Myths about disabled people having sex

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An illustration of a person with sunglasses sitting on their bed holding up a string. Dangling from the string is pillow and a number. The illustration challenges myths about disabled people and sex, including their desire to have sex or orgasm.

©Valeria Alvarez< /BehanceCC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Myths about disabled people having sex

What do you know really know about disabled people having sex?

Have you ever asked yourself the question: how do disabled people have sex?

Or wondered can disabled people have sex?

Broadcaster and journalist Mik Scarlet suffered a spinal collapse in his teens that left him unable to walk or get an erection. As such, he’s well placed to explore some of the most common myths he’s encountered surrounding disabled people having sex: do disabled people want sex, can they even have sex if they want it?

How do disabled people have sex and other awkward questions

I’m Mik Scarlet, and I’m disabled. I’ve been this way since I was six weeks old, but I started using my wheelchair at the ripe old age of 15. One of the things that have always struck me as strange about being disabled is how uncomfortable many people are around the subject of disability and sex.

Some people will just come up to you and ask you the most personal of questions in the most public of places, completely out of the blue: “how do disabled people have sex?” Or people just find the whole subject a little bit, “Oh, no, no, it’s a bit icky. I don’t want to talk about disabled people having sex”

I think these questions and reactions are to do with a real lack of knowledge and understanding about disabled people and sex. And with that in mind, I thought I’d explore some of the more commonly held myths and misconceptions around disability and sexuality.

Ten myths about disabled people and sex

Disabled sex myth 1 – “Disabled people don’t want or need sex”

Right, let’s have myth number one then, shall we? “Disabled people don’t want or need sex.” It’s easy to see where this one comes from because if you imagine a disabled person in your head, you think of someone that’s in need of caring, that’s broken, but in some ways weak or helpless.

Disabled people come across as being asexual just because of the way society paints disability. This especially applies to people with quite profound impairments or people with learning disabilities, who you kind of think of as being like big children. The truth is that disabled people are just like everybody else. We have all the same wants and needs, dreams and desires, lusts, and fantasies.

Disabled sex myth 2 – “Disabled people can’t have sex.”

“Disabled people can’t have sex.” It’s funny this one because this one is a really big myth. The truth is the majority of disabled people have sex just like everybody else; they work just like everyone else. There are a few people that might have issues like pain, and that gets in the way of feeling sexy.

There are some people who have impairments that mean they can’t move very easily, and sometimes getting into some of the positions that mean sex is possible is quite difficult. But all of those people still function totally normally, and they have sex just the same as the rest of the world.

Read moreI’ve got a sexy disabled body and I’m not afraid to use it!

There are a very small number of disabled people (and I count myself as one of those) who have issues around the way their bodies work. I am very lucky, I can still feel all my body, but I don’t have much motor movement in my genitals – so, in other words, Mr. Floppy stays floppy. The truth is, even if you break your neck right up high, you can still enjoy a sex life because there are ways of creating erogenous orgasmic zones all over your body that you can feel that allow you to enjoy sex and reach orgasm. What it is, really, is all disabled people can have sex. Some might have to have sex that isn’t the same as what you’d read in a textbook. And what you should be asking is ‘what can we learn from disabled people’ not ‘how do disabled people have sex’ because some of the tricks that we use would actually make non-disabled people’s sex lives much better.

Disabled sex myth 3 – “Disabled people can’t have sex.”

And the award goes to because I’m disabled I have kinky sex. “Disabled people only have kinky sex.” Many people think that disability and kinkiness go together, like a hand in a rubber glove. This is not necessarily true. Some disabled people are obviously going to be into all manner of kinky stuff because some non-disabled people are into all manner of kinky stuff. But there is no correlation between being disabled and being kinky.

Another big issue is that people think you must be kinky to want to have sex with someone who is disabled – and this is really troubling, I think because it really insults all the people that go out with disabled people who are not doing it because they’re disabled; they’re doing it because they like them and they fancy them, just like everybody else. There are a very small number of people who are into disabled people, but actually, us disabled people think that’s a bit weird, and we’re not really into it.

Disabled sex myth 4 – “Disabled people only have sex with each other.”

