Sex and Disability – my thoughts as a Sex Educator and Sexological Bodyworker
One of my regular podcasts I listen to is ‘Disability after Dark’, created by Andrew Gurza, which aims to ‘shine a big bright light on how sexuality and disability feels for real – uncensored’.
I really enjoy listening to Andrew raising important issues and breaking many taboos (that should not even be taboos) about having a sexuality and sex life when disabled. I listen as an able-bodied person and can imagine how vital and valuable this podcast is if you are disabled. I have recommended the podcast with my disabled clients and with the professionals who work with them. What I particularly like about DisabilityAfterDark is that it is unashamedly queer, so breaks down ableism and heteronormativity in one amazing and entertaining listen!
Very memorable for me is Andrew interviewing able-bodied, often high profile people, about what their lives would be like if they woke up physically disabled tomorrow. This often awkward and confronting dialogue made me reflect on how much my own life would change and how much I take for granted, not just about the ability of my body, but the world around me and how it is (mostly) set up for me and the way my body functions. In particular, my access to opportunities for sex and intimacy would be seriously reduced and my autonomy in these matters would be lost, depending on carers and others in my life to understand how vital these would be to my wellbeing.
In another episode, Andrew interviews the sex worker he has paid for services from (how did you feel? what did you learn? What was it like seeing a disabled client? What would you tell other sex workers who want to work well with disabled clients?). I particularly like how he celebrates and embraces his experiences with sex workers as some of his best experiences of consent, pleasure and erotic fun. This is why disabled people who use sex workers have possibly some of the best reasons to worry when the government threatens to criminalise sex work or make it more difficult for sex workers to operate (safely). Sexological Bodyworkers can also play an important role (sometimes like a bridge, or springboard) in the sexual journeys of disabled adults.
The show is diverse in its’ coverage – Andrew has Cerebral Palsy and many of his interviewees are physically disabled and use wheelchairs. Others experience forms of neurodiversity, such as ADHD. In one episode, the writer of ‘Girl Boner; the good girls guide to sexual empowerment’, August Johnson McLaughlin talked about the relationship between ADHD and orgasm for her prior to her diagnosis, and how if she had been encouraged, rather than shamed, for masturbating, she could have managed her ADHD much better.
The podcast often discusses the reality of sex in a disabled body in a candid and honest way that is refreshing and practically helpful. It has helped me to consider how best to support my disabled clients, whether that’s through suggesting positions, researching sex toys to help with masturbation and understanding how muscle spasms and incontinence can be worked around for example.
Andrew’s honesty about his own internalised ableism really does shine a big, brave and uninhibited light on our culture’s ableist beauty standards, it is erasing of all kinds of differences and in this case, is unapologetically critical of ‘gay culture’, including the experiences of disabled men using Grindr etc. Disability After Dark highlights over and over our culture’s struggle to include and view disabled people as equal and valid members of society, and especially its reluctance to accept and support disabled people’s right to a fulfilling sexual and intimate life. It does this in a very colourful and real way that I feel has an impact.
Closer to home, here in the UK, disabled people looking for sexuality practitioners can access TLC Trust, which aims for disabled people to find ‘responsible sexual services’. It provides a list of sex workers and practitioners who enjoy working with disabled clients. TLC Trust was founded by UNESCO award winner Tuppy Owens who also created Sexual Health and Disability Alliance (SHADA) who has done a lot of work in the field of advocating for the right of disabled people to access the sexual and intimacy opportunities that able-bodied people take for granted, with the help of Human Rights lawyer Professor Claire de Than. I have Tuppy’s book on my bookshelf. This is a relatively small but important aspect of my work, often working alongside other caring professionals that are committed to this aspect of someone’s autonomy and rights, that I find incredibly important and rewarding.
Enhance the UK (https://www.enhancetheuk.org/sexy/) have a great campaign about these issues and some really positive images of disabled people as sensual, sexual beings with a sexual identity and needs. See their Love Lounge, it has Love Gurus answering your questions and everything!
I currently see physically disabled clients who I visit at their homes, meaning arrangements are made about travel expenses (I acknowledge this is not always affordable to everyone). With the limitations of my working space, I have been able to see other clients with disabilities who are more physically mobile at my base. I always ensure that my workshop venues for Quintimacy events are accessible.
I think Andrew Gurza’s DisabilityAfterDark podcast and especially his conversations with able-bodied people are a great reminder to us all that we all live in wonderful and fragile bodies that could become disabled at any time, which may explain the deep fear and discomfort able-bodied people experience when faced with a disability. It is very far from ‘us and them’. Touch, closeness and pleasure is a universal need.
If you would like to explore working with me around your sex and pleasure, whatever your health or ability, I can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to be contacted by professionals and personal assistants too.