Sex, Love, and Disability

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We find that society is uncomfortable with disability and they’re also uncomfortable with sex… So when you tie the two together, nobody wants to go near it.

To be honest, I’d never really given the topic much thought; I try not to concern myself with other people’s sex lives. But, as I read through this article in the Toronto Star, I realized that I would have some assumptions if I took the time to think about it. The article looks at the relationship between Tim, a man with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, and Natalie, an able bodied woman. The article was detailed and well written, but the thing that stood out the most for me was learning that Tim had been excluded from sex-ed classes in high school because it was assumed he didn’t need them.

I used to think I was bad at sex because I can’t do it in the traditional way,” says Tim. “So I didn’t enjoy it. And I thought it was wrong that I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t until I had a partner, Natalie, who was willing to say, ‘OK, let’s figure out what works for the two of us’ that it started to be great.

I’m not going to pretend to understand what sex would be like as part of a physically disabled couple, but I can imagine it would take a lot of communication. Sex is such a sensitive subject for those of us who do it in the traditional, taught in class, seen in movies, type of way, I can’t imagine having to navigate those waters with a physical disability and no support. Luckily, Natalie and Tim have started The Rose Centre whose mission is to be a resource for “positive representations of love sex and disability.”

If you Google the subject you will find many stories of love and sex where one or both of the people involved have some type of disability. Love comes in all shapes and sizes and it would be nice to see more examples of real-life love in mainstream media. While my disabilities are not as obvious to the outside observer, I would be lying if I said I’d never felt like I was unlovable. I used to wonder why someone would put up with my depression or anxiety. Was I sexy when my medications made me gain weight and break out? Now I sometimes wonder what would happen if I lost Jay. Would I find someone who would be okay dealing with my asthma and the lifestyle changes that would come along with it? Some disabilities are more obvious than others, but you never know what someone is going through until you get to know them.

Our bodies and identities are routinely cast with the sexual stereotypes of asexuality (the idea that we lack any sexual feeling and desire) or sexually inadequacy. Rather confusingly, some of us can also be seen as sexually deviant or “hypersexual” and others of us are assumed only to be sexual victims or objects of fetish.

This quote from Disability Now  highlights some of the issues disabled people deal with when trying to find a satisfying relationship. Take a look at the trailer for the movie The Sessions:

But, one look at Dan Savage’s blog Savage Love and you realize that feelings of confusion and sexual inadequacies are not restricted to the disabled community. In reality everyone does sex a little bit differently than everyone else and we are all struggling to find someone to share our particular preferences with. We should be embracing our differences and making all sex mainstream sex; no one should be left out when we’re talking about love and sex.

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Check out SexualityandDisability.org!

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