So I’m heading down to Los Angeles this week to give a talk at the University of Southern California1. For some reason, when I tell people I’m giving a talk, the thought of standing in my mighty presence and hearing my dulcet tones live isn’t enough. They want to know what the talk’s going to be about. Do you think people ask Barack Obama what he’s planning on talking about when he invites them as his personal guests? I think not.
So, in this particular case, I say I’m talking about the desexualisation of people with disabilities. This party trick is best performed live, because you get to witness the blank stare you get in response. On the Internet, I have to imagine it.
“The what?” people ask.
“You know,” I say, waving my hands around and undermining my assertion that I’m a great public speaker. “Like, the common belief that people with disabilities aren’t sexual?”
“Oh,” some of them say, still looking confused.
Or “ah,” some of them say. That one’s usually followed with “but wait, aren’t you asexual?”
Well, yes, but I am still pretty up on the whole sex thing, believe it or not.
Here’s a thing about people with disabilities: We have sex. Well, some of us, anyway. Yet, there’s a really common belief that we don’t, or that we can’t, and there are all kinds of things bound up in that idea. Some people think we’re innocent and pure and sweet and incapable of sexuality. Others think that there are physical barriers to sexuality when you’re disabled; as "Downton Abbey" so kindly recently reminded us, if you have a spinal cord injury, you can’t have sex, right?
And there are all kinds of consequences to this really common social attitude, like the fact that disability often isn’t included in sexual education, because why educate people who won’t be having sex? And that because people assume we don’t have sex, it’s much harder to report sexual assault and rape -- and, incidentally, people with disabilities are more likely to experience sexual assault and rape.
We also tend to get left out of sexytimes discussions, because, well, we don’t have sex, right? So why bother? You don’t see articles with sex tips for quads2 or how to use tickling play in a relationship with someone who has limited sensation on parts of her body, or who has sensory sensitivity and chronic pain. Sex shops rarely offer disability-oriented classes. The Liberator markets itself as a prop for a better sex experience -- but it’s also used by people with physical disabilities.
This is what I mean by “desexualization,” that society strips us of any identity as sexual beings by assuming we are not sexually active.
Some people with disabilities like to say that we have sex just like nondisabled people, but that’s not quite an avenue I like to pursue either. Because, the fact of the matter is that some of us don’t have sex like nondisabled people do. And that’s not really a problem or something we need to hide. We’re all grownups here, we can handle teh sexorz and the fact that it comes in many flavors, yes?
I don’t want to brag on my fellow crips or nothin’, but some of us have way better sex than nondisabled people. Hate to break it to you, but them’s the facts. Physical disability not only doesn’t prevent people from gettin’ it on, it can become an integral part of the sexual experience. We sometimes have very different sex that is hot and awesome in ways nondisabled people can't even imagine or comprehend; this idea that our bodies are repulsive means that people can't wrap their heads around the idea of sexual disabled bodies.
One of my favorite Pride signs ever is “trached3 dykes can eat pussy for hours and never have to come up for air.” Beat that. I double dog dare you.
There’s sometimes this hurry to reassure nondisabled people that we’re “just like you,” to norm our bodies and lives, and sometimes I think this is a mistake. The body is an integral part of sexuality, and obviously variations are going to play into how you express yourself sexually. There are, for example, many interesting things a lesbian amputee can do with her stump, you know? For people with hand tremors, those tremors can become part of their sexuality and may be integral to sex for their partners. There are a lot of fun things you can do in, around and with a wheelchair. The list goes on...
Partners of people with physical disabilities who are nondisabled or who don’t have physical disabilities are often subjected to sharp, invasive questioning about their sex lives. People never seem to take “I’m totally satisfied by my awesome sex life, how about you?” as an answer because the idea of a crip having sex is so alien, so frightening, so odd. There’s always that lingering sense of “ew, who would have sex with a disabled person” thing going on.
The fact is that a lot of people want to have sex with disabled people, because people in general like having sex, and sometimes partners have (or acquire) disabilities. And some of us can do things with our bodies that you cannot— -- just like some of you can do things with your bodies that we cannot. Disabled sexuality comes in a broad spectrum just like nondisabled sexuality, but I assure you, it definitely exists. To act otherwise is to pretend that roughly 20 percent of the population doesn’t get it on, which is clearly just not realistic at all.
Now that we’ve got that straightened out, can women’s magazines please start including disabled sex tips? Because honestly, all the nondisabled ones are really boring. Some of us can do cool bendy things! Let's talk about that.
1. Wasn’t that subtle? The talk’s on Thursday the 22nd at 8pm in WPH207. The venue is accessible and sign language interpretation will be provided. So tell your friends. Incidentally, anyone who sees me wandering helplessly around the USC campus at 8:05 PM on Thursday the 22nd, could you kindly direct me towards WPH207? Return
2. Some quadriplegic people refer to themselves as quads because, you know. Return
3. A trach is a tube inserted into an artificial hole in the trachea for the purpose of providing respiratory support. Return