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10 Misconceptions about Sex and Disability

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Whoa nelly, you better believe people with disabilities have sex. We’re all the same when our mobility aids are left by the bedside, and even though we’re well into the 21st century, two-thirds of people have no idea what really goes on behind our bedroom doors. They think they do, but most have it wrong. Dead wrong.

From orgasms to the logistics, here are the top 10 misconceptions about sex and disability.

1. We’re asexual.

Our desire to fully embrace our sexuality does not diminish in the face of disability. We’re still very interested in sex. We’re straight, gay, bi or possibly confused, just like the rest of humanity; but asexual we are not. And if you do run into someone with a disability who’s asexual, ten-to-one it was the parents doing.

sex-and-disability

Paraplegic wheelchair model Santina Muha. Courtesy: www.streetsie.com

2. We can’t be sexy.

A disability does not inherently make someone unsexy by default. The sad thing is a lot of people think this. Why? They’ve never known a sexy person with a disability before. Does a disability hack away at pretty genes? Of course not. We can tap into our sexy-side as much as anyone else (and have overflowing lingerie drawers just as much as the next girl).

3. We don’t like being touched where we can’t feel.

When dealing with a person with paralysis, a big misconception is that we don’t like to be touched where we can’t feel. They think it weirds us out, or reminds us of what we’ve lost. But this is not true. Our eyes can be pleasure-givers too, and many of us can still feel a slight something. The lightest touch can be a huge pleasure source. Go on, love every inch of us.

4. We don’t enjoy it.

“If you’re paralyzed, you must get absolutely nothing out of sex, so why bother?” This is a common misconception thought by many. But the truth is that the human body is capable of profound, deeper layers of sexual pleasure that don’t all reside in the sub-cuticle nerve level. It may not feel exactly the same, but we still love every minute of being intimate.

5. Sex makes us sad.

Oh the silly notion that sex makes us sad. People worry sex will remind of us our inabilities rather than our abilities, or that the lack of sensation we experience during the act is too much too bear. But you’d be surprised. The human body wants to move on, to procreate; disability does not replace sex with sadness.

6. We’re boring in bed.

We may not be gymnasts in bed, but we have more tricks and gadgets to help us get our groove on than you’d think. We’re definitely no vanilla ninnies in bed. From the Intimate Rider for men (helping them get into positions that put them in control) to people using their Hoyer lift to come up with some awesome positions, whatever you do, please don’t call us boring.

7. Men in chairs can’t get an erection (or be a biological dad). 

Men with disabilities may experience erection problems, but it doesn’t mean they can’t get an erection. Viagra and a slew of other drugs in recent years have opened up the floodgates for men with disabilities. And if they have enough money, having children via a surgical semen extraction is possible too. Also, many men can still ejaculate and avoid this route. 

8. Women in chairs can’t have a baby.

Women in wheelchairs more often times than not can be just as fertile as Myrtle down the street. But when they do get pregnant, there may be a few differences. Women with spinal cord injuries may need to deliver via C-Section (although this isn’t always necessary either; the human body can actually push a baby out without the mom’s help). Make sure to always use birth control, my friends.

9. We can’t achieve orgasm.

Orgasms are definitely possible for people with disabilities. If anything, a lack of sensation only forces us to come up of new ways to seek out physical pleasure. From a man with quadriplegia who orgasms when his thumb gets sucked to a woman with cerebral palsy who can still feel everything—everyone of us is different. Mental orgasms are another facet of the orgasm too that people with disabilities tap into.

10. We’re sex deprived.

And probably one of the most offensive – every person with a disability must struggle to find a willing partner. People think we’re turned down left and right, and left again. That 90% of the population would never consider us. While that percentage isn’t as healthy as it would be if we could walk, geesh, it’s not that high. There are still a lot of people in this world who have no qualms about dating us. Believe it.

So there you go, people with disabilities are having sex right under your nose and you had no idea. Hopefully you’ll get used to the idea soon enough. And in the meantime, if you’re disabled and have an active sex life, chime in. Let us know which misconceptions bug you most.

27 Comments

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About Tiffiny Carlson

Tiffiny Carlson is a writer and quadriplegic from Minneapolis. She has a C6 spinal cord injury from a diving accident when she was 14 years old. Writing and breaking stereotypes is her passion. She's been the SCI Life columnist for New Mobility magazine since 2003 and is the founder of the longtime disability site, BeautyAbility.com. Her work has also been featured in Penthouse, Playgirl and Nerve.com. And when she's not writing, Tiffiny loves to cook and practice adaptive yoga.


