intimacy in the film in a lot of detail. How did you get the participants to trust you?

Antonio Centeno: Many of the people in the film I’d met as activists throughout the years, so they trusted in me and what I was doing. And they understood that the film wasn’t just entertainment, but a political tool to help the change the realities of our society. I mean, of course it was difficult, to expose yourself and put your body out there. But it was only possible because of the trust I enjoyed from them, and the fact they understood what political message we were trying to put out.

What’s the reaction been like?

Antonio Centeno: In my native Spain and internationally there’s been a huge amount of interest and it’s generally been very well received. Some people find it too direct, maybe  there’s too much exposure, and some people thought there were some stories missing as well. But it’s been more difficult getting it out to a wider audience, outside of LGBT and specialist film festivals. And I think this reflects the way in which people with functional diversity live in our society. You know, we live away from the masses, from the general public. We live in ghettos. And by ghettos, I mean special residences, or with families that look after us. We go to special schools, because we have to. We work in special centres. So basically, we live in a parallel world, segregated from other people.

Would you like to see this segregation broken down so everyone is living side-by-side?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I’m not sure about ‘everyone’. I don’t like most people! [Laughs].

The title of the film is quite risque…

Antonio Centeno: In Spain, we have a motto which roughly translates as ‘Fuck as you live, and live as you fuck’. Which means that you can only have your own independent life if you have a sex life which is free, which is independent, which is rich. And you can only have a sex life that is free if you personally are free. If you have a free sex life, you can have a good life. You can fight for your freedom, for your independence. So the film is about how you can show, through sexuality, that people with functional diversity want to live like others, independently, not being cancelled out and made to delegate their decisions through family members or professionals.

What I found interesting about the film is that a lot of the sexual issues that people faced, like guilt or shame, are common to everyone, not just those with functional diversity.

Antonio Centeno: Well, our intention wasn’t just just to show weird people doing weird things. We wanted to deal with general issues, like desire, pleasure, our relationship with our bodies. But basically by focussing on this group of people with functional diversity, we produced this magnifying glass effect…I mean, the issues that they have aren’t so dissimilar from those the rest of the population have. But it’s just magnified in this group.

It’s historically very difficult to depict sex on film. Was this a concern for you? Wanting to show sexuality in a way that was honest without being gratuitous?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I want to start by saying that reality doesn’t exist, as such. We were constructing a reality. And that’s the powerful thing about porn, not that it represents reality but that it constructs reality. If we think about what people think about those with functional diversity, they think that we don’t have sex. So we wanted to put images in the heads of the viewers, so that those images were incompatible with the prejudices that they had.

Is there a danger that we risk sensationalising the issue?

Antonio Centeno: It’s a risk we take, definitely. But if the problem before was people with functional diversity being invisible, and now it’s us being sensationalised, that’s okay with me. For me, it’s important that we construct narratives which don’t just place people with functional diversity between two opposite poles. You know, we have the pariahs, the hopeless people, and then on the other end of the spectrum there’s the hero and it’s all very inspiring, but…I mean, no one actually believes that. It’s reductive. So there are lots of stories that have to be constructed in the middle about people with functional diversity. And that’s what I hope to do.

Complete Article HERE!

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Feminism and Sexual Submission Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

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A meme showed up on my Facebook newsfeed one afternoon a few weeks back.

by Savannah Stewart

It was shared by some fuckboy I worked with for about five minutes before he was never seen again, except when sliding into his female former colleagues’ DM’s—which should have been reason enough to keep scrolling past, yet here we are.

The picture was of a young woman. “Preaches feminism,” it said just above her head. And below, “likes bondage.” Accompanying the meme was some type of monologue calling out women who support equal rights but “like to get slapped around” as hypocrites.

If women are going to “complain” about the things feminists get all up in arms about—like the fact that one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, or that almost half of murdered women are killed by current or former partners—then they’d better not enjoy a bit of roughness directed their way during sex or they’re full of shit. That was essentially the message of his ever-so-valued input about a woman’s sexuality. Because, clearly, those things are identical.

