Sex:Tech talk on Sex and Disability (Access Sex)

Here are my notes for a panel on Sex and Disability coming up this afternoon at Sex:Tech 2009 in San Francisco. It’s a conference for health workers and sex educators. I’ll post my report on the conference and the panel later this week, but here’s what I’d like to cover today.

What should you know about people with disabilities (PWD) as a health worker or sex educator?
– Don’t assume what people can or can’t do (or feel)
– Don’t assume what people need
– Avoid constantly medicalizing disabled people’s bodies or experiences
– Watch your gender/sexuality stereotypes
– ASK what people want or need
– OFFER resources
– CONNECT the person with other people with disabilities
– Follow up actively

Charity models of giving help to PWD often can be pitying, condescending, paternalistic. Offering the wrong kind of help.

Self determination is key!

Consider your own level of discomfort with disability. Educate yourself. Read some blogs that are by disabled people where they speak about their own experiences, unmediated. Don’t just read how-to-talk-to-disabled people booklets, though they can be useful. For example, the long-running Disability Blog Carnival run by the Disability Studies Dept. at Temple University has a special issue on sex and disability.

Kids, teenagers, adults all need access to sexual information and health care. Different disabilities: mobility issues, deaf, visual impairments, intellectual/learning disabled, autism, Downs

– developing sexuality, gender identity
– Kids with disabilities need access to the same sex ed their peers are getting
– Language to describe gender, genitals, puberty, sex
– Masturbation, appropriate privacy
– Safety and self-advocacy
– Kids with disabilities 4-10 times more likely to be sexually abused
– Put sex ed into a child’s IEP (Individual Education Plan)

– All of the above.
– Contraception, pregnancy, masturbation
– STD info and safer sex info
– GYN care
– Body image
– Relationships and dating
– Sexual satisfaction
– Self advocacy. Role playing workshops (anti-date rape, self defense)
– Privacy
– Independence and self determination
– Unsupervised time with peers
– Drug/drinking use likely good to discuss
– Internet access likely empowering. Privacy/net access info!
– Warn/educate about fetishists and devotees especially online
– Educate family, PCAs, carers

– All of the above!
– Independent living
– OB/GYN care. Accessible gyn care, offices, tables
– Discussion/support groups online or offline
– Sexual assists, mobility aids, sex toys, pillows, benches

How to have sex with a disabled person? Good question. Same as with anyone else but these issues may come up: difficulty communicating, limited mobility, fatigue, pain, or lack of sensation. Communication and consent are key. As with safer sex education, de-emphasize the importance of sponteneity. Verbal or non verbal subtleties of consent and desire.

Safe spaces online. They can be difficult to create and maintain. They shouldl be moderated to keep out fetishists if that is a goal, and to keep out hostile and mocking comments or posts. Registration is useful. Protect your users’ anonymity carefully!

Example – my difficulties with the wheelchair Flickr group. Fetishists intrude at least once a day though they are specifically discouraged. How to discuss sex online without being commodified and made non consensually into someone else’s porn?

A good quote from Laura Hershey from Crip Commentary:

The health rights, sexual rights, and reproductive rights of women with disabilities are part of two large, multifaceted movements: the disability-rights movement and the feminist movement. Both movements, at times, fail to recognize these as essential human rights issues. Both have yet to make disabled women’s access to health care, disabled women’s sexual self-determination, and disabled women’s reproductive freedoms high priorities on their agendas.

A few useful resources:

* Special Ed Law Blogs
* Crip Commentary by Laura Hershey
* Free downloadable booklets, very good, for kids and parents:
Growing Up, Sex and Relationships
* More than Ramps: A guide to improving health care quality and access for people with disabilities

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