People often ask me: do people with disabilities also like to have sex?
Lust, intimacy, and sexual urges are feelings that all human beings have. There's only a very small amount of people in the world who do not have sexual urges, and they are in the category of their own, and it is called asexuality. If you're not a part of this category, you have sexual urges from time to time. However, the world does not believe that people like me, who have disabilities, have sexual urges for some odd reason. Not only is this not true, but the belief that disabled people are not sexual is harmful to disabled people themselves. Saying that people like me, disabled people, and people who are neurodivergent do not have sexual urges denies us our full humanity.
Society teaches non-disabled people about disabled people and makes them believe that we are child-like, innocent, and unable to comprehend adult topics. Not only do these views prevent disabled people from experiencing healthy sex, it completely leaves us out of the topic of sex, relationships, and pleasure. So that is why I have decided to write this article. Able-bodied people need to learn that disabled people have a complete life on their own, including having a sexuality and sexual urges and needs. Disabled people need to learn how to help healthy, safe sex and find partners that love them, deal with different sexual problems that can come up, and protect themselves from sexual predators who will take advantage of them because of their disability.
Do disabled people like sex and have sexual urges?
Yes, disabled people like to have sex, and they have sexual urges. As I said above, pretending that disabled people do not have sexual needs and urges and do not desire romantic and sexual relationships is a form of infantilization. No one would deny that a physically and mentally healthy person does not have sexual needs unless they are asexual because then it would mean that people are not treating them as equals. So why is it ok to treat disabled people like this? Many disabled people have relationships, get married, have multiple sexual partners, and use sex toys. They are human beings just like anyone else. Society teaches everyone, even disabled people themselves, that disabled people are not beings who should be having sexual urges. That can be extremely down to their relationships with their bodies and their self-esteem.
So why don't people believe disabled people have sexual needs?
In every country, culture, and region, physically and mentally disabled people exist. It doesn't matter how much money a heterosexual couple makes, their culture, their race, which country they are from, and their religion; any two people can make a child with physical or mental disabilities. So the parents should be the first people to tell their child about sex ed and sexuality. But parents are overprotective, and they don't want to put their children in situations where they cannot help them. So parents of disabled children do not tell their children about sexuality because they would not know how to help them if they were in a sexual situation.
But not teaching a mentally or physically disabled young teen about sex ed, consent, and how to deal with sexual urges just means that they will learn it from other sources. And these sources don't always have your child's best interest in mind.
But if parents teach their children about sex and sexuality, where should they begin? It might be easier to teach a physically disabled person about sex since they have the mental facilities to understand what sex and consent are. But it is extremely difficult to teach neurodivergent young adults about the intricacies of sexual encounters.
One of the biggest reasons physically healthy people do not regard disabled people as sexual beings are that society infantilizes disabled people. Those who don't have disabled people as part of their family, even in their extended family network, learn about disabled people through television, movies, and stories that they see on the news. So they only know what external sources tell them, and those sources don't regard disabled people as sexual beings.
What people with autism say about the topic of sex and their sexuality
I know a few autistic people, and I think I have to give them a voice and write about how they feel about sex in this article. There are many things about sex and relationships that autistic people do enjoy. Long before autism was ever fully understood or even acknowledged, autistic people entered into relationships with neurotypical people. Autistic people of all types feel sexual urges and romantic inclinations towards certain people. And not all autistic people are heterosexual. Autistic can be bisexual, pansexual, and gay.
My higher-functioning autistic friends tell me that they do not like when neurotypical people treat them as if they are like small children. Neurotypical people treat all autistic people of all ranges like they are the same. But those who function at a higher level can handle more of life's challenges and complexities than autistic people who are low functioning.
Autistic people are treated differently based on their gender. Many female people with autism say that they fit in with neurotypical people because women are not allowed to make as many mistakes as men with autism. A woman with autism is quickly corrected, while a man with autism is not.
The ingrained social idea that women must conform to social norms is why it is so much harder to find autistic females than it is to find autistic males. In the past, it was believed that men were more likely to be untested because of evolution. Now, we know that there are just as many autistic women as autistic men. It's just that it is harder to find out to stick them in because they are corrected to conform to societal norms, while men are not.
