#HowWouldYouRespond: Disability and Sex - Stereotypes becoming too much to stand
Writer Dee Smith has researched what sexually charged questions disabled people have been asked most frequently, and gets close and personal with 4 disabled people on how they feel about these questions.
Content Warning: sex, ableism, intrusive questions.
(Photo by Womanizer Toys on Unsplash)
[Image: two pairs of feet are entwined on a bed, with the people's legs covered by a white sheet.]
by Dee Smith.
Disability and sex education have never gone hand in hand. With a phenomenal lack of education for disabled people, showing the disconnect between what non-disabled people think happens in the bedroom, is it a surprise disabled people have sex? Shock! Horror! No, not really.
I, for one, was never spoken to about different body types of varying disabilities having sex or even wanting or being worthy of sex in the eyes of society. This leads to a curiosity, like an open invite for non-disabled people to ask all kinds of intrusive, negative stereotypes formed as questions. I delved in and did some (nauseating) research into what sexually charged questions non-disabled people have asked most frequently, and the questions I found were:
Can you still have sex?
Does it hurt?
Can you feel it and enjoy it?
Can you have children?
What’s the best position for you?
These questions are not generally asked by partners, but by strangers, when first introduced on a date, when texting on Tinder, when meeting in a café. In my experience, they completely feel as though they are in the right to do so - to have a right into your private life, as if you are a curiosity in a zoo. But they don't.
I’ve sat down with four other disabled people with varying disabilities to discuss these questions, and explore their own opinion on disability and sex education!
Dee Smith – 24 – Friedreichs Ataxia
Let’s start with me. The question "Can you still have sex?" is laughable to me, because this person is putting the whole varied and wide field of disability into a non-sexual box. I am firmly not in that box. My response? “Obviously. I probably have more sex than non-disabled people.” Phew. Easy. Next!
“Does it hurt?” No more than this question does, but I suppose It depends on what you're Into…(I'm kidding, sort of).
What about “Can you feel it and enjoy it?” Ridiculous. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it.
“Can you have children?” Now, only after four questions does this hit something to do with my own disability. I acknowledge this will not be the same for everyone, but this shows just how different each disability is - the same questions and opinions really cannot be applied to everyone; we're individuals. Firstly, before I answer seriously, I'd like to state that I wasn't put on this earth to be a broodmare. I would prefer to check my partner for the Friedreichs Ataxia gene, so our children don’t run the risk of having FA, but yes, I can and do want to have children.
Finally, “what's my best position?” Anything that doesn't cause cramp. How I'd really answer? “I personally prefer missionary and on my knees. Everyone, from abled to disabled have a preference.”
[Image: Portrait of Dee, a white woman with dark brown hair. She is wearing a black shirt and patterned cardigan.]
Nicolo – 24 – Leg Amputation
Nicolo is 24 and has had his leg amputated. I dive right in. “Can you still have sex?” He takes a while to reply, no doubt as surprised as me at the total lack of education surrounding disability. In the end he confirms, yes, he can have sex.
“Does it hurt?” I ask. He's graciously answers, “I feel good about myself, so I give myself the opportunity to feel good with other people too. In fact, I always have good sex.” That's fair enough. We move on.
“Can you feel it and enjoy it?” He laughs, saying yes - he has a lot of fun. As sex should be!
“Can you have children?” He's armed for this question, saying the question should be "‘Do you want children?’. He answers yes to both.
“What’s the best position for you?” If a partner had asked this, okay! Everyone; non-disabled and disabled alike have a preference. But from a stranger it is intrusive. Nicolo is honest. “I’m only uncomfortable when I’m on top of a woman. People often have closed minds, full of taboo when it comes to disability.”
[Image: A portrait of Nicolo, a white man who is wearing a prosthetic leg with the lower leg twisted up so that he is leaning on the foot. He is topless and sitting on a bed.]
