Tag Archives: A-Z of sex and disability

The hidden sex lives of disabled people – End the Awkward

Alice is a disability rights activist and journalist. As part of our End the Awkward campaign, she shares her views on the media’s portrayal of sex and disability.

Content note: this blog references offensive disablist language and contains discussions about sex.

Disabled people don’t have sex, do they? It certainly seems that way as our sex lives are so rarely represented in the media, if at all.

Have you ever seen a disabled person having sex in a film, TV program, or a mainstream porno? Me neither.

We are a generation which loves to talk about sex, so why aren’t disabled people part of the conversation? Why are our sex lives are being hidden? And why are we being desexualised? We are consistently portrayed as people who never get our leg over and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

However, things have started to change with Maltesers recent ad campaign. The brand launched three disability-themed adverts which premiered on the opening night of the Paralympic Games, and one in-particular really stood out to me.

A text description of the advert is available at the end of this blog post.

Three women are sat around chatting about sex and one (who is a wheelchair user) talks about getting frisky with her boyfriend who didn’t complain when her hand started spasming! Funnily enough Storme Toolis who plays the part is thought to be the only disabled actor to ever have had a sex scene on UK TV.

It is hard to put into words just how happy I was to see this advert, it reminded me of the conversations I have had with friends leaving them in stitches when sharing my sex stories.

Disability in the bedroom

I have spasms and seizures, and I have them when I’m in bed. This can make sex both awkward and absolutely hilarious, not too different from non-disabled sex right?

In the past I’ve had to explain to a partner that my legs weren’t shaking because I’d had an orgasm – they were going into a spasm.

I’ve also come round from seizures before and not remembered who the person on top of me was. You can’t really get much more awkward then that, especially when you’re in a long term relationship!

Disability certainly keeps sex interesting and there are also some perks. Having so many seizures during sex forces me and my partner to have regular breaks which means it usually lasts much longer then it would without them. And telling people I’m disabled early on is also a great dickhead-filter, especially when online dating. You’d be amazed at how many people have stopped talking to me once they discovered I was disabled, but this has meant I’ve only ever met up with open minded people who I know I can trust to get into bed with.

Having barriers in the bedroom also means disabled people have to be more creative and our sex lives are often far from vanilla, trust me. Look at Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability if you want to find out more!

End the awkward

Maltesers are paving the way to end the awkwardness around sex and disability, but there is a long way to go yet. This is evident from some of the online comments left on the advert such as: “Retards who have sex are disgusting.” And: “I don’t really understand how disabled ‘people’ can be sexual beings without having souls.”

These attitudes need to be challenged, and the best way to do that is for more brands and broadcasters to follow in Maltesers footsteps. The more disabled people’s sex lives are accurately represented, the better perceptions will become. I hope one day I can turn on my TV and see disabled characters (played by disabled actors) having sex and for it not be out of the ordinary.

Beyond the bedroom

But this goes beyond sex, Scope’s 2016 Disability In The Media Study found that 80 percent of disabled people felt underrepresented by TV and the media on the whole.

It seems like this is only addressed for a few weeks every four years when the Paralympics comes around and this needs to change. We are the world’s largest minority group and we need representation every day of the year.

So decision makers, please don’t stop broadcasting about disability just because the games are over, let’s keep it on the box, and while you’re at it why not start representing disabled people’s sex lives too?

Read more End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story.

Video description: Three women sat outside around a picnic bench. The person telling the story is a wheelchair user and she is holding a bag of Maltesers in her hand. As she tells the story she shakes the bag and chocolates spill over the table. Her friends looked shocked at first but then everyone laughs. Text reads: “Look on the light side”.

Scope’s Romance Classics: Mik Scarlet has a ‘One Track Mind’

ETA valentines cards Mik_v3Mik Scarlet is a broadcaster and journalist with a one track mind. Since a spinal injury in his teens left him unable to get an erection, he has explored alternative erogenous zones, ‘thought orgasms’ and a whole new world of sexuality.

Mik likes to share the love so he talks about his carnal discoveries to help other people with spinal injuries and impairments to reach orgasm.

This blog contains frank information about sex. It’s meant for people over the age of 16, so please only continue if you are 16 or older.

