Whether one’s physical disability is due to disease process (such as being born with Cerebral Palsy) or due to an injury, the area of sex, sexual pleasure and sexual functioning are sadly often ‘forgotten’ by those not directly affected. For the individual or their partner however, the topic of disabled sexuality needs to be addressed and explored in depth, with patience and understanding.
The idea that those with physical disabilities aren’t sexual is completely wrong. Our brain is our biggest sex organ, and mental arousal doesn’t just go away because your body doesn’t work the same way as an able-bodied person. Ultimately, our mind is a powerful tool and what’s most important is not only learning to engage with mental arousal more but also to work on changing how you perceive yourself sexually and your sexual abilities. Your brain will still register and experience pleasure, even if you aren’t necessarily feeling it in your body. Dr. Wilson – a medical practitioner with specialist interest in physical rehabilitation, and chairman of the Southern African spinal cord association – says that it is imperative that those with a physical disability explore their sexuality. She added that it’s important that those faced with physical disability following a traumatic injury should explore their sexuality, because it doesn’t just “go away”. Furthermore, when disability is caused by a trauma, there is usually slight recovery of sensation in the genitals.
Of course sex will be different from what it is for able-bodied people. In general, sensations are different, response is different, and even your turn ons might be different, but it doesn’t mean that self-pleasure and pleasure from a partner can’t happen. When it comes to masturbation, regardless of one’s physical limitations, it’s important to think about sexual pleasure as a journey; instead of being focused only on the end goal, or destination. Engaging with our mind during sex should be happening for everyone: able-bodied or those with physical disabilities. Sex with a partner is different of course, but it can be just as intimate, rewarding and satisfying. Whether you’re masturbating or having sex with a partner, sex shouldn’t just be about our genitals. It should be about our lips, neck, ears, hands, feet, nipples, breasts and so on. It should be an experience that is holistic rather than partial.
Using sexual aids, such as vibrators, lubricants, or vacuum devices, can make all the difference to your sexual experience. For many men with physical disabilities, they experience reflexive erections, and although they might not experience the sensations an able-bodied man might report, they can still experience pleasure, arousal and even orgasm. Similarly, women’s bodies will still ‘respond’ with physical arousal, but it’s again the mental arousal that matters the most. Using a vacuum device to achieve a firmer erection, adding some lubricant during sex with your partner, or having a gentle vibrator moved across the parts of your body where there is sensation can make for an extremely enjoyable experience for both men and women. When it comes to having an enjoyable sexual experience (either alone or with a partner), it is important for both abled and disabled individuals to feel that the context of their sexual experience is right – meaning that it promotes sexual interest and arousal. For someone with a physical disability, this means acknowledging their sexuality and exploring it in whatever way they can. It’s about doing things like being in the moment, focusing on the journey, and learning to experience sex from a pleasure point rather than a performance point. Ultimately that’s what sex should be like for everyone; whether you are disabled or not.
For more information, visit the QASA website.