By columnist Diana Pearson
Expressing sexuality and finding intimacy are incredibly important for health and well-being. But let’s be honest—many conversations about sex prioritize able-bodied sexual beings, leaving people who have physical disabilities behind. People with physical disabilities face much more stigma around sexuality, namely the myth that they are non-sexual, infantilized beings. These assumptions often leave them with limited space to explore their desires.
But today, more and more organizations in Canada are finding ways to support people who have physical disabilities and who may have faced barriers to meeting their sexual needs. These groups are finding creative ways to advocate for sex-positivity in disability communities.
Take, for example, Sensual Solutions, a Vancouver-based company established in 2011 by Trish St. John. While working as a booking agent for a legal escort company, St. John learned that clients with disabilities had often faced abuse or disrespect from sex workers when seeking sexual services. Recognizing this as a human rights issues, she began Sensual Solutions which provides intimate services to singles and couples. From assistance in putting on condoms or facilitating creative sex positions for couples, right down to the nitty gritty, with erotic massage and orgasms for singles, the Intimacy Coaches are there to make sure the client’s needs are met. The company’s ethos guarantees the experience is private, safe, non-judgmental, respectful, exploratory, and has ethical guidelines in place to protect both the client and the employees’ health and safety. Many of the intimacy coaches are already employed in health services or therapeutic services who recognize sexuality as essential to well-being.
“I think it’s important that everyone have their sexual needs met. It’s a basic human right; it’s not a privilege like riding a bicycle or ice skating,” says Lexi, an Intimacy Coach in Vancouver.
Why not re-write the narratives of sex and disability? This is what Andrew Gurza of Toronto does under the banner Deliciously Disabled. He is a Disability Awareness Consultant, host of the sex-and-disability-intersecting podcast, “Disabled After Dark”, organizer of sex parties in Toronto that are hosted specifically for disabled people who want to explore their kink in a safe but erotic space, and the star of the award-winning short film, Bedding Andrew (2014).
According to an interview on All Access Pass Podcast, Gurza describes himself as “a queer man with sexual desire and who lives with cerebral palsy.” While in university, he tried to connect with the queer community, but found that his identity wasn’t represented there. “I wasn’t unwelcomed, I just wasn’t given much space,” he said. He describes his first steps branding Deliciously Disabled as powered by a great motto: “If you’re hungry, be the bread!” In other words, he didn’t see himself represented in the queer community, so he became his own advocate, in turn helping other people to advocate for their needs as well.
His philosophy when talking about sexuality and disability is to “tell the truth.” He aims not to feed “into stereotypes of disabilities, about how my life is so hard. So tragic.” Nor does he tell triumphant stories of “getting over” or “overcoming” disability (a dangerous narrative, what gender and disability theorist Eli Clare calls “supercrip stories”, stories that celebrate disabled people for achieving superhuman feats to prove they can “conquer” their physical bodies).
Above all, Gurza invites curious people to ask questions about sexuality, particularly as people with disability experience sexuality. “My thinking is, you should bring it up, you should ask questions. There’s an appropriate way to ask, it doesn’t hurt the person, you know what I mean?”
Signing off with love,
One of Diana’s passions is to encourage sex-positivity and open, shameless conversations about sex and sexuality through her column, “Dirtyin’ The Nav.” Her future path includes completing a Masters in Gender Studies and Social Justice, and teaching pleasure-based sex education. She is a non-fiction writer and a musician. As a copy editor, she revels in making The Nav look pretty.