People with disabilities are often portrayed as being somehow otherly, they have overcome greater things than the rest of society,they are kind hearted (or angry and mean until a protagonist comes along to 'save' them and turn them into the good person they really are), they are lovable and they love everybody, they are (insert your own meaningless platitude here). People with disabilities are seen as innocent and good minded and, if your average person or mainstream media was to be believed, they never think about sex, let alone participate in it.
In surveys, myths about women with disabilities have been identified as follows (many of these also extend to men with disabilities):
- Women with disabilities don't need sex
- Women with disabilities are not sexually attractive.
- Women with disabilities are 'oversexed.'
- Women with disabilities have more important needs than sex.
- Girls living with disabilities don't need sexuality education.
- Women who live with disabilities can't have 'real' sex.
- Sex must be spontaneous.
- Women with disabilities should not have children
Can you imagine attributing the above to any other societal group? It just wouldn't happen. Sexuality is a huge part of the human experience and yet people are squeamish and in denial when it comes to addressing the topic of disability and sexuality. I am not putting myself on a moral pedestal here either by the way. I will admit my own failings when it comes to thinking about how people with disabilities explore and are aided in exploring their sexuality. This is mostly on a personal level though with regard to my sister. Whether this is because she has Down Syndrome or whether it's the regular attitude that one has towards thinking about your 'baby' sister's sexuality (I do know she's twenty three but she'll always be my baby sister). However much as I am loathe to think about this aspect of her I know it's there. Why wouldn't it be? I'm older than her, she has seen me have boyfriends, she has seen me get married. She knows I share a bed with my husband. How ridiculous would it be for me to think that she wouldn't also want these things? I have seen her at discos with her boyfriend. At the same discos (run for people with Special Needs) I have also seen the "passion police" having to get involved before things get too hot and heavy. The smooching I've seen at these discos leads me to believe that while non-disabled people were busy desexualising people with disabilities they forgot to tell them. The reason why I say that my failure to deal with the matter at hand is a personal one is because as a teacher and advocate of equal rights it horrifies me when I hear that others think that people with disabilities have no need for sex education and it horrifies me when I find that they think that people with disabilities don't have a sexual side.
The fact that people would seek to ignore this part of being a human in people with disabilities shows that they are thought of as an 'other'. That they think they may be on the fringe of humanity. Sex is an integral part of the human experience. It is intimate, emotional, physical. It can create bonds and strengthen personal relationships. It's fun! We need to stop desexualising other people because of our own hang ups. We also need to be aware that while sex is all kinds of wonderful it also has a dark side and people need to be ready, mature and it is vital to ensure that those with an intellectual disability are not exploited. If we can't discuss the good side of sex, how are we ever to protect vulnerable people from the dark aspects of it?
So let's do it! Let's talk about sex.