A survey conducted by the Quebec Department of psychology revealed that autistic people of both genders know very little about conducting a successful sexual or romantic relationship with either another person with autism or a neurotypical person. In the study, the people with autism said that everything they knew about sexuality and having positive sexual experiences was extremely limited. They were hesitant to enter into relationships or have sex with others because of their limited knowledge. My autistic friends tell me that this makes a lot of sense.
Navigating the world of neurotypical social behavior is difficult for autistic people, and they need to recharge after every meeting. Because of their lack of exposure to sexual knowledge and education, because neurotypical people treat them as if they did not have a and therefore do not provide them with the same sexual conversations, lessons, and tips that they would provide for a neurotypical person, they are much less likely to seek out a sexual partner for themselves.
So how do people with higher functioning autism learn about sex and relationships? In the past, autistic men and women just had to test and discover things for themselves and hope that someone out there would love their quirkiness. Now, autistic teens and young adults can use the internet. There are spaces where autistic people can explain that they have autism and receive help from neurotypical people and autistic people who have been or are in successful relationships. But there is so much negative or false information on the internet, so these healthy, safe spaces must be promoted to autistic people.
Can a disabled person truly trust their partner?
Let's create a scenario. A woman, who we will call Cindy, only has one leg. She's been scrolling through online dating sites, and she manages to get a date with a physically healthy person. They met each other through Tinder, which is a popular hook-up app. In this scenario, we will assume that both parties don't have any expectations from this encounter other than a one-night stand.
This is just a one-time encounter. The night comes to an end, and Cindy and her partner are done having sex. Suddenly her partner decides to remove her leg from her socket and take off with it. Is there any way Cindy can protect herself? Not likely, since she can't stand up. Or what if Cindy's sexual partner wants to have sex again and she does not, so the other person pulls off her leg, throws it somewhere where she cannot reach it, and rapes her?
While the scenario sounds absolutely horrible, unfortunately, it is a reality for some disabled people. They put their trust in another person, and they are betrayed to the point of physical harm.
In the scenario above, Cindy is completely mentally healthy, so she can find a way to call the police, who can then come to help her. She can also testify in court if she wishes to assume that path. But what if Cindy was neurodivergent? What if some of her mental faculties were not as developed as a neurotypical person, and she didn't understand what was happening? What if she is afraid of getting in trouble because she had sex, so she doesn't tell anyone what happened to her?
There are many predators out there that use someone's lack of knowledge as a way to sexually assault a person and get away with it. Predators seek out people who don't have reliable parents or guardians, so their victim has no one to turn to and help them after the assault has taken place.
Furthermore, the media has a skewed idea of what sexual assault looks like. Most rapes and sexual assaults in media are heterosexual and are accompanied by violence and crying. So someone who does not know about consent may end up in a situation where they are raped, but it doesn't look like rape, so they don't realize what happened to them.
These two scenarios are why it is so important to teach mentally and physically disabled people about sex and consent. And they must be taught that there is no such thing as consensual sex, non-consensual sex, and rape. There is only consensual sex and sexual assault. If someone is doing something sexual play disabled person, they do not like it, and that person does not stop after being asked. That person is violating their boundaries and their bodily autonomy. They cannot be trusted.
So how did I start to learn about my sexual urges?
Because I have a physical disability as opposed to a mental one, I have the advantage of grasping the intricacies of human interaction. Also, my physical disability is not obvious. Hence, people treat me like I am a physically able person with all of the human complexities and faculties that come with being human.
Like most young, healthy teenagers, I started exploring my sexuality through masturbation. I had healthy sexual urges when I was younger. Still, because I understood social interactions and social norms, I did not ask my parents about sexuality and how to satisfy my sexual urges. I already knew that people masturbated and had sex. I learned about sexuality and how to express oneself through the media. My peers learn about sexual expression through media as well. That is why it is so important for media to understand its power to influence young people who don't have anywhere else to turn to when seeking out information about sex.
People who are neither mentally disabled, physically disabled, or both need to have special programs created for them to learn healthy ways to express their sexuality, what consent is, and how to practice safe sex. Not teaching disabled people about sex and sexuality sets them up for a life filled with sexual frustration, domestic abuse, and unhappiness.
Disabled people are human beings, and they have all of the faculties, hopes, dreams, and urges that any other human being would have. Society must treat mentally and physically disabled people by their humanity. If we feel like it is weird for them to be sexual, the problem lies with us, not the disabled person.