The other day a few folks started chatting on twitter about sex and disability. A friend commented that he’d really like to learn more about the subject, as he doesn’t know much and would like to know more about accommodating those with disabilities. Since the topic was sex, I responded that I hoped it would be less about accommodation and more about enjoyment. He agreed, but feared his lack of knowledge could lead him to injure potential partners.
The topic, or rather topics, of sex and disability, are numerous and wide-ranging. I’ll be coming back to them many times in this blog. Apropos of the conversation I mention here I have two observations. I think that when people think of disability, especially as it might relate to sexual concerns, they think of mobility impairments. That is, disabilities that limit or prevent movement in some or all areas of the body. Disability actually encompasses a wide range of physical, sensory, cognitive, developmental, psychological, or medical concerns.
The second observation? A lot of the concerns people have regarding the subject of “sex and disability” are concerns that apply to the individuality of bodies and experiences, whether they’re considered “able” or not.
Yes, there are differences. A blind man can’t glance across the room and entice you with eye contact. A woman who uses a wheelchair to get around may, depending on the nature of her disability, need help in and out of the chair, with changing positions, and so on. A deaf person will likely want you to leave the lights on so he can read your lips, watch your body language, or do whatever he needs to do to communicate with you while you’re being sexual. For those who can see, It’s more fun with the lights on, anyway. It can get even more complicated when someone has multiple disabilities, or when both partners have disabilities.
The basic answers, though, are simple. Responding to my friend who was concerned about injuring someone from ignorance and ensuring he could provide as much pleasure as possible, I answered that it’s exactly the same as with a supposedly able-bodied partner; safe, healthy, pleasurable sex starts with partners talking to each other, asking what is needed, what is wanted, what is desired.
I have heard people with mobility impairments say that the necessity of giving their partners specific instructions on how to move them makes the whole encounter so much sexier. Talking is always sexy.
What if your partner can’t talk? Very likely they will have a communication system set up, and it’s something you’ll know about ahead of time.
The fun, and fear, of sexy time with a new partner is the same regardless of ability. The challenges arise when we’re faced with things we’ve never encountered, and sometimes have never heard of. Don’t let fear keep you from what, or who, you want. Listen, ask questions, connect!
There’s so much more I could say, but I will leave it there for the present. I’ll leave you with a few resources.
One of the best resources for info on sex and disability is the fabulous book
The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability.
(Also available in alternative formats from U.S. and Canadian service providers. Please ask me for details.)
Here’s a list of sex and disability resources. The creator of sexuality.about.com is Cory Silverberg, coauthor of The Ultimate Guide to Sex And Disability.
What are your thoughts as you read this, or peruse the resources, or reflect on your own experiences? What do you think the challenges might be if you were sexual with someone whose abilities were different from yours? What would you like to see me write about in this arena?