A few commenters pointed out that enjoying some naughty fun between the sheets is, in fact, completely different from experiencing abuse. “The difference is consent!” one commenter asserted, drawing digital thumbs-up from me and many others.

I agree wholeheartedly with that idea, and I think that the logical argument ends there. Rape and domestic violence are by definition not at all the same thing as enjoying and consenting to being in a position of submission during sex, and there is no correlation between the two. End of story.

But of course, fuckboy didn’t see it that way—how can a woman who likes to have physical force used on her in a sexual context walk around saying that hitting women is wrong? She obviously could not be taken seriously, he asserted.

I know I should’ve moved on, forgetting him and his irrelevant commentary. But I didn’t. It bothered me to reading that post, because I know a lot of people actually believe the things he believes.

Then I realized something: people who think that way, that feminist women cannot also be sexually submissive, probably just think that way because they don’t understand either concept.

And so this is me, after sitting on it for about a month now, retroactively explaining to Mr. Fuckboy what he doesn’t seem to understand.

First, it’s important to know that feminism is about a lot of things, but primarily it promotes political, social and economic equality regardless of gender, race, ability, sexual orientation, etc. It focuses on the issues that affect women, as well as other marginalized people, with the goal of empowering them and helping them achieve equality with privileged groups.

Sexual and domestic abuse are therefore important feminist issues because, though anyone regardless of gender can be the victims of these, they disproportionately affect women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and so on.

But on top of that, feminism is about making sure everyone has the freedom, education and tools required to make their own choices and become the rulers of their own destinies.

This includes, but is certainly not limited to, sexual preferences. Feminists believe that people should have the necessary information and confidence to figure out for themselves independently of society’s imposed constraints what feels good, what turns them on, and how they want to have sex—as long as it’s done between people who are fully informed and consenting.

Therefore, if someone comes to the conclusion that they enjoy being in a submissive role for sex and they want to act out fantasies of submission with a trusted partner, it in no way makes them less of a feminist—in fact, that’s feminist as hell. Feminism supports people owning their sexuality; so it’s not an excuse to start criticizing people who know what they want and actively seek it out.

But perhaps fuckboy’s issue is more with the notion of a feminist, someone supposed to fight for equality, wanting to submit themselves to the whims of another human being, very oftentimes a man?

The thing about submission is, like most other fetishes, it is the complex and unpredictable result of years of lived experience, exposure to all sorts of media, and plain old nature and nurture. And, just like every other fetish, it is a sexual fantasy that for most people in no way dictates how they wish to be treated outside of a sexual setting.

Think about it: just because you like being touched a certain way during sex does not mean that you want people to touch you that way when you’re on the bus, or making dinner, or reading, or doing whatever else. This can’t be repeated enough—consent is the key.

The truth of the matter is that we can’t control what turns us on, and our turn ons usually have nothing to do with how we live our lives. But something we can do is find ways to act out our turn ons in such a manner that is safe, respectful and enjoyable for everyone involved.

For people who enjoy experimenting with a power exchange, that’s where kink comes in. With communication, safe words, discussions about hard & soft limits, people who want to take on a dominant or submissive role during sex can do so in a way that is respectful and mutually beneficial. If you want to learn more about kink and dominant/submissive relationships, this guide is a really great start.

With all these tools at their disposal, people who are interested in being dominated—or dominating—can do so in a way that makes them and those they engage with feel comfortable. The goal is never to actually hurt someone, push someone’s boundaries or to make them feel unsafe.

Submissive feminists aren’t hypocrites. They are people who know what they like, know what they want, and know that their preferences don’t take anything away from their value as human beings.

Complete Article HERE!

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Inside the Koreatown Dojo Dedicated to the Art of Japanese Rope Bondage

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Mention anything bondage-related and Zetsu Nawa reflexively geeks out.

A participant in a recent Tuesday night class learns the basics of shibari, Japanese rope bondage.

By Lila Seidman

A casual reference to a dotted gag in one of his thousands of drawings and photos of bound women launches him into a mini-lecture about its “humiliation factor” in modern Japan. It’s just a dishtowel, he explains. “It’s like he grabbed the thing you’re using to wash your hands to gag you.” As he talks, he’s caressing a length of Japanese jute rope, which he extols for its “toothiness.”

