Sexuality and Disability

All people are sexual beings. In society today, sex is often associated with youth and physical fitness. Society may incorrectly view a person with a disability as not having sexual needs. People with disabilities may need to overcome:

  • Uninformed attitudes.

  • Their own misconceptions.

  • Personal challenges regarding sexuality.

People with disabilities (physical, intellectual, or both) have just as much of a need for meaningful relationships, being loved, and showing love. Sexuality is a normal, important part of life. Sexuality includes:

  • Personality.

  • Thoughts.

  • Values.

  • Feelings.

Sex drive, sexual activities, and the ability to communicate thoughts are all expressions of sexuality.

Sex education is important for people with disabilities. Decisions about sexual expression should be made after sex education. Sexual intimacy involves much more than just intercourse, and quality sex does not need to end in an orgasm. Other forms of sexual expression may be used.

Some conditions in the early stages of disability may affect sexual desire. Those conditions may include:

  • Stress.

  • Fatigue.

  • Depression.

  • Anxiety.

  • Pain.

  • Fear.

A disability may result in other changes which impact sexuality. Those changes include:

  • Movement problems.

  • Loss of feeling (sensation).

  • Communication problems.

  • Impaired bowel or bladder control.

  • Changes in behavior or thinking.

  • Changes in sexual functioning. This may include changes with erection, ejaculation, lubrication, or orgasm.

  • Role changes.

  • Changes in body image.

Many other factors may affect sex drive and sexual function. These factors include:

  • Medicines.

  • Self-esteem (how you feel about yourself).

  • Quality of a relationship (how well people relate to each other).

  • Personal attitudes and values about sex.

For a person with a disability, sexual activity may require planning. Planning may need to address issues of:

  • Fatigue.

  • Pain.

  • Bowel routines.

  • Bladder routines.

Strategies may include:

  • Trying different positions.

  • Having a partner play a more active role.

  • Trying different methods of pleasuring.

  • Using assistive (mechanical) devices.

Communication is important in all relationships. It is very important for a partner to discuss his or her:

  • Thoughts.

  • Feelings.

  • Needs.

  • Wants.

  • Desires.

People with disabilities are responsible for their sexual health. Healthy behaviors include:

  • Acting within your own value system to enjoy sexual expression within your comfort zone.

  • Preventing unplanned pregnancies.

  • Seeking early prenatal care.

  • Avoiding sexually transmitted disease.

  • Avoiding sexual abuse.

  • Maintaining regular follow up with caregivers.

Sexuality is an intimate, personal area of our lives that may be difficult to talk about. However, if you have concerns or questions regarding sexuality, ask one of your caregivers. Many caregivers and groups are available to help you deal with sexuality and disability. A disability does not mean that this part of your life must come to an end.