Having a Healthy Sex Life While Having a Disability

January 24, 2023

Having a Healthy Sex Life While Having a Disability

By Gina Cipriano

People with disabilities are considered the largest minority population within the United States as they comprise approximately 20% of the population (Conover & Israel, 2019). Sadly, this population is often desexualized which can lead to a plethora of barriers for this population to overcome. Desexualization of people with physical disabilities can lead to feelings of disempowerment within the population, prevent them from receiving sexual health related knowledge, and leave them at an increased risk to be sexually assaulted and abused (Murray et al., 2016). Additionally, people with disabilities may be more at risk to engage in risky sexual behaviors if not given proper education.

It is vital to consider that people can have multiple identities that intersect. Due to people with disabilities being desexualized, it can lead to additional difficulties in exploration of sexual and gender identities. Microaggressions are forms of oppression that may not be extremely overt. People with disabilities, and who identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community, that experienced microaggressions were more likely to report depressive symptoms (Conover & Israel, 2019). Additionally, LGBTQ+ social supports may discriminate against those with disabilities, which leads people with disabilities to not be accepted within a community they are part of (Conover & Israel, 2019). For people who do not have visible disabilities, it can feel as though they have to “come out” for both their sexuality and when disclosing their disability to a sexual partner (Conover & Israel, 2019).

While people with disabilities may have more potential barriers to leading a sexually satisfying life, it is important to note that this is not a one-size-fits-all experience. For instance, people with disabilities, who also identify with the LGBTQ+ community, may demonstrate increased communication among sexual partners which can lead to higher amounts of sexual satisfaction (Kattari, 2015). Further, having a high amount of sexual and body esteem can assist a person who has a disability. Sexual esteem is considered the amount of confidence a person has in themselves as a sexual partner and to have positive sexual encounters. Body esteem is the confidence that a person has surrounding their body. A study conducted by Taleporos and McCabe (2002) demonstrated that people with disabilities who have a higher sexual esteem and body esteem were less likely to have depressive symptoms and more likely to have a globally positive self-esteem.

Therapists can assist those with disabilities lead a sexually satisfying life. Over the course of therapy, therapists can help clients address some of the following topics:

· Ways to lead a sexually satisfying life such as education on different sex toys that can be used to assist a person with a disability· Help clients define what a satisfying sex life entails for them· Provide psychoeducation on safe sex practices· Help clients understand cultural biases that exist so that they can better cope with and advocate against microaggressions· Find local LGBTQ+ supports· Develop a healthier relationship to ones’ body· Increase sexual self-esteem

References

Conover, K. J., & Israel, T. (2019). Microaggressions and social support among sexual minorities with physical disabilities. Rehabilitation Psychology, 64(2), 167-178. https://doi.org/10.1037/rep0000250

Kattari, S. K. (2015). “Getting it”: Identity and sexual communication for sexual and gender minorities with physical disabilities. Sexuality & Culture, 19(4), 882-899. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-015-9298-x

Murray, C. E., Pope, A. L., & Willis, B. T. (2016). Sexuality counseling: Theory, research, and practice. Sage Publications.

Taleporos, G., McCabe, M.P. The Impact of Sexual Esteem, Body Esteem, and Sexual Satisfaction on Psychological Well-Being in People with Physical Disability. Sexuality and Disability 20, 177–183 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1021493615456