Sex and Disability: Why the Taboo?

Disabled Collective member, Alice, talks about her sexual experiences since being diagnosed with a chronic illness and entering into the world of disability.

One of the weirdest things I’ve experienced since being diagnosed with a chronic illness and entering into the world of disability was that people were suddenly really interested in my sex life. And it was disturbing. I had people asking me, can you still have sex? Is it painful? Can you still do it? I’m quite an open person, but these questions were a bit too far even for me. But I get why these questions are asked. There is almost zero representation of disabled people in the media, and hardly ever a sexy, risky or adult portrayal of disabled people. We are only ever seen as minor characters, people to be pitied, infantilised and given less agency. And these attitudes are carried over into real life. But I’m here to say that all this needs to change.

We need to start seeing disabled lingerie models – just as we are now beginning to see curvier, body-positive models. ASOS has stopped airbrushing their models so that stretch marks and imperfections are now visible. This movement has been so crucial for the normalisation of real bodies and acceptance of them, and it needs to be extended to the disabled community. I want to see Savage Fenty models in wheelchairs, serving disabled fierceness and exuding sexiness. Because we are sexy and fierce as heck. I feel more empowered and comfortable in my body since accepting my disability. I am more in tune with my body, I listen to what it tells me. I speak up for my own feelings and advocate for myself and my experiences. And all these things are essential for having a safe, fulfilled and happy sex life. In fact, it was only after I was diagnosed that I started to really listen to my body in all aspects of my life, including my sex life and, as a result, I am much more fulfilled and at peace with myself.

Instead of disability rendering me unable to have a full and happy sex life it has actually done the opposite. Being forced to stop, take a breath and reflect on what my body is telling me and what it needs has actually helped me to ask for what I want and say no to the things I don’t. Many chronic illnesses such as mine are invisible, meaning you often can’t tell I’m disabled just by looking at me; it is only when you pay close attention and get to know me that it becomes clear. Many people with chronic invisible illnesses have to fight for a diagnosis over a long period of time. It took me ten years to get a correct diagnosis and to finally be believed and validated. My disability has forced me to fight for my body, I have learnt how to be an advocate for myself and how to trust my own voice. And this is only positive when it comes to sex. Before my diagnosis, I doubted myself, didn’t speak up and didn’t advocate for myself, which led to unfulfilling, and often one-sided sex. I knew it wasn’t right for me, but I didn’t have the tools to change it. Getting my diagnosis did.

So what am I saying? I am no less sexually active or sexually fulfilled because I am disabled. Disabled people have the exact same experiences as able-bodied people they just look a little different – they include more communication between partners, they require you to check in on your partner, and they require you to be open and honest. And to be honest I think that’s what everyone wants out of sex. Sex and disability are not mutually exclusive, but actually go hand in hand.