Zetsu — an American who adopted the pseudonym to protect his identity — is the head of a one-room school in Koreatown dedicated exclusively to shibari, or erotic Japanese rope bondage. His rope work has been featured in Katy Perry’s music video “Bon Appetit” and on the cover of Jhené Aiko’s album Maniac.

Launched in its current space in 2014, L.A. Rope Dojo is tucked away on the second floor of an unassuming office building just off Western Avenue and Second Street. The walls are plastered with images of women in various states of constraint. Wooden beams stretch from wall to wall — not coincidentally, the perfect height and size for binding willing men and women to.

On a recent Tuesday night, mostly fresh-faced, young couples stream into the dojo for its sold-out, bimonthly beginner’s rope play class. They look, well, totally normal.

“Most of the people who come here would never set foot in a BDSM dungeon,” Zetsu says, crediting the historical, philosophical and artistic appeal of the practice.

At most dungeons in L.A., people go by BDSM aliases, “like BadMaster79,” Zetsu explains. “Here, people are ‘Beth’ and ‘Kevin.’” In class, Zetsu goes by his real first name. “Nobody’s thinking about hiding in a way that people tend to do in the broader BDSM scene,” he says.

Zetsu, who could pass for anyone’s affable uncle, begins every intro class by detailing the origin of shibari, which synthesizes elements from Kabuki theater and an ancient samurai policing technique.

Before students start immobilizing one another, he asks the “top” (the one doing the tying) to think of a word before grabing their partner’s wrist. The first word is “sensual.” The second is “mine.”

Subtle acts like this reflect the essence of the teaching style he learned from his longtime instructor, Yukimura Ryuu, a grandmaster of the erotic art, who stressed the Japanese concept of kokoro, or “heart,” over technique.
“If your partner is feeling things that they need to feel, then the rest of it doesn’t matter,” Zetsu says. “The rope is just a conduit to get to those feelings.”

As class progresses, a petite girl with her hands bound becomes flushed and sinks to the floor. Her equally flushed male partner asks her if she’d like to be untied. She breathes “no” and they embrace.

(Class assistant Howard, who also goes by Rope Daddy, describes the feeling as “rope drunk” — a sort of euphoric high some people experience via bondage.)

Baltimore-born Zetsu says his path to enjoying bondage was significantly more fraught than many of his students.’ In the late 1970s, at age 12, he would wait 45 minutes to download a single pixelated photo of a bound Japanese woman. He stored the images on cassette tapes; floppy disks didn’t yet exist.

It wasn’t until 2006 that he found himself in Tokyo for work and decided he had to finally explore “this thing.” He took a class with a German expat, Osada Steve, who in turn connected with him a teacher in L.A. At that time, it was still a rarefied practice in the West. Now, “It’s everywhere!” Zetsu says.

In 2010, he returned to Japan to study rope more explicitly. He is now one of only two people in the United States with a teaching certificate from the late Yukimura.

Zetsu says that in Japan, teaching “is an obligation, and a very sacred one.” He had no choice but to spread the knowledge he acquired.

Significant cultural translation is needed to bring the essence of the art form to Angelenos, he admits. For one, Zetsu says in Japan it is normal to “molest” the models during a lesson. Here, that wouldn’t go over so well.
While Zetsu acknowledges ethical questions inherent to sexual power exchange, he believes it’s a basic question of consent.

“It should ultimately be about love and care for your partner, which sounds kind of ironic as you’re tying them up and hitting them,” Zetsu says. “But that’s the whole point: You only do that to people who need it and crave it and love it.”

Ivy, a 20-something Asian woman who came to the class Tuesday with her boyfriend of 3½ years, looks gleeful in the dingy hall outside the dojo. She says she was happy to act on some of her desires for the first time.

“It’s just sort of intimidating, taking that first step,” she explains. She’s already plotting her return.

Complete Article HERE!

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A Crescendo of High-Tech

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Hey sex fans!

