Mik Scarlet runs down the biggest misconceptions around sex and disability.
Disabled people can’t have sex. Disabled people have to pay for sex. Disabled people aren't sexy.
Broadcaster and journalist Mik Scarlet tackles these myths and more in this ten-minute film about sex and disability. For the transcript, scroll to below the film.
For more on alternate erogenous zones, see this other short film starring Mik.
Warning: this film includes content of a sexual nature.
Mik Scarlet [speaks throughout]: Hello, I’m Mik Scarlet, and I’m disabled. I’ve been this way since I was six weeks old, but I started using my wheelchair at the ripe old age of 15. One of the things that’s always struck me as strange about being disabled is how uncomfortable many people are around the subject of disability and sex. Some people will just come up to you and ask you the most personal of questions in the most public of places, completely out of the blue. Or people just find the whole subject a little bit, “Oh, no, no, it’s a bit icky.” This is to do, I think, with a real lack of knowledge and understanding about the subject. And with that in mind, I thought I’d explore some of the more commonly held myths and misconceptions around disability and sexuality.
Right, let’s have myth number one then, shall we? “Disabled people don’t want or need sex.” It’s easy to see where this one comes from, because if you imagine a disabled person in your head you think of someone that’s in need of caring, that’s broken, but in some ways weak or helpless. Disabled people come across as being asexual just because of the way society paints disability. This especially applies to people with quite profound impairments or people with learning disabilities, who you kind of think of as being like big children. The truth is that disabled people are just like everybody else. We have all the same wants and needs, dreams and desires, lusts and fantasies.
“Disabled people can’t have sex.” It’s funny this one, because this one is a really big myth. The truth is the majority of disabled people have sex just like everybody else; they work just like everyone else. There are a few people that might have issues like pain, and that gets in the way of feeling sexy. There are some people who have impairments that mean they can’t move very easily, and sometimes getting into some of the positions that mean sex is possible is quite difficult. But all of those people still function totally normally, and they have sex just the same as the rest of the world. There are a very small number of disabled people (and I count myself as one of those) who have issues around the way their bodies work. I am very lucky, I can still feel all my body, but I don’t have much motor movement in my genitals – so, in other words, Mr Floppy stays floppy. The truth is, even if you break your neck right up high you can still enjoy a sex life because there are ways of creating erogenous orgasmic zones all over your body that you can feel that allow you to enjoy sex and reach orgasm. What it is, really, is all disabled people can have sex; some might have to have sex that isn’t the same as what you’d read in a textbook. And what you should be asking is ‘What can we learn from disabled people?’ because some of the tricks that we use would actually make non-disabled people’s sex lives much better.
And the award goes to: because I’m disabled I have kinky sex [laughs]. “Disabled people only have kinky sex.” Many people think that disability and kinkiness go together hand in rubber glove – that is not necessarily true. Some disabled people are obviously going to be into all manner of kinky stuff because some non-disabled people are into all manner of kinky stuff. But there is no correlation between being disabled and being kinky. Another big issue is that people think you must be kinky to want to have sex with someone who is disabled – and this is really troubling, I think, because it really insults all the people that go out with disabled people who are not doing it because they’re disabled; they’re doing it because they like them and they fancy them, just like everybody else. There are a very small number of people who are into disabled people, but actually us disabled people think that’s a bit weird and we’re not really into it.
“Disabled people only have sex with each other.” Funny one, this, because some disabled people prefer to have sex with other disabled people. Why? Because they share similar experiences and an understanding of each other’s life experiences. Other disabled people actively choose not to go out with disabled people because they say, “I don’t want to be a stereotype.” The majority of disabled people say, “Hey, I want to fall in love with someone who I like, I want to have sex with someone I fancy. And I don’t care if they’re disabled, I don’t care if they’re not disabled, it really doesn’t bother me.” There is nothing about being disabled that says, “Hey, you have to have sex with another disabled person.” It’s just a matter of taste.
Oh, “Disabled people aren’t sexy.” We’re back to the way that society thinks about disability, aren’t we? We’re not sexy because we’re not thought of as sexy, and yet I know loads of disabled people that are thought of as being very sexy. There’s a whole new generation of young disabled models coming up who are pretty damn gorgeous. It’s just the fact that society, sort of, says ‘disability is not sexy’. We are sexy, we can be sexy – you gorgeous little creature. [Blows kiss]
Next, “Disabled people can’t have kids.” There is nothing about the majority of impairments that impact[s] someone’s fertility at all. Most disabled people can have children just like everybody else. There are a very small number of disabilities that do impact on fertility but, even then, if you can’t have kids, even with the help of modern science, you can adopt or foster.
What’s next? “Isn’t it wrong for disabled people to have children as they will pass on their disability to their kids?” Well, no, it’s not wrong [laughs], mainly because the majority of disabilities are not inherited, so they won’t be passed on. But even those that could be passed on – who says it’s wrong to be disabled? Many disabled people are very happy with their disability and are proud to be so. Anyway, don’t you just love your kids whatever they are? [Makes boom sound]
“If I have sex with a disabled person, will I catch what they’ve got?” No, no, for most of us our disabilities are not catching; they’re not sexually transmitted. There are of course a few conditions that are, but we live in a world where safe sex should be what we’re all having, so even those people should be fairly safe. Let’s face it, if you’re having sex with me, you’re not going to catch being in a wheelchair off me – not unless we’re having sex in my wheelchair and in the throes of passion you fall off and break your back.
“Disabled people have to pay to have sex.” This is not true for the majority of disabled people. There are some who pay for sex, and within those some people actually claim that that is because they are disabled. But I think it says something very troubling – not only about the way society sees disability, but also about how disabled people see themselves. Because, really, what this is says is ‘disabled people are so unattractive and unappealing that they have to pay to get intimate with someone’. The truth is that most disabled people will go out and meet people, have a relationship, just like anyone else. But there are some people who feel they haven’t got the skills or the social skills, and so they want to go out and pay for sex. Is it wrong? Is it right? That’s not for me to say, but it’s not true that all disabled people are only getting sex when they’ve got the money to pay for it.
Last myth, please. [crowd sound] “Disabled people are a burden on their partners.” I don’t know about you, but when I go down the pub or go to a club and I was single and I was on the pull, I didn’t meet someone and go, “Oh, I know, in five or ten years’ time I might have to look after them when they’re ill.” I mean, I’ve looked after my wife just as much as she looks after me, but yet that is an attitude that a lot of people have around disability. The majority of disabled people do not need much, or any, care at all. There are a very small number that do need quite a high level of care, but surely won’t they have it in place already? It’s not like they didn’t do anything before they met you. But that attitude is so engrained in us that even disabled people feel that way too.
So, there you go! I hope that my thoughts about disability and sexuality help you understand the subject. I also hope that next time you’re out and meet someone disabled, you won’t feel the urge to go up and ask them some very intimate question. It might not embarrass you, but it embarrasses the hell out of us. What you’ve got to remember is: when you meet someone that’s disabled, look past the impairment. And you never know, you might be talking to the person that is the person of your dreams, the person that you’re going to spend the rest of your life with – or just one really fun night with.