Definition: Defining the Meaning of Disability Sexuality
Sexuality and disability refers to the sexual behavior and practices of people with a disability (PWD). Physical disabilities such as a spinal cord injury may change the sexual functioning of a person. However, the disabled person may enjoy sex with the help of sex toys and physical aids (such as bed modifications), by finding suitable sex positions, or through the services provided by a qualified sex worker.
Sex and disability tends to be a taboo area for many abled bodied persons and is rarely discussed in the same sentence. As a result more than 50% of disabled people do not have any form of a regular sex life.
According to the World Health Organization, "Sexuality is an integral part of the personality of everyone: man, woman and child; it is a basic need and aspect of being human that cannot be separated from other aspects life."
People with physical or intellectual disabilities in today's society are often regarded as non-sexual adults.
Sex is very much associated with youth and physical attractiveness, and when it is not, is often seen as "unseemly". If sex and disability are discussed, it is very much in terms of capacity, technique, and fertility - in particular, male capacity and technique and female fertility - with no reference to sexual feelings by ignoring aspects of sexuality, such as touching, affection, and emotions.
In addition, opportunities for sexual exploration among disabled people, particularly the young, are very limited. There is often a lack of privacy and they are much more likely than other young people to receive a negative reaction from an adult if discovered. The general reduction in life choices also has an impact on self-esteem which in turn affects sexuality.
A person with a disability of some kind may tend to feel unattractive, or even less worthy of sexual partnership or relations, because they think that they can't live up to the idealized image todays society has set. If the disability happened later on in their life, the person may recall how they used to look and feel very unattractive by comparison to who they once were.
Disability stereotypes add to the difficulty and stigma experienced by people with disabilities.
The following myths about people with disabilities have been identified:
- Men and women with disabilities don't need sex.
- Men and women with disabilities are "oversexed."
- Sex must be spontaneous and/or have a set time.
- Men and women with disabilities can't have 'real' sex.
- Men and women with disabilities are not sexually attractive.
- Boys and girls with disabilities don't need sexuality education.
- Men and women with disabilities have more important needs than sex.
- Men and women with disabilities, such as retardation, should not have children and should not be allowed to have children.
In relation to intellectual disability, society frequently takes the view that intellectually disabled people have no rights at all to pursue social and sexual relationships. They have often been completely denied sex education.
Intellectually disabled people are sometimes regarded as sexually deviant because they may exhibit socially inappropriate sexual behavior. Just as can happen in the rest of the community, some intellectually disabled people grow up in situations (e.g. institutions) which differ from the norm in many ways. This can cause difficulties in social and personal development, and can contribute to the development of socially inappropriate behavior. It can also be more difficult for intellectually disabled people to distinguish between public and private behaviors.
A child's sexuality education comes from a range of sources, including their parents, teachers and friends.
People with intellectual disability also need sexuality education that:
- Teaches them that people with disability can have fulfilling sex lives
- Is delivered in a way that a person with intellectual disability can understand.
- Explains social rules, such as telling the difference between private and public behaviors
- Covers age-appropriate sexual issues that may be associated with their particular disability
For paraplegic and quadriplegic people, a loss of sexual function does not mean a corresponding loss of sexuality. Sexual function may be impaired but can, like other functions, be increased.
After spinal cord injury the spinal center for sexual function is generally intact; it is the communication from the brain to the spinal center that is usually disrupted. Unless some sensation in the area of the sexual organs remains, the usual sensation of orgasm is lost, but phantom orgasm elsewhere in the body may be experienced. However, the physical and emotional aspects of sexuality, despite the physical loss of function, continue to be just as important for disabled people as for non-disabled people.
Your options of contraception may be narrower due to your illness or disability.
For example, some people with Spina Bifida are allergic to latex, so they need to use non-latex condoms and dental dams for safer sex.
If you have poor circulation or mobility your doctor may recommend you don't take the pill because you could have a higher risk of getting thrombosis.
If you're not happy with your method of contraception then it may be worth making another visit to your doctor (GP) - there could be a new choice of contraception available to you or one you've not tried before.
Quick Facts: Disability & Sexuality Rights
People with disabilities deserve acceptance of their sexuality. That acceptance would not only be within the community of people who do not have disabilities, but also validation within each individual who does. A disability does not alter the right of an individual to express his or her sexuality. This includes the right to marry, parent, and care for children; to make choices about these areas; and to have access to accurate information which will enable them to make good choices and take appropriate actions.
Sometimes, a person with intellectual disability may exhibit inappropriate sexual behavior, such as public masturbation, or soliciting sex from minors or in public. This is more likely to occur when the person lacks more appropriate sexual outlets or has not been provided with appropriate education about the complicated social etiquette and legal issues around sexual behavior and relationships.
Statistics: Disability Sexuality
According to one survey, up to 50% of adults with disabilities are not in any sexual relationship at all. Online disabled dating web sites specifically aimed at people with disabilities have been founded to fill this void.