Sex when you’re disabled
Being disabled doesn't mean you can't have a good sex life, but you may need to make a few adjustments to make things as enjoyable as possible.
Regardless of whether you or your partner has a disability, sex is different for everyone; what one person may enjoy, another person may not. Robin is 22 and has a spinal injury following an accident at work. “I know it might come as a shock, but we feel the same things as non-disabled people,” he says. “We have the same feelings and the same likes and dislikes.”
There will nearly always be techniques for improving your pleasure, but this will depend on the actual condition or disability that affects you or your partner. You may even find that because of your disability you have increased sensitivity in other parts of your body, for example your nipples, mouth, or even your hair.
The best way to get the most out of your sex life, and to see what suits you and your partner, is through experimentation, imagination, and learning what feels good. It’s all about finding out how your body responds to different things, and you may find there are various positions that are better or more comfortable than others.
You may need to make practical adjustments to your sex life, such as keeping the light on if your partner has a hearing impediment. This way you can keep talking during sex and making sure you are both ‘ooing’ and ‘ahhing’ in all the right places. Experimenting with placing cushions, pillows and or a rolled-up duvet to lie on in a certain way may also make things more comfortable for you. If you have certain side-effects to any medication, then let your partner know so they can react to it appropriately.
Your options of contraception may be narrower due to your illness or disability. For example, some Spina Bifida sufferers are allergic to latex, so they need to use non-latex condoms and dental dams for safer sex. If you have poor circulation or mobility your doctor may recommend you don’t take the pill because you could have a higher risk of getting thrombosis. If you’re not happy with your method of contraception then it may be worth making another visit to your doctor (GP) – there could be a new choice of contraception available to you or one you’ve not tried before.
The Mix spoke to young people about their disabilities and sexual needs and found that a number wanted to know how to have sex given their impairments. This included one teenage girl who wanted to learn how to have sex despite being a wheelchair user, saying that she didn’t feel ‘safe’ trying sex until she had some advice on how to do so. Another young person said that they’d been told about body parts, but not how they actually worked.
“One of the things a lot of our members find difficult is when they’ve got hidden disabilities such an ostomy bag or a catheter,” says Dr Tuppy Owens, founder of Outsiders, a self-help group for disabled people. “Often we help by chatting to the couple and bringing the subject up so it’s out in the open. Sometimes there are situations where one partner can’t do everything the other partner wants sexually. And often the biggest worry is over hurting yourself or damaging your partner.”
It’s completely natural to have these concerns, but it’s important to try not to let your fear of pain or embarrassment put you off other kinds of physical contact. For many couples, whether they are disabled or not, sex isn’t the most important part of their relationship. Many find kissing, caressing and mutual masturbation just as rewarding, and this may be particularly good if penetrative sex is difficult or uncomfortable. Even if you have a spinal injury, it is possible for some people to experience orgasms – a lot depends on where the spinal injury is located.
For some people the biggest worry about relationships and intimacy can often be a fear of not being able to form a sexual relationship in the first place. For others, many sexual positions may seem impossible, or it could be a fear that something relating to their disability may ‘ruin the moment’. Many people simply want to know how to increase pleasure, especially if this is something that’s difficult to achieve.
Getting advice and information
Reassuringly, these are all very normal concerns and ones that you can ask your doctor, sex therapist or health professional. Your doctor should know whether you need practical information, medical help or relationship therapy.
The Spinal Injuries Association has advice for anyone who’s experiencing difficulties with their sex life. You can call its helpline on 0800 980 0501 for a booklet or to speak to someone directly. If you’re affected by Multiple Sclerosis (MS), The Multiple Sclerosis Society has published lots of handy information on its website relating to sexual problems with intimacy and relationships. If you’d like some more information relating to Arthritis, Arthritis Care has produced a booklet titled: ‘Relationships, Intimacy and Arthritis’.
- Stars in the sky is a friendship and dating site for people with learning difficulties living in London.
- Youreable is an online community forum for disabled people.
- Outsiders run the sex and disability helpline 07770 884 985
- Do you want to understand your relationship better? Love Smart helps you work it all out.
- Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
- Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.
By Julia Pearlman
Updated on 29-Sep-2015
Is sexting illegal?
What is sexting and how safe is it? We spoke to Ellie ...
How to talk to your friends about sexual consent
Sexual consent is a part of a normal sex life but how ...
Confused about sexual consent? Help is at hand.
Usualising intersex – I don’t need normalising
Anick shares his experience of coming out as intersex.
Domestic Abuse Myths
We spoke to Solace Women's Aid about spotting domestic ...