Now, if you’re old enough, you’ll have Salt ‘N’ Pepa lyrics resounding in your head like I do – which is appropriate really because the song highlights how people tend to avoid the topic. Let’s not be prudish. Sex is an essential part of life and yet, unless we’re sat over a glass of wine or beer with our mates, it’s something which we rarely discuss openly.
There are many benefits of a healthy sex life. From reducing stress and anxiety levels, feeling healthier, lower blood pressure, helping us to bond with our partners (hormones are released which make us feel the need to love and trust someone), increased self-esteem and the list goes on.
When thinking about sex we often think in literal terms about penetration but let’s think a bit wider than that. Let’s think about intimacy. I think we can all agree that the majority of us want intimate relationships. We want love and affection; someone to cuddle and be close to. In fact, it’s a deep biological need that begins in childhood and doesn’t go away as we become adults.
I have yet to have anyone argue with me when I say that I believe that everyone deserves to have intimate relationships and yet when sex becomes part of that, and you mention the words sex and disability together, then suddenly the reaction can differ. Mentioning the fact that disabled people want and do have sex is still taboo and for me, in this day and age, I find this incredibly shocking.
The stigma relating to sex and disability can be and is often internalised by people who have disabilities which can lead to self-esteem issues as a result. Now think about teenagers. If I cast my mind back I remember all the confusion, worry and self-doubt. To be honest it wasn’t a great time for me. I had very low self-confidence made worse by not having yet developed a strong sense of self-identity which incorporated my deafness. I had the normal teen worries regarding my weight and if I was pretty enough and, to compound them, worried that my ‘disability’ would put potential boyfriends off. It took several years to get over this. Sex and Relationships Education did little to help me with my worries. All I can really remember is the embarrassment of having to put a condom on a life-like dildo.
Shockingly, when we at Enhance the UK surveyed people with physical disabilities, 100% reported that SRE was not tailored for them. Teenagers with physical disabilities not only have added emotional difficulties but also have other issues to contend with including, for example, if they are able to engage in penetrative sex.
I am sure that you will agree that the fact that these issues are not addressed and the effect this can have on young people with physical disabilities is appalling. There is a lot of literature and information out there for young people with learning disabilities (although I am sure that more needs to be done) but there really is very little relating to physical disability.
We at Enhance the UK are focusing our efforts on this and have been awarded a grant to create resources with young people who have physical disabilities for young people with physical disabilities linked to sex and all the other issues which are linked. These resources will be available to download free of charge from our website. This is one of the many reasons why I am proud to be a part of the Enhance the UK team and will personally continue to talk about sex. In the words of Salt ‘N’ Pepa – “Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic.”