Sex is so much more than the method for making babies. It should be fun, exciting and a great way of bonding with a partner, whether they are the love of your life, your current squeeze or a one night stand.

It’s this element of their sex life that many spinal injured people feel they have lost, especially early on when they are learning to live with their injury. But trust me – nothing could be further from the truth.

If you’ve lost the ability to gain erections, but can still feel aroused, then with a little effort you will find that you can achieve multiple orgasms. It transpires that it is the erectile system that prevents men enjoying sex in the way women can, and once you experience this you tend to not miss a ‘hard-on’ in quite the same way.

Discovering a new world of sexuality

For those who have lost sensation, there is now a growing group of therapists and disabled people, myself included, that are promoting various ways of turning the erogenous zones on the parts you can feel into orgasmic zones, which opens up a whole new world of sexuality.

There are many differing techniques so it might be worth trying a few to see which suits you. But trust me; it really is possible to orgasm even if you are paralysed from the neck down.

Sure, sex after a spinal injury will be different than it was before, but with the right attitude, support and partner it can be better.

When I incurred my spinal injury I thought my sex life was over, but nothing could beat the sex I have now. A lot of that is due to my injury and how it made me re-examine what it means to have sex.

In this video, Mik reveals how to create orgasmic erogenous zones anywhere on your body and how to enjoy ‘thought orgasms’ by conjuring up your sexiest, X-rated fantasies.

Penelope shared her story as part of Scope’s Romance Classics. You can read more sexy stories from our authors:

Read ‘The Sensual Scribe’ by Penelope Friday

Read ‘On the Prowl’ by Romina Puma.

Read ‘Recipe for Romance’ by Ronnie Murray.

Z is for Zzzz

At the beginning of October we started our A to Z of sex and disability looking at the loves and lusts of disabled people in Britain today. So, as we put our A-Z to bed – how was it for you?

Z for Zzzz is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability.

Here’s a quick summary of the coverage and the best responses to the campaign you may have missed:

Let’s Talk About Sex

The coverage kicked off with BBC Newsbeat featuring 19-year-old Jack and 24-year-old Holly who talked about dating, sex, disability and some of their awkward moments – Yes, disabled people do have sex – and maybe we should talk about it.

The story was also picked up by BBC Asian Network, who had an interesting discussion about how disability is seen in some Asian communities.

This Sex Is On Fire

The Telegraph’s Women’s Life section covered the campaign and the stories of Sam Cleasby and Emily Swiatek. They spoke about how being disabled has encouraged them to explore sex in a more radical way.

You Can Leave Your Hat On

The Femail section of The Daily Mail covered the campaign and Emily Yates, Sam Cleasby and Kelly Perks-Bevington shared their experiences.

The story included photos from the Undressing Disability campaign, and whilst most Daily Mail readers were hugely supportive of the campaign, commenting on the stunning photos and the bravery of the people involved, some weren’t quite as keen. Some politely asked them to their clothes back on, one reader wrote: “no thank you..I am eating my breakfast!”:

Let’s Get It On

G is for Gay happily coinincided with Coming Out Day and Buzzfeed wrote a indepth story about Charlie, who spoke about being bisexual and disabled.

The BuzzFeed LGBT community instantly fell in love with Charlie, commenting on how attractive and awesome he is. For some, the article drew awareness to discrimination that can happen within the gay community. For others the story rang true – “this article was so great in that it finally articulated many of my thoughts and feelings about sexuality, sexual orientation, disability, and the intersections thereof. Major props to you”.

All you need is love

We hope you’ve enjoyed our A-Z of sex and disability as much as we’ve enjoyed sharing it. Thank you to everyone who made it possible.

We’d love to hear your feedback – comment below, tweet us or email awkward@scope.org.uk.

Y is for Yes! (Oh yes!) – #EndtheAwkward

Yes, (Oh yes!) to seeing more on screen loving with disabled actors and actresses playing the romantic lead. It’s the most entertaining and exciting way to break down the attitude that disabled people aren’t interested in sex.

As disabled actors recreate the famous ‘faking it’ scene from the classic rom-com When Harry Met Sally, Storme writes about the lack of romantic lead roles for disabled actors.