It’s Product Review Friday once again. And, like last week, we welcome a new manufacturer to our review effort. This week it’s another amazing British company, Mystery Vibe.  (Holy Cow, what’s going on in the UK that is making it the new center for innovative adult products? Whatever it is, everyone here at Dr Dick Sex Advice and Dr Dick Sex Toy Reviews is stoked about it.)

I’m also delighted to welcome back two of our veteran reviewers for this special assignment, Kevin & Gina.

Crescendo —— $179.00

Kevin & Gina
Gina: “Well, this feels pretty familiar, but a little odd too. I can’t believe we are back on the Dr Dick Review Crew. How did that happen? I thought we swore off these reviews years ago.”
Kevin: “To quote Michael Corleone: ‘Just when I thought I was out; they keep pulling me back in.’ But you have to admit, we did miss this mess a little bit, didn’t we?”
Gina: “I guess so. No, that’s not true. I really missed it. I didn’t miss reviewing the same old stuff over and over again. That was boring as shit! But I think we both missed reviewing products that, one could immediately see, have been designed and manufactured by creative people thinking outside the box. In fact, we both said that we would rather review those products, even if those products didn’t quite hit the mark, than review something less creative and innovative.”
Kevin: “So true! I have so much more respect for people who try something different and unique, even if it fails; than I do for people cranking out more of the same old same old.”
Gina: “So when Dr Dick asked us if we would ever consider coming back to the Review Crew he was smart enough to wave something irresistible in front of us.
Kevin: “To paraphrase Michael Corleone: ‘He made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.’”
Gina: “So here we are back in the bosom of the Review Crew after a nearly three year absence so we can bring you something really remarkable. Check out Crescendo from Mystery Vibe. They say it’s the world’s first body-adapting vibrator. I guess we’ll just have to see about that.

Kevin: “To quote Michael Corleone again: ‘I respect those that tell me the truth, no matter how hard that is.’”
Gina: “Is that all you’re gonna do today? I mean I love your Al Pacino, but this is just too nutty.”
Kevin: “To quote Michael Corleone: ‘Never let anyone know what you are thinking.’ OK, OK, I think I got that out of my system for now. Before Gina tells you about the vibe itself I want to comment on the packaging. Crescendo come in a sleek, sophisticated, and elegant gift box. Gold embossed black slipcover covers a beautiful textured box, also in black and gold. Inside the box you will find a black quilted storage bag secured with a tasteful black embossed ribbon, a USB cord, the charging stand or dock, and the striking Crescendo itself. All the packaging is recyclable. If first impressions are important, this packaging certainly got our attention.”

Gina: “As stylish as the packaging is, that’s only the beginning. Here are some of the highlights of the Crescendo itself. First, it’s 9 inches in length and has a maximum diameter of 1.75 inches. Second, it’s bendable; there are three joints that enable you to shape it so that you can use it in different ways. Both women and men will be able to enjoy this vibe alone or with a partner. There are an astonishing number of vibration patterns programmed into the toy when you first take it out of the package, 12 to be precise. There are also 16 power levels for each pattern. You can increase/decrease one step at a time or use the jump function to leap to the highest or lowest settings instantly. Crescendo saves the last pattern you were using so that when you resume your pleasuring it’s right where you left it. And get this, it has six different motors; can you believe that? Four motors in the middle of the toy and two higher intensity motors at either end of the toy.”
Kevin: “I want to say a bit more about Crescendo’s bendability because this is what makes it so damned innovative. It can be easily shaped and positioned into several shapes making it ideal for a whole range of pleasuring. When Gina is using it as an insertable, she curves the tip towards the front wall of her vagina to get amazing g-spot sensations. She can also fold it into a U-shape so that she can get both internal and external pleasure. It’s even wearable. We use it in an S-shape for mind-blowing oral sex. When it’s my turn, I bend it around my dick. I can use it as a stroker or as a cradle. Don’t forget your balls and taint (perineum). You can sit on it with the tip curled up to pleasure your butthole, which is totally awesome. The only thing you can’t do is use the Crescendo as an anal dildo. It doesn’t have a secure flared base that would prevent the toy from slipping up your ass. Oh, and don’t try to bend it side-to-side either.”

