Data collected April to September 2022 show that disabled 2S/LGBTQ+ people are less likely to be satisfied with their sex life than those who aren't disabled. 41% of 2S/LGBTQ+ disabled folks surveyed reported high satisfaction with their sex lives, while 59% reported fair or low satisfaction. Of those that didn’t self-identify as disabled, 53% had high sexual satisfaction while 47% rated fair or low1.
As an educator in disability and sexuality, these results aren’t surprising. One obvious explanation might be that symptoms like pain and fatigue can impact the frequency and quality of sex which, speaking from experience, can definitely be frustrating. It’s hard to feel sexy when you’re throwing up from pain.
But I think these findings allude to deeper societal obstacles for disabled people—especially if they’re queer.
Learn more about sex and disability using the resource list below.
Disabled people face higher and more extreme rates of poverty, particularly when they’re marginalized for their other identities as well. This makes accessing even basic needs difficult, much less the kinds of assistive devices that could improve our sensual sessions: sex toys. Having to rely on family or caretakers to help purchase or maintain sex toys —who may infantalize and desexualize us to the point of fearing us experiencing sexual pleasure—is another barrier.
I’ve also spoken with queer disabled community before about the creativity and innovation that’s needed to make disabled sex happen. Finding partners who are open and willing enough to step outside normative expectations of sexuality can be hard as it is; I first wrote about how inaccessible the queer community can be almost five years ago. But when you throw in an airborne pandemic that rages on as our peers return to normal, our dating pool can feel downright barren.
The timing of this research also can't be ignored, having been collected at a time when COVID-19 was creating barriers for disabled folks, including those who are immunocompromised, to mingle and have sex. While COVID restrictions have been challenging for everyone, this added layer of isolation for disabled people can be sexually frustrating to say the least.
While I don’t believe that anybody is entitled to sex, the social desexualization we experience with the persistent mainstream narrative that tells us that our disabled lives are burdens and valueless can also do a real number on our self-esteem. That sense of self-worth is the foundation of healthy relationships which, exacerbated by the oppressive systems we have to navigate, can make us vulnerable to intimate partner abuse or engaging in other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
These important issues have always urgently needed to be addressed, but they should seem even more pressing as long COVID initiates many new disabled people into our ranks. While it may help more people to empathize with our experience, it’s a reality that shouldn’t be forced onto anyone.
But there are many solutions we can work towards. Not all of them may be as sexy as assistive sexual devices—addressing systemic oppression from the root rarely is—but changing the narratives and attitudes we hold for disabled people and their sexualities alongside improved accessibility and COVID safety, can provide us with some very sexy results.
It’s time we stop telling disabled people to be grateful just to survive. At least let us have a few orgasms while we do.
1: Data from Our Health 2022 (previously unpublished).
By Dev Ramsawakh
Dev Ramsawakh is a disabled, non-binary and diasporic Indo-Caribbean award-winning multidisciplinary storyteller, producer and educator whose practice has been supported by the Ontario Arts Council, SKETCH Toronto, Tangled Art+Disability and Luminato Festival Toronto. Their work has been published on platforms like Toronto Star, Chatelaine, CBC, Xtra and Autostraddle. You can find Dev on Twitter and TikTok and on Instagram or on their website IndivisibleWriting.com.
Sex and Disability
- The disabled sexual surrogate
- Disabled and Fighting for a Sex Life
- Sex positions for disabilities: a comprehensive guide
- Sexual Intimacy with Chronic Pelvic or Genital Pain – tips, toys, and THC
- Sex and Self-Pleasure for Pain Management
- Why BDSM could allow anyone disabled to enjoy sex
- Disability Justice – a working draft
- Accidents happen: Why we need to get comfortable talking about incontinence in the bedroom
- Love Lounge: Free advice on all things sex, love and disability
- Community Voices on Sexual & Reproductive Health
- Sex and Disability [panel discussion]
- [short documentary]
- Undressing Disability [TEDxYouth]
- Sexuality, Disability and Gender Nonconformity: Medicine, Education and Cultural Production [webinar]
- Queering Disability and Sex, Andrew Gurza [CBRC Summit keynote]
- A Quick and Easy Guide to Sex & Disability, by A. Andrews
- You Know, Sex: Bodies, Gender, Puberty, and Other Things, by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth
- Let's Talk About It: The Teen's Guide to Sex, Relationships and Being a Human, by Erika Moen and Andrew Nolan
- Hot, Wet and Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex, by Kaleigh Trace
On Disability Justice, Language and Identity
- #Pride365: Disability Justice in Queer Communities
- Identity-First Language
- Becoming Disabled
- 10 Answers to Common Questions People Ask When Being Called Out for Using Ableist Language
- Crashing the Party: Challenging Ableism in Gay Men’s Health
- Crip Camp, a Disability Revolution [documentary]
- Ableism is the Bane to my Motherfuckin' Existence [discussion]
- Disability Visibility. First-Person Stories From The Twenty-First Century, by Alice Wong
- Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
- Crip Kinship: The Disability Justice & Art Activism of Sins Invalid, by Shayda Kafai
- Can You Tell The Difference Between Accommodation and Accessibility?
- Why accessibility in the queer community is still a problem
- I'm queer and disabled. Pride isn't accessible for me
- Disability Justice Network of Ontario
- Disability Visibility Project
- Sins Invalid
- Crip: A Story of Reclamation
- CRIP Collective
The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada.