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By Matty Silver, Sex Therapist on May 23, 2017 in People

Love is love

Sex and disability tends to be a taboo topic for many. In today’s society people with physical or intellectual disabilities are often regarded as non-sexual adults, since sex is very much associated with youth and physical attractiveness.

Opportunities for sexual exploration among disabled people, particularly the young, are extremely 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 participating in a sexual act. They often are completely denied sex education.

There is also a belief that disabled people are asexual (not interested in sex) or incapable of sex. It’s easy for disabled people to be influenced by these myths and begin to believe they don’t have a right to sex.

Sexuality is a key part of human nature and disabled people experience the same range of sexual thoughts, feelings and desires as anyone else. The desire for love and intimacy is natural for everyone. But when someone has a disability or considers themself disfigured, it is sometimes hard for them to believe they are attractive.

Sex can be a wonderful reason to keep going when everything else seems bleak, and it can be a beautiful way of connecting with someone we love. If we define sex not as intercourse, but as physical contact for the purpose of sharing intimacy and pleasure, there’s really no disability that makes sex impossible.

People with a chronic illness or disability often give up on sex; they may lack energy and want to save their strength for other things. They may have discomfort, loss of sensation or unpleasant feelings in their genitals or other parts of their body.

Sex does require some effort, but sexual desire is also a powerful source of energy. Pleasure derived from sex can raise a person’s quality of life and slow down the course of their illness. Sex can strengthen the connection with partners and give them a chance to forget about illness for a while. Their bodies can be a source of pleasure, not only of frustration.

For many couples, whether they are disabled or not, sex isn’t the most important part of their relationship. Many find kissing, caressing each other or mutual masturbation just as rewarding, and this may be particularly important if penetrative sex is impossible. Sex may be different, but it can still be good.

People with disabilities should have the right to explore and express their gender and sexuality, and should be allowed to have relationships based on consent and respect. But to understand and enjoy sexuality, everyone needs adequate advice, information and support.

Cory Silverberg, a well-known Canadian sex educator, is co-author of a brilliant book called The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability, for people who live with disabilities, pain, illness, or chronic conditions. It’s written by a medical doctor, sex educator, and disability activist, providing readers with encouragement, support, and information. I strongly recommend it.