What you need to know about disability-inclusive sex
“I think that it is one of the largest misconceptions out there—that if you have a physical disability, you can only have sex in a certain kind of way,” said Dr. Danielle Sheypuk, a psychologist and disability rights advocate who has been instrumental in helping to dismantle the stigma around sex and disability. “There are no ‘special’ positions for ‘special’ people.”
Dr. Sheypuk described several myths and stereotypes that contribute to marginalization of disabled people and difficulties they face in sex, dating, and relationships.
“There are many negative, harmful, antiquated myths and stereotypes that need to be completely debunked. These include, but are not limited to, viewing individuals with physical disabilities as asexual, physically unattractive, not interested in sexual activity, at a great disadvantage in the search for a romantic partner, unmasculine/unfeminine, weak/dependent, and infertile,” she said.
One of the biggest obstacles facing disabled people in the bedroom is the incorrect belief that sex = penis-in-vagina penetration. That’s not only heternormative, it’s also a limiting definition of sexual pleasure.
“Sex can be anything and everything that turns someone on, from erotica and tantric sex to sex surrogacy, the possibilities for ecstasy are endless,” said Dr. Sheypuk. “Therefore, no one should feel limited by what sex ‘should be’ or ‘should look like.’ There really are no barriers in the bedroom.”
With that in mind, Dr. Sheypuk shared her tips and insights on what it means to have disability-inclusive consensual sex.
Safety and comfort come first
“What sex position you choose should largely depend on what you are physically capable of doing,” said Dr. Sheypuk, adding that this varies greatly both between and within subgroups of disability. “What feels comfortable and enjoyable for you both physically and emotionally?”
According to Dr. Sheypuk, knowing what your body enjoys and what it is physically capable of doing are important when it comes to safety and comfort concerns.
“It is important to make sure that you know the person that you are going to have sex with and have a safety plan in place in case you do not have enough physical strength to defend or escape from a potentially dangerous situation,” said Dr. Sheypuk. “For example, some of my clients will have their home attendant stay in a room next door and develop a signal in case they find themselves in distress.”
If you or your partner do have a home attendant, Dr. Sheypuk suggested assessing what information you need to share to get the help you need from them (i.e. changing into lingerie before your partner arrives) while maintaining a comfortable level of privacy about your sex life.
Communication is key
Open communication about what both parties enjoy is first and foremost to a great sex life. “Everyone needs to do this, not just couples with disabilities,” said Dr. Sheypuk. “Being non-judgmental, open-minded, supportive, and creative with your partner are universally important.”
Establishing good communication between you and your partner is essential, too, because it helps to effectively tell your partner not only what you find enjoyable but also what you want and need.
“When you have a physical disability, for example, one often needs help not just getting undressed but also getting dressed again,” Dr. Sheypuk said. “In our society, it somehow became deemed sexy to undress a partner. But putting a partner’s clothes back on is often never spoken about. I work with clients on how to talk to their partner and make getting dressed sexy, too.”
It’s all about being creative
“It’s important to note that people with disabilities are good at thinking creatively and imaginatively to successfully negotiate barriers that have been present through our entire lives,” said Dr. Sheypuk. “This ability translates well to the bedroom. Thinking creatively and outside of the box about different sex positions can benefit everybody.”
This also includes thinking creatively about how to make a certain sex act or position more comfortable and enjoyable for both you and your partner.
Build your “dateable self-esteem”
When it comes to sexual intimacy, Dr. Sheypuk said her best advice is to “get in touch with your sexuality, become comfortable with it, own it, [and] build that dateable self-esteem.”
Dateable self-esteem is a term that Dr. Sheypuk came up with to describe a phenomenon that she encounters frequently among her clients with disabilities.
“We often have high self-esteem when it comes to our friends, family, and careers. But when it comes to our dating life, our self-esteem is in the gutter,” she told HG. “As a psychologist who specializes in dating, relationships, sex, and disability, I work a lot with my clients on building dateable self-esteem. Then, it’s about putting yourself out there and finding that amazing partner.”