Disability Doesn't Make Us Bad Sexual Partners

January 12 7 min read

Society’s Idea of Disability and Chronic Illness

When people hear the word 'disability', the image it conjures is usually of someone in a wheelchair and definitely not someone with any sexual needs or desires. Rather, someone who's old, fragile, weak, and lacking in independence. Someone that doesn't deserve a voice because they're already a burden to their loved ones, and can't contribute to society in conventional ways.

I know that was how I felt when I was first diagnosed with a chronic illness at 14. Even though my tenure in a wheelchair was brief, I am still disabled. I live with a multitude of invisible, chronic illnesses. They severely limit the quality of my life and impact those around me as well.

No matter how big your house is, how recent your car is, or how big your bank account is. Our graves will always be the same size. Stay humble. - Unknown

What matters at the end of it all is who we were as a person, how we lived our lives and treated others. We are all unique individuals with different strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, values and needs. We are equals. We deserve to have a voice and form connections. 

I'm not saying it's easy, but there are tools and affirmations that can help.


Let’s Define ‘Communication’ 

As you probably already know, communication - both spoken and unspoken - is the key to life. Animals, insects and even plants communicate, though not in the immediate forms we would imagine as humans, such as talking or using hand gestures and facial expressions. Here's the dictionary definition of 'communication':

“The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.”

Bees do their 'waggle dance' to communicate to other bees where the food is. Trees communicate underground through mycorrhizal networks. Babies cry, gurgle and use other cues that their mothers soon learn to identify. The common denominator here is the progression of all life. All living things are interdependent; we give and take to survive. The ultimate aim is to stay alive, and then to thrive.

Sexual Needs as Any Human Being

According to WebMD, there are twenty reasons people have sex. Ranging from duty, to emotional fulfilment, to the wiring of being human. And when they say 'people', that includes the disabled because well, we're as human as the next person. A mobility aid or illness isn't like a sexual switch you turn on and off. Having pain may deter us from having intercourse, but let's face it - healthy people can have boring sex lives or problems, too. In both cases, creativity can work wonders.

Sex is only one of the many aspects of a relationship, and of being human. A bigger need for some, and lesser for others. The ultimate goal for any relationship, however, is to bond with each other, be that emotionally, physically, mentally and even spiritually. We are social creatures, so to be fulfilled we need to have our needs met and be able to meet the needs of the people we love - sex is just a part of this.


These Negative Thoughts or Feelings are Normal

As a person with a disability, you may experience one or all of these negative self-perceptions at some point: 

  • “My body is broken. I’m not good enough. I’m not sexy enough.”

  • “I’m in too much pain and too fatigued. I just can’t tonight. Or tomorrow night. Or ever, I think.”

  • “I’m too depressed and don’t deserve to feel any sort of pleasure.”

  • “I don’t want my partner to see me looking so naked and gross. With this ostomy bag, with this scar, with this wound.”

Or, you may be tied up with worries like:

  • “I can’t have sex again, is my partner going to leave me because I can’t fulfil his needs?”

  • “Is my partner going to cheat on me because I suck at sex or can’t have sex as many times as they want?”

  • “Is my partner going to fall out of love with me, because I’m failing as a partner sexually?"

  • "Have I failed as a partner because I suck at sex or can't do it as many times as they need or want?"

  • “Does my partner think that colleague or friend of theirs is hotter than me and wants to get it on with them instead?”

First, I want you to know that these thoughts are normal. There are no 'bad' feelings or thoughts, only how we react to them. You are human; the spectrum of emotions is wide, colourful, and it's natural to have your marker at any part of it. The work is to reframe your thoughts and see if you can nudge the marker in a more positive direction.

So, What is Good Sex?

Some would say a big cock or tight pussy, others might argue it’s all about motion. Which is the best sex position? How do you define sexy? Big boobs or perky tits? Hair or waxed? Waxed by how much? We are so often preoccupied with these questions and yet, the obvious answer is: there’s no answer.

It's personal, intimate and changeable. Verbal sex turns some people on and others off. Some positions work well for one body, and not another. But through all of this, one important fact remains - the need to pay attention to 'invisible' cues and reactions.

When Invisible is Never Really Invisible

If you live with invisible illnesses like me, you know that they're never that 'invisible'. The bruises blotted over my legs, the inflammatory marks scattering my skin, bags beneath and deep fatigue behind my eyes. The surgical scars that leave permanent dents or bumps - it only takes a moment and a little effort to realise I'm not normal. 

We need to pay attention during sex too. Mindfulness is pretty popular these days, and can really support us in the bedroom. The idea is to let your thoughts come, but also to let them go. To exist in the moment and notice how light, loving touch can convey as much information and desire as hardcore sex. It can speak louder than screaming at each other until the neighbours call the police. If you are hypersensitive to physical touch, don't forget eye contact, words, smiles and more can make your partner feel wanted, too.


Learning to Trust Your Instincts 

This might take a bit of practice - especially if you suffer from self-esteem and confidence issues. But you want to try to hit pause on your thinking brain, since often we're not as logical as we'd like to think we are. In an attempt to justify our actions or even feelings, we actually form and reframe our 'logic' based on our emotions.

We need to learn to trust our instincts again. Even if you live with a disability, that instinct resides from the beginning of time. Let it awaken.

Bit by bit, let yourself react in the moment. Respond to every cue - a cue is a request for a sexual need, and a reaction is the fulfilment of it - given with love, to be surrendered to with trust. Once you're more confident, throw your own cues, and enjoy catching their reactions.

Every Relationship Has its Own Problems and Takes WORK

To quote an ex-boyfriend, “Well even if I weren’t with you and with someone healthy, we’d have different problems anyway”. He also said that he was with me because he enjoyed my company - me as a person.

If someone has chosen you as their partner, and you feel the same way, don't waste precious energy worrying about your 'deficiencies'. Expend it on expressions of love and give it all you've got.

We only live once. Let yourself love, let your heart ache with longing. Whilst loving the wrong person may not be worth it, loving life fully always is.

Sheryl Chan
« Sheryl comes from the hot and humid island of Singapore, and has lived with several chronic illnesses since she was 14. This includes: Antiphospholipid Syndrome, Lupus (SLE), Epilepsy, Sjogren's syndrome, Clinical Depression & Anxiety and a few heart problems. She writes both as an outlet of expression and catharsis, and also to raise awareness of invisible illnesses, and to let others know that they're not alone in this struggle. Find out more on: https://www.achronicvoice.com/ » All posts →