You probably see someone with a physical disability almost every day: the
blind man tapping his way across the street, the deaf woman signing to her
boyfriend, the wheelchair-bound woman shopping at the grocery store, people
on crutches, using walkers or leaning on canes. You may have thought of how
hard it would be to live with the disability, getting around, doing errands
and working at a fulfilling job.
Can you imagine what it is like for that person to date, negotiating
restaurants, movie theaters and transportation? How about meeting a
potential partner -- where, exactly, do disabled people find romantic love?
Did you ever think of what it would be like for a disabled person to have
Just Like Us, Only Different
Disabled people are not lesser versions of able-bodied people, unable to engage in or enjoy sexual behavior. In fact, disabled people are members of a community with its own unique culture, filled with societal norms and behavioral expectations that are different, but no less rich or meaningful, than that of able-bodied individuals.
While it is true that living with a disability is difficult, the disability
itself isn't usually a negative or positive factor in that person's life.
The paralyzed legs aren't bad or good ; they just are, just as
people are male or female, Asian, Caucasian or African American. In turn, a
disability, while physically limiting, is no more limiting to that person's
sexuality than one's ethnicity or gender.
Media, television and movies have represented the sexual lives of persons with disabilities in one of two ways:
The disabled person must learn to negotiate his or her own mental, emotional
and sexual terrain, just as do the able-bodied, coming to terms with their
sexuality and finding the best way to express it.
Do You Have Sex?
Historically, people with disabilities have been regarded by much of society as freaks, sub-humans or cripples. Now that we, as a society, have begun to put aside those negative labels and are, instead, exploring the emotional lives of the disabled, we have found new ways to dehumanize them, asking such personal and ridiculous questions as, Can you have sex? Do you still even want to?
Human beings are born with sex drives regardless of ethnicity, gender,
sexual orientation or disability status. While other minority groups,
especially gay men and lesbian women, may be mocked or questioned about
their specific sexual practices, it goes one step further for the disabled,
who are not asked how they have sex, but if they are able to do it
Perhaps the best way to address this question is to examine normal sexual
behaviors, that is, heterosexual sexual practices. While penile-vaginal
intercourse is certainly a common method of sexual expression, it is by no
means the only way straight people have sex. What about oral or anal sex,
kissing, fondling or cuddling?
Similarly, lesbian women express themselves sexually in other ways than by
performing cunnilingus, and gay men don't just have anal sex. Disabled
people find a variety of ways to express themselves sexually, limited only
by their physical bodies and their imaginations.
Meeting Mr. Right
If you think it's hard to meet someone special, think of what it must be like for people with disabilities. Not only do they have to deal with the usual issues of personality, attraction and emotional behavior, but they must do so in a world not designed for visual, hearing and mobility-impaired people.
For example, think about the behaviors associated with flirting. You walk
into a bar, spot a cute guy or girl, make eye contact and smile. A visually
impaired person would get as far as the door, and then what? Wait for a
seeing person to make the first move? Start talking to someone and hope he
or she is nice? Whatever the method, the visually impaired person's chances
of meeting Mr. or Ms. Right are greatly reduced from those of the
Likewise, a hearing-impaired person can't readily engage in flirtatious
banter, unless he or she is lucky enough to have found a bar teeming with
people who know sign language. If the hearing-impaired person finds someone
not fluent in sign language who is willing to learn, it will probably take a
great deal of time to establish a rapport and move things to a more intimate
People with mobility issues can find it harder still to make contact. As a
society, we don't much know what to make of people with a visible physical
disability. We've made some effort over the last few decades to become
unbiased, but given the choice between and able-bodied and disabled partner,
most people would chose the person who wasn't in the wheelchair. It's
unfortunate for the disabled person, but it's a simple, human fact.
For example, it is often assumed that all persons who use wheelchairs are
paralyzed, and therefore unable to make full use of their reproductive
organs. While this may be true for some in the community, a large proportion
of wheelchair users can function sexually as well as the next person.
However, as there's no handy little placard reading, Yes! My penis works,
the disabled person's chances of meeting a potential sexual partner are,
again, greatly reduced.
Sure, the disabled wouldn't have as many problems if they were to date
within their own communities, but shouldn't they have as wide a selection as
the rest of us? Most of us wouldn't enjoy being told to date only within our
own ethnic or social cultures. Why should it be any different for the
Dating With Disabilities
Once the disabled person has met a potential partner, he or she faces another host of problems: dating in a world designed for hearing, seeing and walking people.
How Do You Have Sex?
While still a personal inquiry best made only of a good friend, How do you have sex? is a legitimate question whose answer will vary according to the person's specific disability.
Remember: a disability does not necessitate a disabled sex drive. Regardless of the person's disability -- visual, hearing, mobility or paralysis -- he or she has the emotional drive for closeness, affection and sexual stimulation. Granted, it may be more difficult for that person to meet, date and become intimate with another person, but it is far from impossible.
As we, as a society, become more aware of the needs, limits and abilities of
disabled people, we will become more comfortable with the idea of having a
disabled person as a partner. Ideally, we will learn to see past the
person's disability altogether, and learn to know and love that person as
the intellectual, emotional and romantic person he or she is capable of
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