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Myth busting: Disabilities and Sex

Feeling connected with others is a fundamental human need for all people. Sexuality is one aspect of being human that helps people connect. It is a natural part of living and can be fun for everyone, including people living with a disability or personal need. Sexuality is often equated with just sex, but in reality it is much broader than that. It encompasses all the feelings, thoughts and behaviours of being female or male, being comfortable with ourselves and being in love, as well as being in relationships that may include sexual intimacy.

People living with disabilities are rarely seen as sexual beings which leads to a range of myths and misconceptions surrounding disabilities and sex. 

MYTH #1: People living with a disability are not sexual

Like anyone else, people living with a disability are people first and are therefore sexual beings like all of us, with sexual desires, feelings and fantasies. One of the biggest barriers for people living with a disability to express their sexuality is the negative societal attitude and assumption that they are not sexual. This is partly due to concepts of ‘normality’ and beauty which is related to upcoming Myth # 2.  Another barrier is that some people living with a disability may not be independent, for example, in terms of ‘self care’ and may rely on others for this. In this case, the person living with a disability may be seen as child-like; therefore rendered sexless. However, no matter if, when, how, or with whom, one chooses to express or not express one’s sexuality, all human beings are sexual.

MYTH #2: People living with a disability are not attractive or desirable

We have all been exposed to the message that sex is for ‘beautiful’ people. This poses many powerful questions for a person with a disability who may not be considered ‘beautiful’ according to the rigid, false ideals of beauty that exist in society. Who is sexy? Who is desirable? Are ‘beautiful’ people really more sexual than others? What about people with disabilities? Are people living with a disability fully human sexual beings even though they don’t show up in movies or in advertising? Attraction, above all else, is a connection between two people. What attracts people is unique and precipitated by various factors, such as personality, history, timing and sexual fantasies. The idea of ‘beauty’ may actually have nothing to do with it.

MYTH #3: Sex must be spontaneous

If you buy into this myth, you’re ensured a disappointing sex life! The idea that sex can happen without thinking, talking or planning is unrealistic, especially for a person living with a disability who may require additional assistance when preparing for sex. While we all might like to believe in our favourite movies that depict sex as spontaneous; in reality sex is a process of communication that takes forethought, and it doesn’t always look pretty! That’s not the aim though, is it? It’s to have fun and be close, which sometimes means we have to plan ahead.

MYTH #4: People living with a disability can’t have ‘real’ sex

There are many different ways that people can have sex that aren’t often shown in popular media. Kissing, touching, mutual masturbation, oral sex and sexual interactions with people of the same or opposite gender are all sexual activities. Even if you can’t have one sort of sexual activity because of your disability, perhaps another form of sexual activity would suit you. Sex is for everyone, and there no rules governing what sex can or cannot be, except that it must involve mutual consent, respect and safety.

MYTH #5: People living with a disability don’t need sex education

If people living with a disability aren’t sexual beings, then why would they need sex education? Sex education is often misunderstood as teaching people how to have sex or permitting experimentation. In reality, sex education encompasses more than just the mechanics of sex, and is necessary for all people. Sexual ignorance is an enormous obstacle for all people when trying to figure out themselves sexually. Sex education can empower people with disabilities with knowledge and information to have safe and pleasurable sex, prevent STI’s, stop unwanted pregnancies and protect themselves from abusive partners. Sex education can also empower individuals to have fun and connect with others on a deeper level.

Our tips for you:

Talking about sex is natural and healthy, but approaching it can be scary at first. Here are some ideas surrounding disabilities and sex to get you started.

1. Talk to a professional. Someone like your trusted GP, sexual counsellor or a psychologist who has skills in this area. These professionals will be able to guide you through your sexual journey, and help you understand what barriers there might be to you having a fulfilling sex-life.

2. Look for a support network. You won’t be the only person in your position, and others may have advice that could help. Sometimes talking to a professional is scary, but a peer network can make it feel safer.

3. Give us a call. If this article made you reflect on your understanding of disability and sexuality and you would like to seek advice or to refer a client, please contact Independence Australia’s Psychology and Counselling Service on 03 9418 0474.

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