Y is for Yes (oh!) yes! is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability

(Sorry – this video is only available to watch in the UK)

Actor Storme Toolis caused quite a stir when she appeared in what was thought to be the only sex scene on UK TV involving a disabled character. At the time, Storme was starring as Holly Griffin in the long-running BBC1 drama New Tricks.

I’d love to play Shakespeare’s Juliet or Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett. But because disabled people are not conventionally seen as sexual beings there is a huge lack of disabled people in romantic roles.

The majority of society remains uncomfortable with disability and sexuality, and that is reflected in the very few roles disabled people do get to play.

I think things are changing slowly, but I would not say dramatically. It is going to take a while. It’s so important to see disabled people in the theatre, on TV, everywhere. It was the same with race 30 or 40 years ago, disability is a fact of life – if you don’t see life on screen or in theatre it’s not a true reflection of society. We need to do a lot of work before disabled people are seen in desirable and romantic roles.

I’m doing my best to change things. Recently, I’ve been working on a theatre project with the Barbican called Redefining Juliet. It’s a play based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but changing the conventional casting of the female lead. I have a lot of ‘different’ Juliets, a larger woman, disabled women; women who don’t usually get to play these types of roles.

Over half the cast is disabled. I wanted to challenge traditional perceptions of what society finds attractive and show different types of women in a desirable role. The response has been overwhelmingly good.

Scandalous

I did a very small sex scene in a programme called New Tricks a few years ago. All the publicity focused on this one scene.

The media was always asking if I was comfortable with it, if I was made to do it. I really enjoyed myself and I think it’s so important to show that disabled people have sex like everyone else.

I don’t know what everyone was so uncomfortable about, but I certainly wasn’t.  It was such an ordinary thing – a kiss and then a bit of a fumble with clothes. I do that sort of thing all the time. Lots of actors do nude scenes, Game of Thrones is full of them, but because someone is in a wheelchair and shows a bit of flesh it shocks people. It was so tame!

I’m not sure if the reaction would be different now. My family is from Ireland and there was a headline in the Irish Sun saying ‘Disabled sex scene causes scandal in New Tricks’.

Getting over it

Actress Storme Toolis laughingI always felt like I wanted to do a sex scene. I wanted to feel like I could be seen in that way – sexual and desirable.

With roles like Elizabeth Bennett, they’re just characters, anyone would want to play that role. I have the same desires as anyone else, but, because I can’t walk, society doesn’t allow me to be seen in that way.

I love burlesque.  It would be great to get involved with something like that. Sex and desire is part of enjoying life, disabled people shouldn’t be excluded from that. It’s part of life as a young woman, finding out and experiencing things, being able to express myself.

The lack of disabled people as sexual beings on screen reflects how the world is. Initially it’s going to cause some controversy, but it’s important to show it. Disabled people have sex lives, just because you don’t see it on TV does not mean it doesn’t happen.

When I did the Romeo and Juliet production, all these women that would never normally be cast in that role, as soon as they began performing their impairment or differences disappeared and they were desirable, sexual beings, they were Juliets.

The audience was far more receptive that we thought. Once they saw the actors in the part, they didn’t see their impairments. It shows that once you bring diversity and inclusivity to what people watch, they aren’t fazed by it – they get over it.

Y is for Yes! (Oh yes!) is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability. Read the rest of the A to Z

X is for X-rated #EndTheAwkward

Spinal cord injuries and other impairments can affect the way people feel aroused and reach orgasm. Broadcaster and journalist Mik Scarlet is unable to get an erection after a spinal injury in his teens. He explains how this has led him to explore alternative erogenous zones, multiple orgasms and no end of X-rated fun…

X for X-rated is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability. This blog contains frank information about sex. It’s meant for people over the age of 16, so please only continue if you are 16 or older.

Sex is so much more than the method for making babies. It should be fun, exciting and a great way of bonding with a partner, whether they are the love of your life, your current squeeze or a one night stand.

It’s this element of their sex life that many spinal injured people feel they have lost, especially early on when they are learning to live with their injury.

But trust me – nothing could be further from the truth.

If you’ve lost the ability to gain erections, but can still feel aroused, then with a little effort you will find that you can achieve multiple orgasms. It transpires that it is the erectile system that prevents men enjoying sex in the way women can, and once you experience this you tend to not miss a ‘hard-on’ in quite the same way.

