Social/historical attitudes towards disability and sexuality:
“For people with disabilities, the acceptance of sexuality as a justiﬁable and sanctioned area of rehabilitation has been much more controversial (3). Historically, people with disabilities received little information on sexuality and were often regarded as nonsexual and incapable of an intimate relationship. This misperception not only has persisted in the general population but has been equally prevalent in the medical community as well. In spite of the similarities in sexual functioning for people with and those without disabilities, the tendency has been to emphasize the differences between the two groups and to view people with disablility as being sexually impaired (4). Obviously, this tendency goes much deeper than issues of sexuality and is a reﬂection of society’s general discomfort of people with disabilities. In reality, the sexual rights and responsibilities of people with disabilities are identical to those of all other people. Everyone, regardless of disability, has the right to sexual information and expression and the right to develop the fullest potential in all aspects of life.”
“Sexuality is the integration of the physical, emotional, intellectual, and social aspects of an individual’s personality that express maleness or femaleness. Sexuality is an expression of the total personality evident in everything done by a person (7). Interactions with others, personal hygiene, speech, dress, and expressions of affection are all an important part of sexuality. Given this broad deﬁnition, sexuality may be regarded as an avenue toward intimacy and may be directly or indirectly affected by the presence of a disability.”
Development of Sexuality/Sexual Identity:
“The ﬁrst three stages of development represent infancy and childhood. They reﬂect the achievement of trust, autonomy through mobility, and the ability to explore the environment. Even at these early stages in life, sexual behaviors and curiosity are quite typical and expected. This is true for children with and without disabilities. As individuals move through life, they encounter a number of tasks set by their cultural milieu and by themselves as biologic entities. When disability occurs, not only are the current developmental tasks threatened, but the persons, at least temporarily, regress to an earlier stage of development. This regression has broad implications for an individual’s psychological and sexual adjustment… Thus, for a person with a disability, a healthy sexual adjustment and the ability to achieve intimacy depend on successful resolution of the developmental tasks at the time of injury or onset of illness. The developmental process can be further complicated for young people with gay and lesbian orientations. More than simply a matter of having a same-sex partner, gay and lesbian identity is similar in scope to ethnic or racial identity, involving identiﬁcation with the values of a discrete subculture (32). The process of forming a gay or lesbian identity evolves in stages from confusion and conﬂict around the emerging awareness of the same-sex urges to acceptance. For the person with a disability, the presence of homosexual issues can further complicate an already difﬁcult sexual adjustment.”
“Successful adjustment depends on the recognition that choice is still available and is inﬂuenced by many factors such as age at onset, quality of social supports, physical health, gender, and type of illness or injury. Successful sexual adjustment also requires the same gradual, and sometimes painful, emotional process. Losses need to be grieved so that the remaining strengths can be developed and nurtured. Because of different personality styles, however, not everyone completes this difﬁcult adjustment. After onset of a traumatic disability, individuals frequently go through a period of reduced sexual drive or performance. Others go through a period of sexual acting out, presumably to validate their survival and sexual identity. However, substantial numbers of people fail to resume an active sex life after injury because of misinformation, problems of adjustment, or shame regarding body image and function… To the extent that a person with a disability can learn to value his or her new sexual abilities, as opposed to trying to regain the same sexual expressions that existed before the injury, and to establish a positive level of communication, the person will achieve a satisfying sexual adjustment. These adjustments, however, often come slowly after a period of intense grieving and sadness. People with disabilities who achieve success in their sexual functioning often do so because of increased communication and a willingness to experiment with developing romance and intimacy as well as technique.”
“Inhibited sexual desire is a highly prevalent dysfunction, affecting possibly up to 50% of sex cases seen in clinical settings (42–44). Although no data currently exist, this ﬁgure is probably higher for people with disabilities. Now known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder, it is characterized by persistently low or absent sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity not caused by substance abuse or a primary psychiatric disorder. The sudden onset of disability or the more chronic issues of malaise, pain, fatigue, or stress can contribute to decreased libido (45). Low desire after onset of a traumatic disability is, for the most part, of limited duration…The level of depression after disability occurs may in fact be the single greatest factor in determining the level of desire for sexual activities. Depressions associated with disability are complex medical problems that require an in depth evaluation and treatment plan. Often a psychiatric or psychological consultation may be warranted. In other instances, the precipitating factors responsible for the loss of sexual desire may be less apparent. Additional effort will be required to unravel the chain of events responsible for diminishing the libido. In addition to traumatic disability, many chronic illnesses and medications can result in inhibited sexual desire, either temporarily or permanently”
These are all excerpts from “Sexual Aspects of Disability” - Stanley H. Ducharme, I tried to summarize (in bold) the more significant information for those of you intimated by large blocks of text, but I would strongly recommend reading the entire passage. You can do so here: http://www.stanleyducharme.com/pdf/sexual_aspects_pd.pdf
I think that the ball get’s dropped big time on sexual adjustment. I think disability sex ed should be mandatory at the onset of a disability. So much of how we as a society view the importance of sex in a relationships is affected by this. We should teach the newly disabled how things are done and just how great they still are. The sex talk taboo in the western world really hurts the disabled. It affects in a big way our future happiness. And what is sad about this is we can fix that problem if we weren’t so embarrassed about sex.
I’ve been seeing a lot of posts this month on sex and how sexuality gets treated regarding the disabled. I will make a more formal post about it real soon but I’d just like to put this out there first before I do so. It is very common for society to see people with any kind of visible disability, physical or cognitive, as non-sexual. Unless said person identifies as asexual, society is as wrong as it can get on this topic. Even when it gets mentioned that we are sexual beings it is looked at in a most patronizing way. Instead of griping about this though I thought I’d simply start a dialog in a more informative way. As a cripple who’s had and still does have a very satisfying sex life I might be able to inform some peoples bias. Perhaps a visible non fetishized example is a step in the right direction, or at least that is my hope.
Any and all questions will be answered to the best of my ability and privacy standards of the other people involved, so ask away. Look for a post on this tomorrow to get this whole thing started.
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