Sex & Disability: Access & Pleasure for Every Body

by Christopher J.

March 9, 2023


March is Disability Awareness Month, so it’s time for some real talk. One of the greatest myths within the vast world of human sexuality is that people with disabilities are either asexual or not able to enjoy happy, healthy – hot and amazing – sex lives.

In his excellent article “Disabled? You Can Still Enjoy Satisfying Sex,” Michael Castleman, a San Francisco-based journalist who has written about sexuality for more than three decades, confirms that disability never precludes sex, either alone or with partners. With Census data indicating that 19% of Americans – 50 million people – have disabilities, physical limitations can complicate sex, but never mean those individuals can’t still enjoy sexual experiences and relationships.

“Touch is the only sense we can’t live without,” he writes. “Virtually everybody—every body—enjoys sensual touch. Even those with severe disabilities can enjoy erotic pleasure, both solo and partnered. Of course, erotic adjustments must be made. Partners must be patient and flexible. And coaching is necessary. But satisfying sex is always possible.”

One of the first myths Castleman shatters is the mistaken belief that disabled people are not desirable. Everyone is attractive to someone, he reminds.

“If you’re able-bodied and feel an erotic spark with a disabled friend, say so,” says Castleman. “And if you’re disabled and feel romantically attracted to a friend, say so. Of course, attraction may not be reciprocated. That’s life. But silence means nothing ever happens.”

As in any strong and loving relationship, open and honest conversations are the most effective tool couples have to figure out what sexual practices are the most fun and the most powerful. That conversation should be ongoing throughout an entire relationship, whether it lasts five months, five years or 50 years. A Disabled Persons Guide to Talking with Your Partner(s) About Sex provides an excellent starting point.

It’s also important to completely destroy the myth that disabled people can’t have “real” sex. Just trying to define what “real sex” is can lead to hours of fascinating conversation. For any couple, it’s always more about being fully conscious of each individual’s reality and what turns them on when it comes to sexual stimulation.

“Some disabilities make vaginal intercourse difficult or impossible,” Castleman states. “But there are many other satisfying ways to make love. Even those who have no genital sensation can enjoy erotic pleasure and orgasms.”

Ultimately, people with disabilities can enjoy sex, can experience pleasure through sex, they just need to experiment, try different things, and explore different approaches to sex until they find the ones that are most enjoyable and satisfying. And there’s no reason to stop there. The best advice for anyone is to keep trying new things, since everyone and everyone’s body changes over time and with each different partner they may have.

There is a great conversation online in logicmag with Bethany Stevens, a wheelchair-using queer sociologist and doctoral student at Georgia State University. She is also the creator of CripConfessions, a blog that often explores the often-taboo intersection of disability and sexuality. Stevens is about as fearless and straightforward as straightforward gets, and her writing makes for quite refreshing and informative reading.

Stevens explains on the blog site that she “uses the word ‘crip’ in a way to signal reclamation and promotion of disability pride and disability politics.” In a current blog, Sevens discusses how attending conferences about CripSex serves to facilitate crip family moments that can furnish restorative opportunities to share time with people she has admired for a long time who have become her chosen family.

In the online conversation with Stevens, she discusses how digital technology has changed the sex lives of people who identify as disabled:

“Disabled people have so many robust points of meeting on the web,” Sevens says. “One wonderful project is the Disability Visibility Project by Alice Wong, which is a fantastic example of how social media has created a source of community building through sharing information and connecting those who have disparate identities. She’s one of the many rockstars I consider friends, largely through our internet interactions. She was featured at the White House through a wheeling telepresence robot—she’s just that badass. I also created a project on Facebook called This is What Disability Looks Like, which shows the myriad permutations of disabled people.

Of course, another field that continues to grow and advance that can provide abundant joy and pleasure via sex to a disabled individual is romantic technology. So who else should you turn to for advice than the sex toy experts at Silicon Wives? In this informative article, they discuss what’s possible, no matter the person’s disability.

Another extremely informative source for people to read and use is The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability by Miriam Kaufman et al. The book is the first complete sex guide for people who live with disabilities, pain, illness, or chronic conditions. According to the description, the guide provides useful information and suggestions for “absolutely everyone, regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation, the book addresses a wide range of disabilities — from chronic fatigue, back pain, and asthma to spinal cord injury, hearing and visual impairment, multiple sclerosis, and more.”

The book was written by a team of three experts: a medical doctor, a sex educator, and a disability activist. If you’re looking for encouragement, support and practical information that can help you create a sex life tailored specifically for you, this guide covers all aspects of sex and disability. The text includes steps on how to build a positive sexual self-image, a variety of positions to minimize stress and maximize pleasure, advice on how to deal with fatigue or pain during sex, how to find partners and talk with partners about sex and disability, and how to incorporate sex toys into your love life.

People with disabilities – all kinds of disabilities – can and should enjoy fulfilling, fun, and satisfying sexual experiences that will deeply enrich and enhance their lives and relationships.

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