Gina: “Charging the Crescendo is so easy. You simply place it onto the USB charging stand or dock. However, you need to place it just right (luckily, directions are included in the package). Once you’ve found the sweet spot the light on the vibe will start to blink indicating it’s charging. A full charge takes about an about 1 hour. When Crescendo is ready to go the blinking stops and the light remains solid. We got about two hours of non-stop play at full intensity on a single charge. All the buttons are lighted too for your convenience.”
Kevin: “The Crescendo is covered is covered in a velvety, latex-free, nonporous, phthalate-free, and hypoallergenic silicone. And because it is waterproof and made of silicone it’s a breeze to clean. Submerge it into the skink with mild soap and warm water and scrub it down a bit. Then let it air dry. Or you can just wipe it down with a lint-free towel moistened with peroxide, rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution to sanitize it for sharing. And because Crescendo is also 100% waterproof, it’s the ideal toy for bath or shower.”

Gina: “Make sure you use only a water-based lubricant with Crescendo. I suppose some of the newer silicone-hybrid lubes might work too, but I would be careful and do a test patch first. You wouldn’t want to mar the beautiful silicone skin. Oh, and get this: there is a one year warranty from the date of purchase, as long as you have register your toy on Mystery Vibe website.”
Kevin: “Besides all of this good stuff there’s even an app for Crescendo. This will surely make all of our techie friends squeal with delight. I mean this is the height of high-tech sex toys. Go to your app store, download the Crescendo app, and follow the prompts. We discovered that the app wanted to update Crescendo’s firmware first. Once that was done we had access to dozens of pre-programed vibration patterns and we can customize our own patterns too.”
Gina: “I want to make another comment about Crescendo’s shape-shifting capacity. Bend it to suit your need or position and it stays in shape during play, even with vigorous activity.”

Kevin: “I found the buttons a little difficult to manage, my fingers are just too big. The buttons can also get pretty slippery when Crescendo is all lubed up, so there’s that.”
Gina: “Here’s something interesting. I was showing the Crescendo to an older friend of mine because I know how much she likes her vibrators. She is nearly sixty-nine, but very spry. I only mention her age because I think Crescendo might be a little too technically advanced for seniors. So, as I was going on and on about how great Crescendo is; showing her how it bends, even showing her the app, she got a dismayed look on her face and said, ‘It’s very beautiful and I can see why you like it so much, but it’s just way too complicated for me.”
Kevin: “I hope our toys don’t get so technically advanced that we leave older folks behind. That would be a real shame.”
Gina: “I also want to comment on the vibrations. Despite the zillions of patterns and speeds, the vibrations are more of the buzzy type rather than the deep rumble type that some women crave. I know each person has her own preferences along this line and no one vibe will be perfect for every one, so I thought I would mention that for those who might have a preference. ”

Kevin: “Gina and I liked just about everything about Crescendo. I was sold on the innovative design, it being rechargeable, and waterproof.”

Full Review HERE!

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Why Sex Education for Disabled People Is So Important

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“Just because a person has a disability does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals.”

 

By

“Sex and disability, disability and sex; the two words may seem incompatible,” Michael A. Rembis wrote in his 2009 paper on the social model of disabled sexuality. Though roughly 15% of adults around the world (that’s nearly one billion people), and over 20 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64 have a disability, when it comes to disability and sex, there’s a disconnect. People with disabilities often have rich and satisfying sex lives. So why are they frequently treated as though they are incapable of having sexual needs and desires, and are excluded from sexual health education curriculum?

According to Kehau Gunderson, the lead trainer and senior health educator at Health Connected, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comprehensive sexual health education programs throughout the state of California, the sexual health and safety of students with disabilities is often not prioritized because educators are more focused on other aspects of the students’ well-being. “Educators are thinking more about these students’ physical needs. They don’t see them as being sexual people with sexual needs and desires. They don’t see them as wanting relationships,” Gunderson told me when I met her and the rest of the Health Connected team at their office in Redwood City, California.