27 Responses

  1. avatar Cory Parsons says:

    Hey Tiff!!
    Great article!!
    Bout time the secret is out, we are the BEST lovers!!
    Cheers,
    Cory

  2. avatar Marcia says:

    Hi! Great article about some common misconceptions! One of my best friends has RA and fibro — it is always good to have a better understanding of what she goes through and the obstacles she may face purely because of what people assume.

    I do have some questions!

    In #10 you state that people with disabilities are not asexual. Certainly a LOT of people with disabilities are not asexual, but I am sure that some are. Asexuality is an identity and way to self-describe sexual practice and attraction. It is a valid identity and not something that comes from parental involvement. Perhaps do you mean to say that the assumption that people with disabilities have no interest in sex is generally untrue — people with disabilities identify across the spectrum, and just like that identification, how they practice sexuality (or choose not to!) is personal and varied.

    Also in #10 your phrasing is a little confusing. “We’re straight, gay, bi (possibly confused), just like the rest of humanity;” is a great thought to express, but grammatically, the parenthetical notation acts as an explainer for the last subject — bi. Though I don’t think you meant to, this ends up saying that bisexuals are possibly confused! This problem can be fixed simply by removing the parenthesis: “We’re straight, gay, bi, possibly confused, just like the rest of humanity.”

    It might also be important to note that not all of your misconceptions apply to everyone. It is absolutely important to assert the rights and thoughts of sexually active people with disabilities, but it is equally important to assert the rights and thoughts of those who might not feel comfortable (due to their disability or not!) in “traditional” sexual situations.

    Communication, I think is the key — don’t ASSUME that any given person with disabilities is asexual, or doesn’t want to be touched. Ask! Find out what is okay and desired and what is not.

    Thank you again for writing this. I hope you’ll consider making a few edits or replying.

  3. avatar Albert says:

    About the notion that we are “sex deprived”: that is, sadly, true in some cases. An able-bodied woman may agree to go out with a disabled man, but that does not mean that she wants to have sex with him or enter into a physical relationship with him. It’s not because of anything the disabled person does or doesn’t do, it’s the way the able-bodied person perceives them.. And in some cases, if you try to BE sexy, or make the other person aware that you have a sexual side, the other person acts slightly pissed, as if you just shattered a precious illusion.

  4. avatar Tiffiny says:

    Marcia, the bi/confused was a typo, meant to say “bi or confused.” Are you a grammar nazi? ;) jk thx for your thoughts!

  5. avatar Bob Rudney says:

    Check out my novel on lives and loves of people with disabilities:
    Tel: (703) 573-4929 robert.rudney@gmail.com http://www.loverslame.com

    Disability, Love, Sex … and Jobs: A Novel Perspective
    “’Lovers Lame’ is the novel that makes disability sexy,” quips Bob Rudney, the author and long-time disability advocate who’s just published his first fiction work (Booklocker, $16.95, paperback, $8.99 electronic, http://booklocker.com/books/6101.html). “The book’s also a conscious effort to raise public awareness on disability issues, especially employment, and to expand the audience,” he adds.
    In ‘Lovers Lame’, narrator David Levin’s lonely and tightly controlled world turns upside down when he wanders into a self-help group for job seekers with disabilities. David, an acerbic, out-of work editor with left-side paralysis, grudgingly befriends a motley group of self-styled ‘crips’ and becomes infatuated with Jessica Cowan, an alluring, but mercurial artist battling the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis.
    David falls hopelessly in love, while Jessica insists on maintaining her distance as she comes to grips with her own tempestuous past. Their struggle with their own inner demons plays out against the backdrop of people with disabilities fighting prejudice and ignorance in a world that still excludes them.
    “It’s both a plea for social and economic justice, as well as a poignant love story,” says Bob, who’s retiring as a Senior Advisor in the Defense Department. “Only one in five Americans with disabilities is employed. That’s unacceptable. The characters in the novel confront this bleak reality. They also face all the extra hurdles of forming personal relationships, of looking for love, while burdened with a disability. ‘Lovers Lame’ shows them as human beings, not as poster children.”
    Bob was recipient of a 2008 Kennedy Foundation Congressional Fellowship and won the 2011 Defense Department Award as ‘Outstanding Employee with a Disability.’ He was Co-Chair of the Booz Allen Hamilton Disability Forum and served on the Virginia Business Leadership Network Board. He is available for presentations, interviews and other media events. Information can be obtained from robert.rudney@gmail.com.
    #

  6. What a great article, I choose to use this explanation to bring the darkness into light. I was not “disabled” I was “enabled” to do what I love to do now.. Thanks for sharing the real deal, and the best to you in your endeavors, you have just gained a new follower. Regards

  7. What I say in my workshops about sex for people who are disabled: “It depends on what hurts and what works. I may not do what you do, but then who knows what you do?”

