There are a lot of ways a disability might affect someone’s sex life. Not all disabilities are the same, and neither are the ways they impact people’s lives! Some people living with disabilities don’t feel like their disabilities affect their sex lives, while others do. Whatever the case, talking about sex and disability can be important!
A note about language: We’ve used “person-first” language (“people with disabilities”) throughout this article. That’s because in this article, we’re talking about a wide range of disabilities and experiences of disabilities! But, we recognize that some prefer identity-first language (“disabled person”) when talking about disability. That’s because this language has it’s own history of advocacy, which you can learn more about here! At SextEd, we support everyone’s right to use language for themselves that they’re comfortable with.
Why is it important to talk about sex and disability?
Just like people who don’t have disabilities, many people with disabilities can and do have sex. Unfortunately, sex and disability is rarely talked about. Sometimes people assume that having a disability means someone isn’t interested in sex, or that they can’t enjoy sex. They might have negative stereotypes about disability that contribute to this.
This can make it hard for people with disabilities to raise questions about sex, especially questions or concerns that relate to their own disabilities. This can make it harder to have safer sex and find sex that everyone is excited about. But talking openly about sex and disability can help address these stereotypes! It can also help people feel more confident and informed when they make sexual choices for themselves. And everyone deserves that!
Physical disabilities and accommodation during sex
Sex means something different for everyone. People with disabilities don’t all have sex the same way. And neither do people without disabilities! What kind of sex a person has is up to them and their sexual partners. That means there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to have sex, with or without a disability.
Some physical disabilities may have a big impact on someone’s sex life, while others may not. This can depend on the person and their disability. For example, loss of sensation or chronic pain can make some kinds of sex more complicated. But this doesn’t mean that people with physical disabilities can’t give or receive sexual pleasure!
Some people with disabilities can use accommodations to make sex easier or more fun. There are many products designed for this purpose, including custom mobility aids and devices. Some people with disabilities also use non-sexual mobility aids (like wheelchairs) during sex.
For many with physical disabilities, talking about accommodations and their physical limits with partners can be part of practicing safer sex! We’ll talk more about safer sex and disability later in this article.
Sex and developmental disabilities
Many people think that people with developmental disabilities, like Autism, can’t be sexual. Some may even feel that they’re unable to consent to sex. As a result, people with developmental disabilities can have difficulty finding supportive information on sex and sexuality. This can be frustrating for developmentally disabled teenagers and adults!
A lot of people with developmental disabilities do want to have sex, and many have active sex lives. Some people with these disabilities may have difficulty with talking to others and social cues. Some may have sensory issues or sensitivities, which can make some sex acts uncomfortable. But learning about how disabilities like Autism work can also help people who have them learn more about what turns them on and how to have great sex!
Whether or not you have a disability, it’s a good idea to talk to a potential sexual partner before you have sex. That way, you can work out forms of communication, set ground rules, and get each other excited!
Disability and safer sex
Information about safer sex and STIs is important for everyone. It’s a good idea for people to talk about safer sex and boundaries with their sexual partners.
Some disabilities can impact the safety of some sex acts. For example, some people with disabilities may lose sensation in their vagina or anus. Other disabilities, like epilepsy, also can pose risks during sex that people who don’t have disabilities might not have to think about.
For example, spinal cord injuries can cause a condition called autonomic dysreflexia. This is a medical emergency, which is sometimes caused by sex. The warning signs include:
- A pounding headache
- Nasal congestion
- A flushed face
If you or your partner experiences this during sex, it’s best to stop immediately. Help the affected person into a sitting position and wait. If the symptoms don’t stop within 5 minutes, it’s important to call a doctor right away.
Situations like this can happen with other disabilities, as well. That’s why it’s important to learn about your and your partners’ needs! For people with and without disabilities, talking to your partner about what you like, how your body might respond, and how to react if something goes wrong during sex, can help everyone feel confident and excited.
Sex education, disability, and consent
Everyone deserves to learn about healthy relationships. Understanding sex and consent can help people identify and even prevent sexual violence. This is why a clear, thorough approach to sex education is important!
People with disabilities deserve the chance to get as much education about sex as they want or need. And, lots of people with disabilities have happy, healthy, and fulfilling sex lives!