When I asked why students with disabilities have historically been excluded from sexual education, Jennifer Rogers, who also works as a health education specialist at Health Connected, chimed in. “In general, the topic of sex is something that is challenging for a lot of people to talk about. I think that aspect compounded with someone with specialized learning needs can be even more challenging if you’re not a teacher who’s really comfortable delivering this kind of material,” she said.

But it was the third health education specialist I spoke with, DeAnna Quan, who really hit the nail on the head: “I think sometimes it also has to do with not having the materials and having trouble adapting the materials as well. While people often just don’t see disabled people as being sexual beings, they are. And this is a population who really needs this information.”

The complete lack of sexual education in many schools for students with disabilities is particularly alarming given the fact that individuals with disabilities are at a much higher risk of sexual assault and abuse. In fact, children with disabilities are up to four times more likely to face abuse and women with disabilities are nearly 40% more likely to face abuse in adulthood. Yet students in special education classes are often denied the option to participate in sex education at all. When these students are included in mainstream health courses, the curriculum is often inaccessible.

Disability activist Anne Finger wrote, “Sexuality is often the source of our deepest pain. It’s easier for us to talk about and formulate strategies for changing discrimination in employment, education, and housing than to talk about our exclusion from sexuality and reproduction.” But as Robert McRuer wrote in Disabling Sex: Notes for a Crip Theory of Sexuality, “What if disability were sexy? And what if disabled people were understood to be both subjects and objects of a multiplicity of erotic desires and practices, both within and outside the parameters of heteronormative sexuality?”

When it comes to disability and sexuality, a large part of the issue lies in the fact that disabled people are so infrequently included in the decisions made about their bodies, their education, and their care. So what do people with disabilities wish they had learned in sex ed? This is what students and adults with disabilities said about their experience in sexual health courses and what they wish they had learned.

People with disabilities are not automatically asexual.

“The idea of people with disabilities as asexual beings who have no need for love, sex, or romantic relationships is ridiculous. However, it is one that has a stronghold in most people’s minds,” wrote disability activist Nidhi Goyal in her article, “Why Should Disability Spell the End of Romance?” That may be because disabled people are often seen as being innocent and childlike, one disabled activist said.

“As a society, we don’t talk about sex enough from a pleasure-based perspective. So much is focused on fertility and reproduction — and that’s not always something abled people think disabled people should or can do. We’re infantilized, stripped of our sexuality, and presumed to be non-sexual beings. Plenty of us are asexual, but plenty of us are very sexual as well, like me. Like anyone of any ability, we hit every spot on the spectrum from straight to gay, cis to trans, sexual to asexual, romantic to aromantic, and more.” Kirsten Schultz, a 29-year-old disabled, genderqueer, and pansexual health activist, sexuality educator, and writer, said via email.

Kirsten, who due to numerous chronic illnesses has lived with disability since she was five years old, was not exposed to information regarding her sexual health and bodily autonomy. “I dealt with sexual abuse from another child right after I fell ill, and this continued for years. I bring this up because my mother didn’t share a lot of sex ed stuff with me at home because of illness. This infantilization is not uncommon in the disability world, especially for kids,” she said.

Growing up in Oregon, Kirsten said she was homeschooled until the age of 13 and didn’t begin seeing medical professionals regularly until she turned 21. “This means all sexual education I learned until 13 was on my own, and from 13 to 21, it was all stuff I either sought out or was taught in school.” Schultz explained. But even what she learned about sex in school was limited. “School-based education, even in the liberal state of Oregon, where I grew up, was focused on sharing the potential negatives of sex — STIs, pregnancy, etc. Almost none of it was pleasure-based and it wasn’t accessible. Up until I was in college, the few positions I tried were all things I had seen in porn…AKA they weren’t comfortable or effective for me,” she added.

Internet safety matters, too.

While many disabled people are infantilized, others are often oversexualized. K Wheeler, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Washington, was only 12 the first time their photos were stolen off of the Internet and posted on websites fetishizing amputees. K, who was born with congenital amputation and identifies as demisexual, panromantic, and disabled, thinks this is something students with disabilities need to know about. “There’s a whole side of the Internet where people will seek out people with disabilities, friend them on Facebook, steal their photos, and use them on websites,” she said.

