Sex, Sexual Health and Disability

Illustrations of differently abled people dancing on a mint green background

People with disabilities are sexual beings – while people with disabilities have a range of different experiences, abilities and identities, having a disability doesn’t necessarily make you less interested in sex, nor does it make you less attractive or desirable. Of course, there are people with disabilities who are asexual and many who struggle with some aspects of sexual functions but living with a disability does not mean you can’t be sexual or have a rich sexual life. Unfortunately, many people who are not disabled assume that living with a disability means you aren’t interested in sex, can’t have sex or can’t be in happy and healthy relationships. This isn’t true and is part of the reason why many people with disabilities face discrimination when it comes to relationship and sexuality. It is always a good time to examine our biases and our values as we all have a right to sexual health and wellness!

Sexuality and physical disabilities

Everyone has a sexual identity, and how you feel and express your sexuality depends on your own desires, expectations and values. Being sex positive means respecting sexual expression in all its diverse forms. This can mean expanding our vision of what being sexual is all about. Sex is what we make it and so, disability or not, it comes down to getting to know our bodies, what works for us and what doesn’t, getting good at communicating with our partner(s) and figuring out what we need to make it all work. What is helpful in achieving that is to surround ourselves with supportive people who value our entire selves, from our partners to our friends, to our health care providers, support workers or sexual surrogates.

Get all the information you need and deserve to protect yourself against STIs and unintended pregnancies. Often, our sex ed leaves this out, and especially ignores the sexual health needs of people with disabilities, and that’s not okay. Some disabilities or medications may affect the type of birth control you use, so it’s important to chat with a trusted health care provider when you choose the method that will work best for you.

Sexuality and intellectual disabilities

Often, because of negative, infantilizing, and ableist understandings of intellectual disabilities, it is assumed that people with intellectual disabilities aren’t interested in or capable of having sex. Even worse, some people might feel that people with disabilities shouldn’t be allowed to have sex – let’s be clear, we all have a right to bodily autonomy, which means we get to decide what we need and want when it comes to sex and our bodies. What is important here, as with all sex, is making sure people have the information they need and the support they deserve to have safe and consensual sex. All too often, sex-ed ignores the needs and realities of people with cognitive disabilities. Everyone has a right to have the information that speaks to them in appropriate and relevant ways. Across our varying abilities, we all deserve to learn how to manage and enjoy relationships, enjoy sex with ourselves and others, and make choices relating to our sexual health that make sense in the context of our own lives.

Expressing Our Sexuality

Did you know? Brilliant disability theorists and authors like Eli Clare, Kaleigh Trace and Andrew Gurza have helped the world understand that sex with a disability can be hot, creative, and liberatory!

Know Your Rights!

People in Canada are protected from discrimination based on mental or physical disability by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and by provincial human rights codes. This means that you must be offered the same kinds of services and supports that a non-disabled person would receive.

If your personal care attendants or health care providers aren’t upholding these rights, you can contact an organization that advocates for people with disabilities such as the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. They can assist you in demanding fair and equitable services, and can help you file a complaint with either the Canadian Human Rights Commission or your Provincial Human Rights Commission.

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Do you see an error or change? Information about sexual and reproductive health is always evolving, so if you have new information to share, or notice a change, please let us know here or by email to [email protected].