Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let's talk about all the things that
you don't think I should do with my body
- Francis Vicary
Sex and sexuality are very contested spaces for people with
disabilities. Services, governments, support workers and, even the
best, most forward-thinking parents see sex as a "bridge too far".
Many people with disabilities are supported in every other aspect
of their lives, but this is often delivered in a way that treats
them as asexual.
Almost every person with a disability can tell you of a time when
they sought to express themselves sexually, only to be thwarted by
family members, support workers, services and government.
I am among them.
I have had cerebral palsy from birth, due to birthing trauma. This
results in me having a physical disability which means I cannot
independently dress, shower, feed myself or do any fine motor
tasks. I can, however, socialise independently, speak my mind,
study, work, pay taxes . . .
I was living in country North Queensland, working at TAFE and
having a fling with a moderately important, intelligent public
servant. I had sorted contraception, support and succeeded in
dating this person to the 'interested' stage . . . then my usually
accepting family went ballistic! They rang me and said "no, no,
no". They rang my boss' motherin-law, who rang her daughter, who
rang her husband, who came and said to me 'They think you're going
to get SOME". They even rang the 'interested' person.
If it wasn't so perverse, it would be funny!
My mother was the only one who moderately supported me and
actually called my sisters off their hyper-protection of my
virginity, but even she didn't really know what to do next.
As I'm a fairly independent and determined person and wasn't
taking this thwarting of my sexuality quietly, I took my hard-won
individual support package funding and set off to lead an
I was lucky. I had individual support funding, I could live in a
regular apartment, and I had the academic credits and nous to see a
PhD as an exit-strategy from the asexual, country Queensland
wasteland to the bountiful "fruit" garden of a capital city and
There was a lingering concern. I was a 30 ¾ year old virgin and my
medically-trained sister had led me to believe my bits might not
work. So I used the Yellow Pages to get a nice man in a suit to
come and relieve me of that worrisome cherry.
After that it was game on! There was a hot and heavy long-ish term
multi-night-stand with a person I'd known in the sector for years.
Just in case you find this suspicious, I should add that he had not
be involved in delivering any disability services to me for years.
So started the passionate affair.
The need for positive
Let me just state that all of this time I had support workers who
were fabulous. They would cook dinners; squeeze me into spunky
corsets and fishnets, and refilled my condom purse. I did have one
who got squeamish at putting lip balm on my nipples. I helped her
by getting her to put it on my finger, so I could apply it to my
nipples. I sense my audience getting a bit uncomfortable here and
thinking "uuurrrggghhh, details!" The details are actually
important because you need to know that I cannot dress or feed
myself - so support is an important part of helping my life to
Goddess of sexual kingdom
I used social media to re-invent a persona of a sexually
intriguing woman who just happened to not dress, feed or cook for
herself, yet managed to live alone and have a number of random,
casual sexual encounters.
It was a space in which I had power and agency and could put utter
trust in strangers who I had only chatted to randomly online. But
you can find out a lot about men and how they will treat a woman
when they let their guard down because they want to walk in your
secret garden. It's easy to weed out the weirdos and not give them
I was the goddess of my own sexual kingdom and knights came to
court me. Through the internet my encounters were the engineer, the
logistics person, the skater boy, the young builder who bought
pizza, the Greek guy who took his wedding ring off . . .
Why are we so prudish?
The reactions of my support workers were also very interesting.
Even when they were committed Christians, like one special young
woman was, they seemed to value me the whole person over their own
This young woman, who sneezed so quietly and delicately that Freud
would have been concerned, gave me dinner one night I was meeting
someone and made me solemnly vow that I would "call her if I needed
This thoroughly enlightened attitude begs the questions, if a
committed Christian could honour and support my sexual expression
- why do so many people try to deny it?
- why don't we facilitate sexual contact for people with
- why are we so (extremely) prudish about sex in general?
These are crucial questions that society must address if people
with disabilities are to exercise their full human rights.
Governments need to stop making 'Safeguarding' laws that
effectively limit the sexual opportunities of people with
disabilities. In some states of Australia, it is an offence to have
sexual relations with a person who has "an impairment of the mind",
rendering many people with disabilities celibate. Solicitation laws
need to permit supports to be given to people with disabilities who
require assistance to negotiate and organise the services of sex
workers. Service providers and direct care/ support workers need to
get less prudish and start respecting the privacy and desirous
needs of people with disabilities. And families need to understand
that children with disabilities grow into adults who have the full
range of adult physical and sexual needs.
References and further information
This piece was first published on The Guardian's comment website
"Comment is free" at www.theguardian.com/us/commentisfree.
This article featured in Edition 17 of Synapse's Bridge Magazine -
The Unmentionables. You can view the entire magazine here.