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Sex and disabilities

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

"There's a myth that disabled people can't have sex for some physical reason. It's utter rubbish as most disabled people do have sex and if they can't do it in a particular way, they just do it differently," says Mik Scarlet, broadcaster, journalist and expert in the field of inclusion for disabled people.

Having a physical disability doesn't mean you don't want sex either. Sexual excitement and the need for physical contact are universal desires. Some consider the brain to be the largest sexual organ.

Almost 1 in 5 people in the UK has a disability. It's a little bizarre to assume that a fifth of the population just doesn't have or want sex.

Attitudes about sex and disability

For some reason sex and disability can be a bit of an uncomfortable subject. It could be that disabled people aren't often portrayed on TV as sexual beings, but people who need looking after. Sex doesn't fit into that image.

"Being disabled doesn't make you breakable so don't worry about having sex. There's an attitude that disabled people are vulnerable and need caring for. I'm happily married and I look after my wife as much as she looks after me," says Mik.

"I think we have reservations about honestly and frankly talking about sex in general, and coupled with disability it becomes an even bigger taboo subject," says Sue Newsome, sexual and relationship therapist.

"People don't talk about it, as there's an underlying fear if the topic is broached they don't know where the conversation might go, so they just don't mention it," says Sue.

The wheelchair effect

Romina Puma is a comedian who has muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that weakens the muscles.

"There's still a stigma, especially if you are in a wheelchair. It's kind of assumed you can't have sex. Most people look at you with pity in a 'poor you' sort of way," says Romina.

"Sooner or later I knew I'd end up in a wheelchair so I had as much sex as I could beforehand. I really enjoy sex, it's like eating and breathing to me. Since I'd been in my wheelchair I have noticed big changes towards me. People don't come up to me anymore as the wheelchair is not sexually attractive," adds Romina.

"I had a plan B while waiting for my prince to come along – sex toys - I have a whole drawer of them!" she explains.

Different sex

Many disabled people can still have sex in the same way as able-bodied people, but others may need to get a bit more creative.

"People with disabilities, whether they are born with them or acquire them through injury, accident or illness, have generally come to terms with their bodies. They know which bits work and which don't. They are less inhibited in my experience, whereas the able bodied are more self-conscious," says Sue.

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