“Nobody makes a public announcement that they don’t find the woman in the wheelchair to be sexy. There aren’t any articles in Cosmo saying, ‘Men who use crutches have zero sex appeal.’ It is one of those unspoken and often unconscious things making it impossible to prove or disprove, yet disabled people are clear that it is part of their reality.” (Jen)
The current myths perpetuated by the dominant, ableist culture, which further the erasure of disabled people’s potential to be sexual, allows for the denial of “sexual abuse and violence committed against disabled people” (“Desexualising Disability”). S.E. Smith, writer for This Ain’t Livin’, asserts that if disabled people supposedly “have no sexuality,” they couldn’t possibly be assaulted or abused (“Desexualising Disability”). In this regard, desexualization further contributes to the silence surrounding sexual assault of disabled people and lack of awareness of this issue’s severity. Desexualizing disabled people also contributes to the myth that “disabled people can’t and don’t form close relationships with other people,” allowing for disabled people in romantic partnerships in an institution to be separated (“Desexualising Disability”).
Myths that reinforce the desexualization of disabled people do not stand alone in negatively impacting the sexual health and wellbeing of this community. Educators, health professionals, and other adults in adolescents with disabilities’ lives may either “deprive them of sexual education or provide them with inadequate information that doesn’t address their specific risk factors” (“Discussing Disabled Sexuality Is a Radical Act“). Among queer and/or trans teens, the lack of information about sexual identity and gender identity can contribute to feelings of isolation, an increase in depression risk and other mental health conditions (“Discussing Disabled Sexuality Is a Radical Act”). Additionally, by not providing specific information of the biological mechanics behind the spread of sexually transmitted infections and the behaviors that cause pregnancy, disabled teens may not be able to identify early warnings signs of either STIs or pregnancy (“Discussing Disabled Sexuality Is a Radical Act”).
The root of disabled desexualization lies in the desire to dehumanize disabled people in order to make a clear distinction between able-bodied and disabled people (“Desexualizing Disability”). “If we can be rendered sexless, neutered, inert, and nonthreatening, it can be made clear that here lies yet another difference between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ another reminder that we are not quite fully human,” writes Smith (“Desexualizing Disability”). I’ve also discussed this dehumanization process in past posts. Social identities cannot stand alone, so being a disabled person also can include oppression from the result of intersecting identities of race, class, and gender, just to name a few. One blogger discusses that when people desexualize them, they don’t only do so as a result of their disability; this desexualization also occurs because they are a disabled woman:
“Even if the attention comes in the form of compliments…it is still behavior based on me being a sexual object not a woman. Desexualized and denied personhood. Sexualized and denied personhood” (Jen).
Desexualizing people with disabilities is not only an interpersonal attack on self-worth, agency, and autonomy; it also impacts the safety and wellbeing of those already living in a world where disabled people are inherently undervalued and dehumanized. In one of the concluding posts of this blog, I will discuss what disability-positive sex education can entail and share stories about the current movement fighting for inclusive sex education.
Next time on desexy, find out why queer couples on TV still sleep in separate beds.
Jen. “Newsflash: I’m Female!” People Aren’t Broken: Disability from the Inside Out. Blogger, 2011. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.
Smith, S.E. “Desexualising Disability.” This Ain’t Livin’. S.E. Smith, 2014. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.
Smith, S.E. “Discussing Disabled Sexuality Is a Radical Act.” RH Reality Check. RH Reality Check, 2014. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.