DISABILITY AND THE FIGHT TO BE SEEN AS A SEXUAL PERSON

        While the world is growing to see people with disabilities as just like everyone else, there still exists a fascination with the sexual activities of people with disabilities.

        How does someone do something? Can two people with a certain condition be together? And, still, especially for those with severe impairments, do they feel sexual desire at all? And if so, what should we do about it?

        The answer to most of these questions is, of course, that is the person’s concern, but the answer to the last two may require an answer. Yes, people with severe disabilities do feel sexual desires and most do want a sexual relationship. To the last question, some suggestion will be covered in the rest of this article.

        In the past, and now, disability in any form is seen as this othering condition that often leads to the assumption that someone with a disability is less of a person. If a person uses a wheelchair they may be seen as less than a person who can walk. For them, and many others, their sexuality is suppressed, destroyed, and exploited. In truth, the sexuality and lives of people with disabilities are very similar to those who are not disabled. The immense difficulties are magnified by society and their humanity is often overlooked.

        Tom Shakespeare wrote The Sexual politics of Disability two decades ago, looking at the various ways sexuality has been denied those of people who have disabilities. Shakespeare, disabled himself, states that often disability and sexuality is inaccurately displayed in only two lights—asexual or hypersexual. This is very damaging as it denies the humanity and all of the variance that comes with it. No two people are just alike and having a disability does not preclude someone from being a person.

        This notion was seen often in the myths and lore of ancient times. While disability was often present, it was either used to as a form of entertainment or the disabled person was seen to be unattractive.

        Often, in videos and books, the disabled character may have a partner, but this partner is seeking sexual stimulation for someone who is not disabled, solely because of his/her partner’s disability. This phenomenon is known as “Chatterly Syndrome” and is an unpleasant and damaging trope that is repeated throughout history and still to this day.

        Another trope that has plagued history is that of the notion that people with disabilities became that way because they committed a sin, or possibly even because their parents committed as sin and are being punished. This casts them as the villain of the story and precludes them from a sexual relationship with anyone.

        A third notion involves heritability. This places barriers on the sexuality of disabled people’s sexuality because they “should not” procreate because they may pass on their disability to their children. This notion is a lot harder to stamp out because it is written in the conscious and subconscious minds of others. Disabled people have challenged this notion vehemently. They note that sexual relations have more functions that just for procreation. There are many who accept their disability will be passed on to their children and embrace this notion. The third idea that should be well-known is that not all disabilities are heritable.

        Deafness, for instance, involves a community of language and pride. Deaf (with a capital D) parents are excited to have Deaf children as they can join the community, learn the amazing and beautiful language that is sign language, and are easier to communicate with. Their deafness is not a disability but how they experience life.

        Cosmopolitan surveyed five women who had various disabilities and asked them how their disabilities affect their lives, sexuality, and sexual relationships. The women ranged in age from twenty to thirty-nine and their conditions have an onset of birth to their teenage years. Here are their answers.

WOMEN 1

The first woman has dysautonomia which causes symptoms including dehydration, fainting, and fatigue.

Her condition may cause scars and weight fluctuation. She spent many years worried about being infertile, but after finding out she was fertile, she now worries about how her medications will affect the fetus.

Her biggest concerns related to sexual activities are her fatigue and GI issues. These can make spontaneous sex difficult and lower her sexual drive, but at times, she has excellent weeks where her sexual drive returns. Often, she has to stay very focused to remain aroused.

To work around any limitations, her partner does much of the work, while she stays focused on maintaining arousal.

WOMEN 2

The second woman is a paraplegic from the stomach down.

She says that the inability to walk is not the biggest aspect of her disability pertaining to sexuality, but the catheter is unsightly. In addition, without the use of her stomach muscles, she is unable to tone them and improve her balance.

She has a very his sexual drive, and her disability does not affect that at all. Her physiological responses are the same as other women and, like others, are dependent on the specific sexual activities.

To accommodate her spinal injury, she prefers penetrative sex, unlike most other women, as her clitoris is highly-sensitive. Too much stimulation may cause discomfort. In addition, her neck is very sensitive and can lead to orgasm with enough stimulation.

WOMEN 3

The third woman has a form of dysautonomia called Postural

Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). This involves symptoms including dizziness, brain fog, and when severe episodes occur, can lead to becoming bedridden. In addition, this woman experiences pain and an increased heat rate.

She must remain aware of her body at all times, especially her heart rate.

While chronic pain and repeated episodes of depression negatively affect her sexual derive and arousal, sex can also be an excellent source of pain and stress relief.

When having sexual relations, this woman must stay within the limitations of her body and monitor her heart rate. Lying down is conducive to a healthier heart rate and drinking lots of water and taking many breaks helps her stamina.

WOMEN 4

The fourth woman has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which involves pain and difficulties with mobility. She also has depression and anorexia.

She experiences a lot of pain from her Ehlers-Danlos and anorexia. She struggles with connecting her mind and body to deal with her difficulties.

Her depression eliminates her sexual drive and the anorexia reduces the amount of energy she has for sexual activities, but for this woman, pain is the biggest issue when it comes to sexual activities.

Pain causes a lot of difficulties for this woman, so penetrative sex does not happen. In addition, giving oral or masturbation to another can be difficult because of a lack of mobility of her fingers and jaw. Sexual relations would need to be done carefully and competently.

WOMEN 5

Last, but not least, the fifth woman has multiple sclerosis.

Citing a love-hate relationship with her body, she struggles to merge her “pre-MS” body with her “post-MS” body. In her head, her body functions as it did before multiple sclerosis, but when trying to do these activities, she is unable. This can be frustrating.

As her symptoms vary by the day, her sexual experiences also vary. Spasms, fatigue, and pain are the biggest issues. She has a high sexual drive so enjoys sexual activities with her partner as much as her body can.

Other than doggy-style and ankle restraint, any other sexual activities are perfectly fine for this woman.

As you can see, disability does not preclude sexuality or sexual relationships. Disabilities require accommodations that can lead to satisfaction for both partners.

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