Misha Walker - 37 – Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC)
Misha has Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita and she's full of surprise when I shoot off with my questions. “Can you still have sex?” She pauses a beat, perhaps mulling over the fact that non-disabled people think they can ask this. “Yes, I can. I do. And I really enjoy it!” As she should. I'm happy for Misha.
“Can you feel it?” After asking this question for the third time, I'm really struggling with how invasive it is. Misha dutifully answers anyway. “Yes, I feel everything, sometimes I think I’m actually hypersensitive to sex.” This segues into the next question.
“Can you feel it and enjoy it?” Misha explains that it can hurt sometimes, just like it does with every other person, even with a disability.
When asked about children, she seems perplexed. As far as she knows, she can have children. "But it is something I haven’t really checked, as I’m not sure if I even want kids.” Women have our own needs, wants and desires. At the end if the day we are human and make decisions about our lives as non-disabled people do.
“What’s the best position?” I ask, finally. “I don’t have a preference position,” Misha replies. “It depends on the mood, the type of sex you are having and, obviously the partner. I feel like being open to trying different things in the moment is best.”
[Image: A portrait of Misha, a white woman, with her hair slicked back and wearing large blue perspex earrings. Behind her is an image of a blue sky with white fluffy clouds.]
Andrea – 22 – Friedreichs Ataxia and Proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD)
I can feel Andrea's eyeroll over the phone as I ask, “can you still have sex?” “Yes," she replies. "People shouldn’t assume that disabled people cannot have sex or be sexy, desired or flirty.” She's confident In her response. I can't blame her.
I dive in with the next question, “can you feel it?” She answers, truthfully. "Not all the time. Recently I started to regain feeling in that specific area.” Disability is constantly ever changing with our health, time, and resources, therefore the experience of sex can change for disabled people over time.
“Does it hurt, and do you enjoy it?” She pauses for a moment and then tells me, “it used to hurt sometimes, but there wasn’t a time when I didn’t enjoy it. You adapt in the moment.” I have to admire her clear-cut thinking. I agree and continue.
“Can you have kids?” Her response is short and to the point, “I can!”
“What is the best position?” Andrea responds quickly, “face to face positions…Just not in the wheelchair. I’m not a shy woman when it comes to sex.” I find myself telling her you shouldn't have to be. Everyone disabled or otherwise deserves to feel confident, beautiful and sexy.
[Image: A portrait of Andrea, a white woman with red tinted hair and wearing a white skirt, and maroon jumper and big hoop earrings.]
Sydney Zarlengo – 20 – Chronic Migraines, Autism, ADHD, Memory loss, Severe IBS, Mental Health.
Sydney declines to answer the questions as they are (can we blame her?), but instead gives me a beautiful opinion to sum up how disabled people should be treated when it comes to sex, relationships and sex education.
“Disabled people, including neurodivergent people, are human beings. We have partners, we have romance, we have relationships, we have sex lives. We are beautiful, smart, independent, confident, sexy and desirable people. No one should be ashamed or embarrassed loving and wanting to be with us! Just like any other human! Being disabled does not mean that we are ‘innocent’ or ‘pure’ or ‘childlike’ or ‘wholesome’, or any other patronizing word one might like to use to describe us. We can choose to be those things, however that’s on our terms not yours! And we’re not high maintenance or difficult like a Rubik’s cube. Sure, disability may make sex a little more complicated and it may look a little different, but it’s still just as valid and important in society. Sex education pertaining to everyone, every minority is so important.”
[Image: A portrait of Sydney, a white woman, with long blonde wavy hair. She is wearing a collared white blouse and a lilac ruched dress. She is sitting on the floor of a forest.]
I really could not sum it up any better myself. Society needs to start seeing us as human beings. This starts with representation; start showing us in TV, film, and literature. Normalise us, so these questions stop. And to the non-disabled people asking these questions, think - How would you respond?
Dee Smith (she/her) is a writer, model, actress, and singer. You can find Dee here on Twitter - @Dee_Smithxoxo and here on Instagram - @dee_smithxoxo