In honor of U.K. Sexual Health Week September 16-22, I want to discuss the barriers people with disabilities face to intimacy – not just sex but general relationships. There are many things that can complicate intimate relationships as disabled people.
Confidence can be one of the major barriers to any kind of intimacy for anybody. If you don’t like yourself, how can you expect others to like you? The world often tells us we aren’t good enough, especially as disabled people, which can make you feel like you don’t deserve love or that nobody will want you. It may seem silly, but when you’re taught that being disabled is a bad thing, you tend to assume you’re a bad thing. Becoming more confident and focusing on the good parts of who you are can change so many things in your life. You deserve love like anybody else. You are good enough to be loved. I know how scary it can be, but everyone deserves to be happy — disabled or not.
Relationships, dating and sex all take so much physical and mental energy. A lot of the time living as a disabled person can be very taxing. So who has motivation to go on dates that may not work out or have sex that might not feel good? Some healthy people don’t even have that! Yet as humans we need people, even just friends, so I believe expending the energy is worth it eventually. Relationships are a good way of feeling like you belong,but nobody has to do anything they don’t want to do. I’ve personally had years at my sickest when I was just like “I cannot put energy into a relationship,” and that’s OK.
Insecurity is just a part of being human. Again, when the world teaches you that you’re not good enough, it can take a massive toll on your self-esteem. Whether you’re insecure about who you are or the way you look, it can affect how others perceive you because it makes you shy away from the world. Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you don’t have good things about you. Maybe you have a nice butt or nice eyes, or you’re really smart or funny! Disabled people can be sexy too. There are people into all sorts, and chances are you care more about your insecurity than others do because they’re too busy being insecure too!
Communication can be a hard part of sex for anyone. Discussing health and disability can be a difficult conversation. Combining these topics can compound the challenges. People often worry they’ll scare the person off, and many of us don’t fully understand what our bodies can do anyway, so it’s hard to express. Communication is so important during relationships, especially sex with anybody with a disability/health condition. People need to know they’ll be supported,and the other person needs to know what to expect too.
Imagine having sex with someone and then their hip just randomly pops out? That could be scary if you weren’t expecting it! I had to tell my boyfriend how hard he can hug me and show him I’m not going to scream. Having these conversations can change a lot in a relationship, and while it’s important to remember that not everyone may be able to accept your needs, that simply means they aren’t the right person for you. You deserve someone who will support and accept you for you!
Access to Sexual Health Services
Sexual health and education services are often not accessible for disabled people. Sometimes it’s pure access needs, but mostly it’s stigma. Disabled people often aren’t seen as sexual beings, and it causes major challenges for us. If anything we need extra of both those things because the risks for everything are higher for us. It’s said that 50 percent of disabled people surveyed say that they received no Sex Ed at school. Those with severe disabilities are often not exposed to the same everyday situations in which other young people learn about sex. They often also lack the ability and privacy to experiment with their own bodies.
This needs to change. A few simple changes like making exam tables accessible could give people the chance to receive sexual health care. It’s not right.