Sex and disability: breaking the taboo

From the issue of privacy in shared living or with carers, to conditions, medications and treatments making sex difficult, the discussion of sex and disability shouldn't be shied away from

Samantha Evans
Monday 27 July 2015 12:28
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Sex is important to wellbeing, offering many benefits, both physically and mentally, to keep us happy, healthy and satisfied.

The topic is constantly talked about in the media, yet there is a taboo surrounding the issues that many people with disabilities face when they want to have sex, or even talk about sex, both from the general public and the medical profession.

Disability can have a profound impact on your sex life. However, the barriers that many disabled people face who want to have an active sex life are exactly the same as those for anyone wanting an active sex life, such as self-confidence, self-esteem, overcoming physical and mental aspects of having sex and finding a partner.

Owning an online sex toy retailer, I speak to many people who have disabilities, ranging from diseases which impact upon sexual function, people with limited mobility and decreased manual dexterity, mental impairment, physical impairment and side effects of medication which cause sexual dysfunction.

All these people have one thing in common - they still want to have a sex life. When you have a disability or become disabled, sex might the last thing you may be thinking about when dealing with the many issues related to your disability but for some, it is one of the few pleasures they can still enjoy.

Living with a disability can create limitations to your sex lives but by making adaptations to the way in which you have sex means you can continue to have a fulfilling sex life. Even if a person loses all the physical sensation in their genital regions they can still achieve physical closeness, pleasure and even orgasm by becoming creative in their sexual activity.

There are so many ways to experience sexuality and sexual intimacy and pleasure, from incorporating changes to the position in which you have sexual intercourse, when you have sex, using sex toys to stimulate parts of your body you are unable to reach or feel sensation, and practising sex without sexual intercourse - these can help you to lead a satisfying and perhaps an even better sex life.

Talking to your doctor

The medical profession doesn't tend to be very good at talking about sex with their patients. People who have a disability often tell me that they are discriminated against when they discuss or try to discuss their sexual needs and problems.

The Sexual Respect Toolkit was developed with this in mind to make it easier for healthcare professional to discuss sexual issues with their patients with disabilities. It was made as a result of a woman with MS whose catheter was inserted in a position which made sex difficult. Many healthcare professionals do not consider how detrimental it can be when patients are not consulted about their treatments and how it can impact upon their sex lives.

More education and training needs to take place among health care professionals to encourage them to initiate the subject, when appropriate, during consultations. Side effects from medication prescribed to help symptoms caused by a disability can cause sexual dysfunction which may prevent a person from taking their medication. Erectile dysfunction, decreased libido and vaginal dryness are often reported as side effects of some drugs but these can be overcome by taking medication to combat these side effects and using sexual lubricants.

Privacy

This can often be a problem when living in shared or institutional environments or even with your parents or a relative. The attitude of the staff working in such environments can affect your sexual needs, especially when many are not trained to deal with your issues.

Using a sex toy in private can be problematic so choice of product is essential. A rechargeable or remote control sex toy are generally quieter than battery operated sex toys and remote control sex toy allow you to enjoy intense sexual pleasure without anyone knowing you are using it.

If using a sex toy, you need to consider how it can be cleaned and who will clean it. Romantic partners and staff in residential facilities with an open mind can do this but using a condom over the sex toy can minimise cleaning and cleaning sprays can make the job easier.

Until there is an attitude change towards the sexual needs of people with disabilities living in residential homes, they will continue to be denied this very basic need of their lives which is so important to many people.

The TLC Trust work with people with disabilities to enhance their sex lives through physical teaching, exploration and pleasure.

Rethinking how you have sex

Many people with disabilities have to be inventive with many aspects of their lives, including sex. When you have a disability, you might need to think outside the box and become more creative with the way in which you have sexual intimacy and pleasure. By experimenting with different ideas and techniques you will soon find out what works for you.

Sex isn’t just about penetrative sex, it is sexual intimacy and pleasure. Sex without intercourse can allow many couples and single people to continue to enjoy a fulfilling sex life, even when coital sex is not possible.

Sex toys have become an accepted part of people’s lives. Recent research has found that up to 75% of women own at least one sex toy and 36% of men own a sex toy too. Finding the right one for your needs may take time and you need to research exactly what the sex toy does. As with all people, one size does not fit all. You also need to consider what the sex toy is made from as jelly, rubber and latex products can cause allergies and some lubricants can cause irritation to the delicate skin of the genitals.

Get the right help

If you are experiencing problem with your sex life, seek help from your doctor who should be able to provide you with practical advice, medical help or couples therapy. Sex therapy is extremely useful and can help you through your problems without the need to take medication.

If your doctor is unhelpful, there are many excellent charities, groups and people doing amazing work to promote sex and sexuality for people with disabilities, such as The Outsiders and SHADA, Enhance the UK and the TLC Trust.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Just because you are living with a disability, you shouldn’t have to give up sex.

Samantha Evans is a former nurse, sexpert and co-owner of online sex toy retailer www.jodivine.com

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