Differently abled people struggle with sexuality : here’s why.

Sexuality and the performance thereof is a deeply personal  experience, commonly shared  between two people, or more.   You consensually choose with whom you want to share this deeply intimate time. Privacy is usually a prime determinant  of when and where you have sexual activity. Some people still struggle to be sexual with a significant other when their children or  parent/s is in the same house! Thats how much we value privacy in our intimate lives.

You may love preparing and pampering yourself for a sexual experience, alone or together :  you shower, shave,  toilet , apply body lotion and  dress up in lovely lingerie or simply  get naked. And those spontaneous quickies in which you tear off each other’s clothes can be rather delicious.

Now close your eyes . Imagine that you cannot see, hear, or move one or more limb. Your preparation for sex includes removing  your catheter and emptying out your stoma bag. It may require you  getting out of your wheelchair, taking off your prosthesis , and sliding,  with the assistance of an assertive device ,  onto a bed.

Mostly you cannot do this alone. You need a third person to be there to help you to be sexual. All elements of privacy, intimacy , dignity are removed right there. From get go , you need assistance . Like a child who still needs help with toileting and dressing , you are rendered physically powerless to be the sexual man /woman that you are.

Differently abled people are  a marginalised group of people who are exposed  to the paternalistic and protective attitudes of our society. Their  physical dependence on others is automatically equated with intellectual and emotional dependence. And it is this loss of independence  and privacy which I note in my medico legal clients, that is a major cause of depression .. resulting in loss of sexual interest and response.

If as a differently abled person you are dependent and living at home with your parents or in an institution ,   it can be difficult to be sexy in your own and somebody else’s eyes. Not earning money may  further emotionally disable you making you feel inferior. This places you at a disadvantage in an intimate relationship as the balance of power lacks equity. Not very sexy

Experts on disabled peoples’ sexuality are mainly concerned with  erections and ejaculatory capability, female orgasms ,  positions or sexual technical aids . But actually we have little knowledge of the  every-day lives of disabled people that so inhibit their sexuality and intimacy.

Lets talk about the practical realities of being differently abled and entering  a sexual intimate relationship.

As a differently abled person, tick off what most  inhibits you sexually :

  • loss of self pride
  • loss of mobility
  • loss of independence
  • loss of privacy
  • loss of sexual functioning
  • loss of opportunities to meet people
  • body disfiguration
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • other

Self acceptance, feeling attractive  and good body image are pretty much necessary for satisfying sexual play Sexuality is one way we can feel free to express many vulnerable parts of ourselves. . So many able bodied people struggle to accept their bodies,  to be proud and confident in how they look and self present. Poor body image  is the cause of  sexual inhibition , loss of desire and arousal in men and  women especially. Instagram feeds our discontent.

No wonder 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.

When working with people I assess in my medico legal practice , people who are differently abled either physically or intellectually due to a personal injury, I am made acutely aware of their struggle to embrace their now shattered bodies and traumatised brains. Their sexuality is completely diminished . They  recall how they used to look and feel very unattractive in  comparison to who they once were.

Consider the other elements that give you self pride and thus  a  sexy  feeling. It’s status derived from  your job, material gains or sports achievements.

Disabled kids  receive inferior schooling, if any, and face enormous problems in getting employment.  Life choices are extremely limited . No wonder  poor self-confidence is frequently present. Without self-confidence it will be difficult to see oneself, or have others see you,  as an attractive sexual being.

 Society does not think of differently abled people  first and foremost as sexual beings.  Most  are considered objects of care, somebody one has to be nice to. Disabled people are often seen as sick. Sick persons are not expected to have a regular life with social responsibilities such as work. Sick people are definitely not expected to start a family.  Who wants to fall in love with a sick person, who would want to spend the honeymoon with a dependent less wealthy partner?

Dating  is a significant challenge.  According to one survey, up to 50% of adults with disabilities are not in any sexual relationship at all. The burden and inhibition of initiating or pursuing relationships creates fear of rejection . Negotiations around where to meet prove cumbersome and embarrassing and teasing out the genuine daters from the devotees is insulting and time consuming.

My guidelines for differently abled persons :

  1. Get a personal assistant to aid you in personal grooming.
  2. As much as possible avoid your partner or parent have the lions share of taking care of you
  3. Able bodied  partners become overpowered by the tremendous mutual dependence and the sheer amount of work, guilt feelings that can  result on both parts. Some relationships are kept together by guilt feelings which are often mistaken for love.
  4. Self-esteem and personal independence are pre requisites for healthy satisfying sexuality . Be mindful of your capacities for independence and don’t judge yourself for not meeting your own goals.
  5. Take control of your own life through assistive aids, including sexual health products such as vibrators , lubricants and male masturbators
  6. Be sure to get body work – a regular monthly massage is essential therapy for your sexual health and mental well being.

Lets all advocate for the rights of differently abled people. Lets insist on government  funding  personal assistants. Lets insist that we speak more about disability so we stop othering  differently abled people . It is intolerable to stigmatise, ostracise and turn your back on people so depriving  them the opportunity to live full intimate and mentally healthy lives.

For more information on Disability and Sexuality, contact me .