For those who have lost sensation, there is now a growing group of therapists and disabled people, myself included, that are promoting various ways of turning the erogenous zones on the parts you can feel into orgasmic zones, which opens up a whole new world of sexuality.

There are many differing techniques so it might be worth trying a few to see which suits you. But trust me; it really is possible to orgasm even if you are paralysed from the neck down.

Sure, sex after a spinal injury will be different than it was before, but with the right attitude, support and partner it can be better.

When I incurred my spinal injury I thought my sex life was over, but nothing could beat the sex I have now. A lot of that is due to my injury and how it made me re-examine what it means to have sex.

• Read Mik’s article about sex and spinal injuries in full at Pos’ability magazine.  

In this video, Mik reveals how to create orgasmic erogenous zones anywhere on your body and how to enjoy “thought orgasms” by conjuring up your sexiest, X-rated fantasies.

• This video first appeared on the Wellcome Trust’s blog, Mosaic.

S is for sensation – #EndtheAwkward

Having sensory processing disorder can be frustrating, but as Lola Phoenix explains, when it comes to sex, it can actually be a huge bonus.

Lola also has some hot tips for how all of us can benefit from overloading our senses in the bedroom

S is for sensation is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability.

This blog contains frank information about sex. It’s meant for people over the age of 16, please only continue if you are 16 or older.

Close up of Lola smiling in leather jacket
Lola loves how their sensory processing disorder impacts their sex life

Sensory Processing Disorder is one piece of my autistic spectrum puzzle. My brain processes my senses in a different way, so for me, senses can be overwhelming.

The sudden burst of ambulance sirens wailing past physically jars me. If I eat something with an odd texture, it can make me feel so sick, I can’t eat anything else. I frequently rip tags out of my clothing when the feeling becomes too much.

If I don’t manage my senses correctly, at parties or loud gatherings with lots of people talking at once, I can end up crying in a corner, unable to move because of sensory overload.

Sensory processing and sex

I actually love having a sensory processing disorder, and being on the autistic spectrum. And, I won’t lie – sex can be a huge way that I benefit from my ‘disorder’.

For some people, sensory processing is a big reason why they don’t like sex. But some of us have exactly the opposite experiences.

For all of the bad overwhelming experiences I can have, there are a load of good overwhelming experiences I can have.

For me, sex is overwhelming, but in a very good way. Because my senses are so sensitive to different things, it can mean the definition of ‘sex’ can be widened. Because for me, a range of sensations are all part of the same positive overwhelming experience.

What is sensation play?

‘Sensation play’ involves using different temperatures or textures and sometimes even pain, in a romantic or sexual context.

For me sensation play is a lot more intense and fun than it might be for non-autistic people.

Because sex is a way for me to connect with someone, sensation play can become a fun way to connect with someone, which is just as intense as sex.

A few things to try at home

Two wax candles, a wartensberg wheel and role of bondage tape
Some of Lola’s sensation tools you can buy

Even if you don’t experience senses intensely, sensation play can still be a lot of fun to try! Here are a few of the basic things to give a go:

  • Use a blindfold… It’s simple, but it can do a lot!
  • Feathers and silk can be fun, especially if you’re blindfolded…
  •  Some people like tickling in this context too.
  • Paraffin wax candles can be used for wax play (not the regular candles for lighting in your house as those will burn)
  • Try toys you can put in the freezer safely
  • Wartenburg wheels look intimidating but they’re actually great for beginners at sensation play
  • Try bondage tape, as a good alternative to rope if you’re a beginner…

But before you try anything, do your research! Make sure you’re doing everything safely.

Rethink the definition of ‘disorder’

I’ve been told by a GP, ‘You don’t look autistic!’ and on top of that he claimed, ‘That’s a compliment!’

Sometimes I say that I have sensory processing ‘disorder’ (in inverted commas) because it doesn’t always feel like a ‘disorder’ to me.

People with autisim are just as varied and diverse as the rest of the population, and deserve just as much respect.

Having this great ability to feel different senses intensely is one of the many benefits that being on the spectrum brings to me.

S is for sensation is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability. Read the rest of the A to Z.