Dating and disabilities

Almost all humans have the need to give and receive intimacy, so there's no reason why disability should stand in your way.

Young woman pushing a young man in a wheelchair

Don't let your disability stop you dating.

State of mind

‘Dating and disability’ are two words that are rarely seen together: all too many people assume that just because someone is physically or mentally different, they lack the desire to fall in love or have sex.

Sadly, we live in a culture in which pressure to be ‘perfect’ is rife, which can make it all too easy to believe that disability equals sexual exclusion. Penny Pepper, author of Desires, an erotica anthology about disabled people, sex and relationships, says: “Disabled people are fed an idea of being inferior, especially by modern media, which values and reinforces artificially created ideas of physical perfection. But this also pushes the ‘able-bods’ to feel inferior with less-than-perfect eye candy on their arms! All this eats into our self-esteem and somehow, we have to remain confident regardless of whether we feel able to approach people.”

Before you start dating, you need to make sure your head’s in the right place. Regardless of disability, starting a relationship when you feel rubbish about yourself may not be the best way forward.

Building your confidence

If you believe you’re inferior, you’ll be perceived that way: but if you think about what maintains a relationship after initial attraction, it’s more likely to be a great sense of humour, thoughtfulness or a sense of adventure, than a ‘perfect’ outer form. So don’t define yourself by your disability; it’s only one part of you. It can be all too easy to use your disability as a comfort-blanket by telling yourself you can’t chat someone up because you’re in a wheelchair – it may actually be because you, like many people, feel shy and need some tips on how to boost your pulling confidence.

There’s also the issue of how you perceive sex. If you’ve been rejected before, it may make you afraid of making sexual approaches again for fear of facing more rejection. Tom Coogan, who has a curved spine, says: “I have lots of great female friends, but I’m very aware that to many of them I’m almost like a gay male friend and completely off the sexual radar. For that reason, I try to go out and meet new people and be upfront, not only about what I am, but what I want from a relationship.”
If you’re confident, you’ll attract people and according to research, people will find you more interesting. Smile, listen more than you talk, prompt other people to talk about themselves, and make an effort with your appearance. Even something as simple as wearing sexy underwear can give you a massive confidence boost.

As Penny says: “Don’t let people’s prejudices stop you from trying and trying again. Countless numbers of disabled people have formed successful relationships, from quick shags to long-term bliss.”

Making the move

Taking the first step to leave the house and go and meet new people isn’t always easy. Many people complain about never meeting someone, when their average week consists of watching TV, playing computer games, and going to the pub once a week. The more you get out, the more people you’ll meet and the more likely you’ll meet someone for you. Worried about finding accessible venues? “Access is easier to research than it used to be. Arts Line has lots of venue information for places to visit in London, and it’s worth using the internet to find local guides across the UK,” says Penny.

If that’s too scary, you could try internet dating. There are numerous general sites out there, as well as sites specifically for people with disabilities, should you feel more comfortable with the idea of dating someone with a disability.

Online dating allows you time to get to know people by messaging them before you meet. But don’t hide your disability online. “No matter how nice someone is, a common social reaction to an unexpected difference is often embarrassment,” says Tom. “You should respect them (and yourself) enough to be straight up about it, and give them time to get used to the idea. Don’t be too ‘medical’ or dramatic, but at the same time, don’t be vague – it may seem evasive and could let their imagination run wild. For myself, I’d say that I have a visibly curved spine, and that it makes me short (5’2″). There, that wasn’t so hard!”

Photo of couple by Shutterstock.

Next Steps

  • Stars in the sky is a friendship and dating site for people with learning difficulties living in London.
  • Outsiders run the sex and disability helpline 07770 884 985
  • Youreable is an online community forum for disabled people.
  • 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 Emily Dubberley

Updated on 29-Sep-2015