“Disabled people only have sex with each other.” Funny one, this, because some disabled people prefer to have sex with other disabled people. Why? Because they share similar experiences and an understanding of each other’s life experiences. Other disabled people actively choose not to go out with disabled people because they say, “I don’t want to be a stereotype.” The majority of disabled people say, “Hey, I want to fall in love with someone who I like, I want to have sex with someone I fancy. And I don’t care if they’re disabled, I don’t care if they’re not disabled, it really doesn’t bother me.” There is nothing about being disabled that says, “Hey, you have to have sex with another disabled person.” It’s just a matter of taste.

Disabled sex myth 5 – “Disabled people aren’t sexy.”

Oh, “Disabled people aren’t sexy.” We’re back to the way that society thinks about disability, aren’t we? We’re not sexy because we’re not thought of as sexy, and yet I know loads of disabled people that are thought of as being very sexy. There’s a whole new generation of young disabled models coming up who are pretty damn gorgeous. It’s just the fact that society, sort of, says ‘disability is not sexy.’ We are sexy, we can be sexy – you gorgeous little creature.

Disabled sex myth 6 – “Disabled people can’t have kids.”

Next, “Disabled people can’t have kids.” There is nothing about the majority of impairments that impact[s] someone’s fertility at all. Most disabled people can have children just like everybody else. There are a very small number of disabilities that do impact fertility but, even then, if you can’t have kids, even with the help of modern science, you can adopt or foster.

Disabled sex myth 7 – “Isn’t it wrong for disabled people to have children as they will pass on their disability to their kids?”

What’s next? “Isn’t it wrong for disabled people to have children as they will pass on their disability to their kids?” Well, no, it’s not wrong, mainly because the majority of disabilities are not inherited, so they won’t be passed on. But even those that could be passed on – who says it’s wrong to be disabled? Many disabled people are very happy with their disability and are proud to be so. Anyway, don’t you just love your kids, whatever they are?

Disabled sex myth 8 – “If I have sex with a disabled person, will I catch what they’ve got?”

“If I have sex with a disabled person, will I catch what they’ve got?” No, no, for most of us, our disabilities are not catching; they’re not sexually transmitted. There are, of course, a few conditions that are, but we live in a world where safe sex should be what we’re all having, so even those people should be fairly safe. Let’s face it, if you’re having sex with me, you’re not going to catch being in a wheelchair off me – not unless we’re having sex in my wheelchair and in the throes of passion you fall off and break your back.

Disabled sex myth 9 – “Disabled people have to pay to have sex.”

“Disabled people have to pay to have sex.” This is not true for the majority of disabled people. There are some who pay for sex, and within those, some people actually claim that that is because they are disabled. But I think it says something very troubling – not only about the way society sees disability but also about how disabled people see themselves. Because, really, what this is saying is ‘disabled people are so unattractive and unappealing that they have to pay to get intimate with someone.’

The truth is that most disabled people will go out and meet people, have a relationship, just like anyone else. But there are some people who feel they haven’t got the skills or social skills, and so they want to go out and pay for sex. Is it wrong? Is it right? That’s not for me to say, but it’s not true that all disabled people are only getting sex when they’ve got the money to pay for it.

Disabled sex myth 10 – “Disabled people are a burden on their partners.”

Last myth, please.  “Disabled people are a burden on their partners.” I don’t know about you, but when I go down the pub or go to a club, and I was single, and I was on the pull, I didn’t meet someone and go, “Oh, I know, in five or ten years’ time I might have to look after them when they’re ill.” I mean, I’ve looked after my wife just as much as she looks after me, but yet that is an attitude that a lot of people have around disability.

The majority of disabled people do not need much, or any, care at all. There is a very small number that does need quite a high level of care, but surely won’t they have it in place already? It’s not like they didn’t do anything before they met you. But that attitude is so ingrained in us that even disabled people feel that way too.

So, there you go! I hope that my thoughts about disability and sexuality help you understand the subject. I also hope that next time you’re out and meet someone disabled, you won’t feel the urge to go up and ask them some very intimate questions. It might not embarrass you, but it embarrasses the hell out of us. What you’ve got to remember is: when you meet someone that’s disabled, look past the impairment. And you never know, you might be talking to the person that is the person of your dreams, the person that you’re going to spend the rest of your life with – or just one really fun night with.

You can watch the Mik explore these issues in the following short film about sex and disability:

Warning: this film includes content of a sexual nature.


Myths about disabled people having sex is republished from Mosaic under a Creative Commons license (CC by 4.0)