These groups of people who fetishize amputees are known as “amputee devotees.” K had heard of this fetish thanks to prior education from her mother, but not everyone knows how to keep themselves safe on the Internet. “This is something that people with disabilities need to know, that a person without a disability might not think of, ” K said.

K also believes more general Internet privacy information should also be discussed in sex ed courses. “In the technological age that we’re in, I feel like Internet privacy should be talked about,” they said. This includes things like consent and sending naked photos with a significant other if you’re under 18. “That is technically a crime. It’s not just parents saying ‘don’t do it because we don’t want you to.’ One or both of you could get in trouble legally,” K added.

Understanding what kinds of sexual protection to use.

Isaac Thomas, a 21-year-old student at Valencia College in Orlando, lives with a visual impairment and went to a high school that he said didn’t even offer sexual education courses. “I did go to a school for students with disabilities and, unfortunately, during my entire time there, there was never any type of sexual education class,” he said.

And Isaac noted that sexual awareness plays a large role in protection. “They should understand that just because a person has a disability, does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals. It’s even more important that they teach sex education to people that have disabilities so they’re not taken advantage of in any kind of sexual way. If anything, it should be taught even more among the disabled community. Ignoring this problem will not make it go away. If this problem is not addressed, it will increase,” Isaac said.

Before entering college, Isaac said he wishes he had received more information about condoms. “I wish I had learned what types of condoms are best for protection. I should’ve also learned the best type of contraceptive pills to have in case unplanned sexual activity happens with friends or coworkers.”

Body image matters.

Nicole Tencic, a 23-year-old senior at Molloy College in New York, who is disabled, fine-motor challenged, and hearing impaired, believes in the importance of exploring and promoting positive body image for all bodies. Nicole, who became disabled at the age of six after undergoing high-dose chemotherapy, struggled to accept herself and her disability. “I became disabled when I was old enough to distinguish that something was wrong. I was very self-conscience. Accepting my disability was hard for me and emotionally disturbing,” she shared. “I was always concerned about what other people thought of me, and I was always very shy and quiet.”

It was when she entered college that Nicole really came to accept her body, embrace her sexuality, and develop an interest in dating. “I had my first boyfriend at 21. The reason I waited so long to date is because I needed to accept myself and my differences before I cared for anyone else. I couldn’t allow myself to bring someone into my life if I was unaccepting of myself, and if I did, I would be selfish because I would be more concerned about myself,” Nicole said. She also recognized the fact that while sexuality and disability are separate topics that need to be addressed differently, they can impact each other. “Disability may influence sexuality in terms of what you like and dislike, and can and cannot do,” but overall, “one’s sexuality does not have to do with one’s disability,” she clarified.

It’s important to make sex ed inclusive to multi-marginalized populations.

Dominick Evans, a queer and transgender man living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, various chronic health disabilities, and OCD, believes in the importance of sexual education stretching beyond the cisgender, heteronormative perspective. He also understands the dangers associated with being a member of a marginalized group. “The more marginalized you are, the less safe you are when it comes to sex,” he said in an email.

Dominick, who works as a filmmaker, writer, and media and entertainment advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, has even developed policy ideas related to increased inclusion for students with disabilities — especially LGBTQ students with disabilities. “These students are at higher risk of sexual assault and rape, STIs like HIV, unplanned pregnancies, and manipulation in sexual situations,” Dominick said. “Since disabled LGBTQIA students do not have access to sexual education, sometimes at all, let alone education that makes sense for their bodies and sexual orientation, it makes sense the rates for disabled people when it comes to sexual assault and STIs are so much higher.”

According to Dominick, the fact that many disabled students are denied access to sexual health curriculum is at the root of the problem. “When it comes to disparities in the numbers of sexual assault, rape, STIs, etc. for all disabled students, not having access to sexual education is part of the problem. We know this is specifically linked to lack of sex ed, which is why sex ed must begin addressing these disparities.”

