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Tuesday, Mar 03rd

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Sexual Disability

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The idea of a person with disability engaging in a sexual activity is a thought which is not entertained in mainstream society. However, for a disabled individual the issue of sexuality is of utmost importance. Why should this topic be anymore important to persons with disability than to able bodied persons? How is the want of a person with disability to be sexually attractive or sexually active any different from that of an able bodied person? These questions need answering and when they are, they turn out to be really quite simple. The issue of attractiveness may not be of a great importance to a disabled, but the experience involved is. Persons with disability are not simply a different version of able bodied persons. Far from it, they comprise of a community of people with a different and very unique culture and are filled with social expectations.

These being very different from normal individuals, and are very notable. Many of which are based on the fact that it is not based on physical differences in being more human than each other or having varied human emotions, but infact lies within the realm of what is deemed as sexually desirable.Disability in general, is viewed by society at large as being inherently negative.

It is not however negative or positive, it just is. It is a state in which a human being is, and is no different than a gender or a racial status. But it is very difficult to live in a world which has been created without the disabled in mind. It is no wonder that the disabled are summarized most often as being “Mad at the world”. These feelings are the least reaction that one would have towards the world which views you as being weird or different, and would come across as being unfriendly and condemning. Thus it is not the disability in a person which brings on the feelings of anger and frustration, it is however the environment and the surrounding which brings these feelings to the fore.

“I’m only half a man/woman now that I’m disabled”. These are standard portrayals of the disabled in the world today. Media, T .V. and print has often filtered such views. The idea of the disabled engaging in sexual activity is never projected but it is never even thought of. Infact more times than none it is presumed that the want of having sex completely dies, and the image of them engaging in it is thought of as being “Gross” or “Sick”.With a lot of activists and writers empathizing with the disabled the views of many have changed, although there still exists a majority of people who are still bias and do need to be made more aware and the norms removed. Our world is made for people. Somehow people with disability are not viewed ‘Fit’ for the ‘Normal’ ‘Rosy’ picture of this world. Why don’t we try and make some changes and work on a world that is rosy enough for all!

What do the Disabled do? and How do they do it?
With regards to sexuality, person’s with different types of sexuality may experience difficulties with sexual activity more so than others. Two issues surface under this realm of discussion: nature and physical abilities. The nature of disability refers to the type of disability a person has includes mobility impairments, visual impairments, and hearing impairments. To complicate matters further, individuals with these given conditions vary within their own category in terms of personal identity and physical functioning. The second part of the disability factor is that of one’s physical abilities to engage in certain sexual behaviors. Depending upon the nature of one’s disability, there is a wide range of personal ability to actually, physically, move around. For example, it is often assumed that all persons who use wheelchairs are paralyzed. While this may be true for some of the community, there is also a large proportion of wheelchair users who are not paralyzed. Discussion of factors that affect specific disabilities is warranted in order to fully understand the breadth of issues that may appear with regards to sexuality.

Persons with visual and hearing impairments may experience problems with communication with others, a factor that influences the initial meeting of two persons, in addition to the relay of information about sexual wants and desires. It is often taken for granted that eye contact is usually the first step in establishing contact with a potential dating/sexual partner. Blind, and some visually impaired, individuals do not have this option available. How then does a first encounter play out for these people? Other means of communication are employed such as verbal gesturing, speech, and touching of the hands and arms of the other person. Subsequent initiation of sexual activity may be difficult unless a comfort level of verbal communication has already been established. Similarly, persons who are deaf or hearing impaired may have difficulties with initial communication. A large majority of these individuals use sign language as the primary or sole means of communication. Some persons with hearing impairments are quite proficient in reading lips.

However, this means that the person with whom they are speaking must be facing them the entire duration of the conversation. How do these ways of communication influence the sexual lives of these individuals? First of all, sign language is not a language known by much of the hearing world. Usually if a hearing person has a friend, relative, or lover with a hearing impairment than he/she may know sign language. So what are the chances of meeting one of these people in a social situation? Of course there is no stead–fast answer. Due to this communication barrier, initial meetings with hearing persons can be difficult or may in fact be impossible. Dating or participating in sexual activity with others who may have hearing impairments or deafness may at times seem more inviting based upon the ability to have a private conversation. However, if a deaf person chooses to date a hearing person who does not use sign language, then a sign language interpreter would most likely be present. Imagine trying to have a steamy sexual conversation through a third party! Thus, privacy is sacrificed in this process and, as a result, sexual communication may be hampered. None of this, of course, is to say that potential sexual and dating partners cannot learn how to utilize sign language and this does occur often.

Persons with mobility impairments also comprise a varied group of individuals. Some persons use crutches or walkers to ambulate due to muscular, bone, or joint conditions while others use prosthetics due to limb amputations or being born without an arm or leg. Persons who use wheelchairs do so due to paralysis caused by stoke or spinal cord injury, muscular or bone conditions, or limb amputations. In general, individuals who are wheelchair users experience a wide variety of physical agility. Those persons who do not deal with a loss in physical sensation mostly deal with finding comfortable body positions in which to engage in sexual activity. Depending upon the disability status of a person with a partner with disability, physical limitations may or may not be that large of a problem. That is, when an able bodied person is involved in sexual activity with a mobility impaired person, he/she may be able to move around or move their partner’s body around so that a mutually comfortable position can be obtained for various activities. Whether it be kissing, touching, oral sex, penile–vaginal intercourse, or anal intercourse, individuals can negotiate the most comfortable positions available.

For individuals with complete or total paralysis, a slightly different process may occur during sexual activity. This condition usually arises after a stroke or spinal cord injury. Therefore, a large adjustment is made in terms of the ways that these individuals are expressing themselves sexually. Often, people have to relearn how to be sexual by reacquainting with their bodies. This is best accomplished through self–touch in discovering what feels good. With some individuals with spinal cord injuries, depending on the level of injury, the ability to experience a physiological orgasm is no longer possible. This presents a wide array of issues due to the fact that society has historically promoted sex in general as genital and orgasm focused. Persons with spinal cord injuries often speak about how difficult it is to lose the ability to have the sexual release of having a physiological orgasm. Persons say that as they become more familiar with their bodies, they began to notice their increase in level of arousal when different areas of their body are stimulated. Whether it be the neck, ears, arms, nipples, or any area responsive to tactile stimulation, persons with various forms of paralysis report feeling sexually aroused even if a physiological orgasm does not occur. Some persons with paralysis even say that sexual feelings have been moved “Into their heads” and that they obtain ‘mental orgasms’ in the place of physiological orgasms.

While communication may have been seen as more important to those with hearing and visual impairments, persons with mobility impairments deal with a fair share of these concerns as well. The ability to negotiate sexual desires and comfortable positions can be quite difficult. Although it may be better to discuss disability and sexually–related matters prior to engaging in activity, life circumstances do not always occur in this fashion. Therefore, persons with disability will often practice what they will say in a given situation before it actually happens. This provides the person with less anxiety when the actual time is present to engage in sexual activity. Partners of persons with disabilities sometimes feel as if asking questions about potential sexual activity is offensive. However, if a given level of trust and communication has already been established, questions of this nature are usually welcomed by disabled individuals because it creates an open forum in which to discuss these topics.

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