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Communication: Sex & Disabilities

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

sex toys for mobility issues

Avoiding Sexual Oppression

There is a great deal of sexual oppression for those with disabilities and chronic conditions. One of the biggest problems surrounding such oppression is the lack of education, communication, and exposure to these challenges. In this guide, we will discuss some helpful communication suggestions surrounding sex and disability for improving relationships.

Communication May Be More Stressful

One of the keys to great sex with a partner is good communication. Those that struggle with disabilities may find it emotionally stressful to find the best way to articulate what they experience or need. Thus, it is essential to recognize that openly talking about these issues can take a great deal of courage and vulnerability. Openly talking about sex can be hard enough; it can feel downright overwhelming when you tack on a disability. Make sure to be especially sensitive when speaking with a disabled person about sex, as it can take a great deal more courage for them to do so.

In addition, it may feel scary to talk about disabled sex as a non-disabled person for fear of hurting a disabled person's feelings. Let's review some things that may help in having a loving and supportive conversation.

Avoiding Ableism

Ableist views can lend to seeing disabled adults as child-like or asexual. These ignorant views often exclude disabled people from sex, love, and dating conversations, leading to isolation, rejection, and despair. Make sure that you do not speak to a disabled person like a child and help them to celebrate their sexuality just as anyone deserves. Simply treat disabled people as you would want to be treated. Disabled people are not broken; you do not need to feel sorry for them. Rather, show respect, compassion, and offer assistance when asked.

Get Educated

It is not the job of a disabled person to educate you about how to avoid being ableist. There are plenty of educational resources at one's fingertips to allow one to be more aware of the challenges of disabled people. In addition, talking openly about practical matters as well as concerns when discussing sexuality with a disabled person should be a mutual responsibility. Putting the burden of education solely on a disabled person is unfair and exhausting. While asking questions that pertain to them is typically acceptable, do not expect them to be an unlimited guide. Rather, look for ways to learn more, involve yourself in the disabled community, and actively become educated and empowered.

Don't Speak For Disabled People

Non-disabled people will never truly understand what it is to be disabled, no matter how close they are to a disabled person or how educated one becomes on such matters. When speaking about matters of disability, always allow disabled people to be at the forefront of representing themselves.

Be Prepared For Bias

Even if a person is entirely at ease with a partner's disability, it may be challenging to ignore societal judgments from family, friends, and others. Understanding that there may be stares and rude comments is part of protecting and loving a disabled partner. It is essential to acknowledge that inherent biases will be challenging, and seeking support from helpful resources is always a good idea. Also, understand that hurtful comments do not represent a person with disabilities rather the shortcomings of the person mocking them. Let their bigotry be theirs.

Hiding Pain & Challenging Emotions

People who have disabilities are often quite adept at hiding their physical and emotional pain because we live in a society that avoids and, in some cases, punishes such expressions. This is why it is vital to anticipate such trepidation and encourage such communication with positive reinforcement.

Fear Of Abandonment

People with disabilities can also find themselves worrying about being abandoned by their partners. Disabilities can negatively impact self-esteem, cause stress and be a burden to manage. If your partner is struggling with a disability, remember that it is so important to show compassion and understanding to reassure them that they are not alone in their struggles.

It is also essential to remember that some people with disabilities feel trapped in abusive or toxic relationships. They may stay in them, fearing they may not get another partner or for care and financial reasons.

See related guide: 10 Signs of an Emotionally Unavailable Partner

The Need For Reassurance & Support

Make sure to take time to reassure your disabled partner about the things you love about them and remind them of their importance to you. Show patience when they are feeling insecure and validate their feelings.

It may be desirable to work with a therapist that specializes in disabilities that can help you communicate and use these struggles to bond you rather than letting them pull you apart. In-person and online support groups can also be helpful as a means of support.

See our articles on Sex Therapy & Counseling as well as How to Talk To Your Doctor About Sex.

Dating & Disabilities

Dating can be an emotionally risky endeavor for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for people who have disabilities. Those who have physical impairments often date later in life and their marriage rate is lower than average.

Dangers & Vulnerability

Anyone with disabilities can also be more vulnerable to abuse and assault. Communication with friends, family, and caregivers can ensure better safety precautions when having a date. In addition, if in a relationship, a disabled person must have the ability to reach out for help should they need it.

See articles on dating & safety for more helpful information:

Partner Concerns

It is vital to understand that some disabilities can be challenging for both the disabled and their partners. Make sure to communicate what you need for your own self-care, outlining clear boundaries and expectations. Successful relationships require communication, understanding, and compassion.

What's Next?

For more related resources, please see the following guides:

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