  8. avatar kim berner says:

    Great article Tiffiny! I love the combination of humor and dead seriousness! Each one of the “issues” you raise and examine can and is experienced by non “disabled” men and women. Yay to great, satisfying, connected and loving sex!

  9. Awesome article Tiffany!!

  10. [...] SEE ALSO: 10 Misconceptions About Sex and Disability [...]

  11. [...] Related Content: 10 Misconceptions About Sex and Disability [...]

  12. avatar Paul says:

    I understand that you are speaking of those with physical diabilities. However, I am disabled from neurological conditions (epilepsy, ataxia, 10 compressed disc in my back, just to name a few). Because of my specific heart condition I am not able to take any erectile dysfunction medication, and my doctor refuses to allow me to take any. I do think of sex often, and that’s about as far as I can go. Even if I watch sexually stimulating videos “Mr Johnson” still remains as flaccid as ever since I’ve been on my medications. There are times when I would like to give my wife “a hand” so she can orgasm, but she has become unreceptive to this as she knows she can’t reciprocate.

    So sometimes people may get the impression that we have a full sex life, while this is just the opposite. I hope you can post this in your blog to let people know that, even while everything on the outside looks normal, things on the inside are just the opposite.

  13. avatar GL says:

    When I told someone my sister (in a wheelchair) was getting married, the response was, “Is he in a wheelchair too?” Another response was “Oh what a lovely man, to get married to a woman in a wheelchair.” !!! I’m still shocked to think of those comments.

    • avatar Debbie says:

      I know what you mean. I have an Amazing boyfriend, we are truly soulmates. I am paraplegic due to a car accident in 2002. We actually met b4 I was injured but lost touch w/ each other shortly after, and then “found” each other again. But relating to your post, many times people say he is wonderful to me, which he is, but I am also wonderful to him. That he is so good to me, but I too am good to him, and I have been asked and even told I should look into dating someone else who is a wheelchair like me, b4 my boyfriend and I got back together. I feel like people are always looking down on me because of the chair and always saying how wonderful he is to “help”me, he “helps” me because he loves me, not because he feels sorry for me, and I too “help”him. Yes there are things he does that he would not need to do if I were still a walker and I am grateful for this but it is out of Love. We take care of each other because we love each other! I just wish people would recognize that I am not completely helpless or unable to contribute to our relationship. And I also read the blog about sex on this site, although I can not feel if I am touched on the outside, I definitely feel on the inside and have Amazing, mind-blowing orgasms, and of course I am able to make him feel the same. My boyfriend and I are so connected and the way he makes me feel now even though I am paralyzed is better than I felt w/ others b4 my injury…just sayin :)

  14. [...] Read More: 10 Misconceptions about Sex and Disability [...]

  15. avatar John Bates says:

    Hi Tiffiny,
    Excellent article. With your permission, I would like to use this link as part of my training in the Cert III and IV in Disability.

    Kind regards

    John

  16. What I say in my Disability Awareness workshops, when the subject of sex comes up: “What each of us does in the bedroom may depend upon what hurts and what works. We may not do what you do, but who knows what you do?

  17. [...] Related: 10 Misconceptions about Sex and Disability [...]

  18. [...] See Also: 10 Misconceptions about Sex and Disability [...]

  19. [...] big stereotype that’s always bothered me is the one where they think we’re not sexual beings and don’t know how to have a good time. The truth however is that we like to party and are [...]

  20. [...] in den Schlafzimmern von/mit Menschen mit Behinderungen geschieht. Daher habe ich hier eine von “The Mobilitiy Ressource” inspirierte Liste übersetzt und mit meinen Erfahrungen ergänzt. Vorurteile, die auch ich so oder ähnlich schon einmal von [...]

  21. avatar Ant says:

    What about bad genes?

  22. avatar Donna M. Burck says:

    Of course, we do…it just may be in a different way, and a lot less frequent! It’s hard to hook up and form relationships with partners for a lot of us, those of us who don’t have transportation, jobs, etc…it’s been very disheartening, to put it mildly.

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