Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Sex and Disability

Content warning: This post is very much Not Safe for Work.  For obvious reasons

Put this up top of most awkward and unwelcome conversations that disabled people get asked a ridiculous amount of times:
"Can you... like... you know... ?"
And every time, I grit my teeth and hope they're not going to ask what they're very obviously going to ask, and I try not to roll my eyes too hard as they try (and generally fail) to discreetly make rude gestures so they don't have to say the words...
"have SEX"

I can imagine that some people may read the above exchange and think I'm making it up, that no one asks this.  Trust me, they do, and I'm not the only one who experiences it...

Over the years, I've picked up a few snarky responses to this question, and I rarely make apologies for it - especially when asked unsolicited by a stranger or at best acquaintance.  Responses include: "Yes, but not with you" or a comment on their lack of creativity in the bedroom.

Because aside from the obvious fact that it's no one else's business and that it's such a weird fixation to have (how someone else has sex), nearly everyone can have sex in some capacity or other.  It may not look the same from one form to another, but there's a lot more to sex than penetrative penis-in-vagina sex in missionary position (yawn).  It's a strong reflection of the heteronormativity of our culture that so many people can't seem to see past this idea too.

In some ways it's a great filter - you know when someone asks you that out of the blue they're not going to be worth being with lol.  But mostly it just makes me sad.  Sad that we are all sent messages that feed assumptions that disabled people are non-sexual beings.  Sad that we are sent messages that undermine our sexual desires, wants, needs, and feelings of attractiveness.  Sad that I spent much of my life internalising these messages to the point that I believed them.  That I was unworthy of any sort of love, sex, relationship, more-than-platonic affection.  Sad that we're fed messages that shames virginity (and yes, for my fellow feminists, I'm fully aware that virginity and losing it is a social construct but for the sake of simplicity, bear with me :)  ) reinforcing notions that we're wrong, we're broken, we're not normal.  It makes me sad, and angry.  These messages are not just emphatically incorrect, they're harmful.  The last thing any of us need are an extra layer of compounding messages that we are less-than.  Everyone deserves to feel loved, everyone deserves the full extent of the human experience as far as they want to.

Pregnancy is fatal apparently.
What needs to change first and foremost is general society understanding and acceptance of disabled people as sexual beings.  Personally I think an effective although difficult and time-consuming approach would be through comprehensive and inclusive sex education from the get go, and more realistic and positive representations of disabled people in general media and entertainment.  The more normalised disability becomes in the general public eye, then the less of a big deal it is and the less we are Othered.  Sex education as it stands currently is seriously lacking.  There is little in the way of consent education, education on how to navigate and maintain functional and healthy relationships, little in how to have enjoyable sex, and much misinformation.  So far as my experience with sex education within school setting goes I got a combination of 'here are a bunch of contraceptive approaches and how to use them' and 'don't have sex or you'll die' - ok not quite that extreme, but I went to a religious high school halfway through my secondary education so got very much a morally based sex-ed lesson there not far off Mean Girls style.

I got most of my legitimate information from the internet (no, not porn - give me some credit here!) mostly via Laci Green's sex+ youtube channel, which I highly recommend, where she not that long ago did a collaboration video on sex and disability.  I also highly recommend this book - The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability.  Seriously EVERYONE should read it, whether they have anything to do with disability or not.  It covers EVERYTHING, including dealing with past traumas if you have them, and would certainly be a far less obnoxious way for people to get the answer to any questions they have on the topic of sex and disability.

Next week I'll talk more about this including my own thoughts and experiences.

Have you dealt with these awkward conversations/questions? or do you have any burning questions of your own?  Comment below!

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