So what does Dominick have in mind in terms of educational policies to help improve this issue? “The curriculum would highlight teaching students how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, STI and pregnancy prevention campaigns geared specifically at all disabled and LGBTQIA youth, ensuring IEPs (individualized education programs) cover sex ed inclusion strategies, access to information about sexuality and gender identity, and additional education to address disparities that affect disabled LGBTQIA students who are people of color.”

Understanding power dynamics and consent.

It’s important to understand the power dynamic that often exists between people with disabilities and their caretakers. Many people with disabilities rely on their caretakers to perform basic tasks, like getting ready in the morning. Women with disabilities are 40% more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to non-disabled women. This includes sexual, emotional, financial, and physical abuse, as well as neglect. For this reason, women with disabilities are less likely to report their abusers.

“Sometimes they’re more likely to think ‘this is the only relationship I can get,’ so they’re more likely to stay in these abusive relationships or have less access to even pursue courses of action to get out of the relationship. Especially if there is dependence on their partner in some way,” said K.

Dominick agreed. “Many of us often grow up believing we may not even be able to have sexual relationships. We often grow up believing our bodies are disgusting and there is something wrong with them,” he said. “So, when someone, especially someone with some type of power over us like a teacher or caregiver, shows us sexual attention and we believe we don’t deserve anything better or will never have the opportunity for sex again, it is easy to see why some disabled people are able to be manipulated or harmed in sexual situations.”

Dominick said this ideology led to his first sexual experience. “I probably should not have been having sex because I lost [my virginity] believing I had to take whatever opportunities I received,” he said, before going on to acknowledge the falsehood in these assumptions. “I’ve had many other relationships since then, and my last partner, I’ve been with for 15 years.”

But when it comes to disability, consent can be tricky. Some disabilities make communication a challenge. The lack of sexual education for many developmentally disabled students means they often don’t understand the concept of consent.

People with disabilities are more at risk for sexual exploitation and abuse.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, children with disabilities also face a much higher risk of abuse. In 2009, 11% of all child abuse victims had a behavioral, cognitive, or physical disability. In fact, when compared to non-disabled children, children with disabilities are twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused. Those living with developmental disabilities are anywhere from 4 to 10 times more likely to face abuse.

Deni Fraser, the assistant principal at the Lavelle School for the Blind, a school in New York City dedicated to teaching students with visual impairment and developmental disabilities, believes it’s important for all students to understand the importance of boundaries, both other people’s and their own. Many students at the school, who range in age from 2 to 21, also have co-morbid diagnoses, making the students’ needs varied.

“It’s important for our students to know that we want them to be safe at all times,” Fraser said. “Letting them know what’s appropriate touch, not only them touching others, but other people touching them; saying things to them; for people not taking advantage of them; knowing who is safe to talk to and who is safe to be in your personal space; if there’s anything going on with your body, who would be the appropriate person to talk to; not sharing private information — so what is privacy; and the importance of understanding safe strangers, like doctors, versus non-safe strangers.”

The portrayal of disabled bodies matters.

The media also plays a part in perpetuating the idea that individuals with disabilities do not have sex. Sexuality is often viewed as unnatural for individuals with disabilities, and many disabled students internalize that. “Even Tyrion Lannister, one of the most sexual disabled characters on television, usually has to pay for sex, and even he was horribly deceived the first time he had a sexual experience,” Dominick noted. “If the media is not even saying sex is normal or natural for disabled people, and sex education is not inclusive, then often disabled people are having to learn about and understand sex on their own,” he added.

Many students with disabilities also want to see their bodies reflected in sexual education materials. “Part of the curriculum at a lot of different schools includes showing some level of video,” K said. But including a person with a visible physical disability in these videos would go a long way in helping to shatter the stigma surrounding sex and disability, she said. According to K, this would help people understand that sex isn’t only for able-bodied people.

People with disabilities make up a large part of the population. They’re the one minority group any person can become a part of at any time. Therefore, incorporating disability-related information into sexual education curriculum not only benefits students who are already disabled, but it can help students who, at some point in their lives, will experience disability. Embracing an inclusive approach and keeping bias out of the classroom would help raise awareness, create empathy, and celebrate diversity. By listening to disabled voices, we can work toward a society that values inclusivity.

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