Sex, Dating and Disability

Illustration of a woman in a wheelchair wearing a white singlet. There are question marks and exclamation marks in the illustration. There is a persons bottom half - with their hands crossed in front of their pubic region. The person has leg & pubic hair

Written by Robyn Lambird

Illustration by Jessica Oddi

Yo, so dating is always hard right!? It’s awkward, emotionally risky and these days scattered with unsatisfying exchanges over Tinder. It’s no lie to say it can be a minefield out there, but when you add having a disability to that equation, you reach a whole new level of complexity. I have been in a wonderful relationship for the last three years but when I first started dating, as someone who has cerebral palsy, I had so many unanswered questions and insecurities, that the idea of meeting new people was a tad bit terrifying . Everytime I thought about dating, I had this internal monologue in which I was constantly asking myself if people would be able to see past the label and see me for who I am, if people would still find me attractive when our society is filled with so many preconceived ideas of what it means to be disabled, how the heck is sex going to work, and if I disclosed my disability would the conversation with my perspective date just fizzle into nothingness? And I think this is the case for a lot of young people with disabilities, they stress so much about the ‘what ifs’ they are completely put off of the idea of dating. It doesn't help that there are very limited resources out there for disabled people addressing these issues, and the fact that we barely ever see successful romantic stories of people with disabilities within our media, it’s actually nearly always presented as the part of someone's identity that breaks the relationship. This makes putting yourself ‘out there’ and even joining dating apps an intimidating prospect, but I can tell you, it’s not always as scary as you imagine.  I’ve learnt a thing or two about dating, intimacy, and disability over the last few years that I’d like to share with you -

1. Disclosing your Disability -

If you feel comfortable enough, I’d encourage you to disclose your disability early, owning who you are and getting it out into the open. I know this can be an intimidating thing to do, especially as a lot of people in our society make so many assumptions about what it means to be disabled, but in my experiences it’s paid off to let people know exactly who I am. I think disclosing my disability straight up on dating apps and in the offline world, has helped me to weed through the masses to connect with people who were truly interested in getting to know all aspects of who I am, regardless of my disability. It’s also meant that I haven’t wasted my time and emotional energy on the people who were just going to ghost me after discovering I have Cerebral Palsy. For me disclosure has been fairly simple as I am a part time wheelchair user, so I’ve just included photos of myself in my chair in my profiles and I’ve used my chair on first dates, but for others who may not have a visible disability it can be handy to prepare something that you can include in your bios or early conversations that lets people know in one way or another.

2. Let the Details come Naturally -

It can be hard to know how much to disclose about your disability early on in the dating game, and it’s definitely going to be something that is different for every person and every relationship, but in my experience I have found that a lot of the times you can spare yourself from long conversations early on, and to let things come up naturally. As I mentioned above I think it’s a good idea to let your prospective dates know that you have a disability, and of any access requirements you may have for a planned date, but other than that the specifics relating to your impairment will often come up organically as you get to know each other. These types of conversations should be seen as ongoing and evolving, but I believe they can play a big part in developing strong and healthy relationships. Sharing details about your body and even your insecurities around dating can help to build emotional intimacy and trust, so I think it can actually be really beneficial to a relationship in the long term.

3. Phone a Friend -

If you have friends or anyone you are close to in the disability community, it can help to talk to them about their experiences. Dating and in particularly sex, is not one size fits all, it’s different for everyone, so it can be handy to gain different perspectives. There are many different aids and tools out there to help you have a good time, regardless of your physical abilities, so do your research and find out what may be of benefit to you. Reaching out can also help to boost your confidence and give you a positive understanding of what might work for you. Sometimes it is easier to talk to someone who has had similar experiences to you, so if this is available to you take that opportunity.

4. Take it Slow…And Take Control -

Dating, intimacy, and sex are powerful ways for you to feel and exercise control over your body, which is important especially when you may feel like you lack that control in other areas of you life. So take the time to think about what you may want out of these experiences, and make sure to communicate those thoughts with your partner. Remember sharing helps to build intimacy and this is your opportunity to have control over your body and your pleasure.  If you can build a safe environment through communication, where you and your partner feel cared for and respected then this will help to guide the physical stuff in the right direction. And If you have a physical disability, don't be afraid to talk about any limitations you may have or to brainstorm ways to work around those. Again, planning and visualising can be a part of the fun and you deserve to have access to what you need to be an active participant in this area of your life.
Hopefully, these tips give you a little more confidence moving into the dating arena, but the most important thing you should remember is that this process should be fun. If you need a little more convincing there are other resources on the net, so get reading and get out there! <3

Robyn Lambird (@robynlambird) is a disability advocate, blogger, and elite para-athlete. They were born with Cerebral Palsy and as a content creator through social media, they aspire to bring disability issues into the spotlight and to challenge negative societal perceptions.  

Jessica Oddi (@oddi.jessica) is a disabled graphic designer in Canada with versatility to spare. She is particularly interested in collaborations involving much needed representation, inclusivity and empowerment.

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