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Disability difficulties aren't just about ramps, they're also about sex

Damon Rose Damon Rose | 10:58 UK time, Thursday, 14 February 2013

Kirsty Liddiard

Access talk should go beyond transport, education and employment says Kirsty

For many years it has been said that disability and sex is a taboo subject. But recently we've seen more open discussions about it than ever before.

In news from the last month, there was the care home which invited prostitutes in in an attempt to stop its disabled residents from groping the staff, the sex surrogate talk generated by Hollywood film The Sessions, the so-called legal brothel to be set-up for disabled people and the second series of Channel 4's The Undatables which sought romantic partners for its "extraordinary singletons".

The stories concentrate on those disabled people for whom physical sex and the finding of a partner can be very tricky. This would tend to include people who have a lack of ability to move, talk or communicate. The above headlines mostly discuss sex from that angle and, if you dig deeper into the stories, you'll find that all those from the sex surrogates through to some disabled people themselves, often place sex in a clinical setting, or phrase it in terms of stimulation, need, mental wellbeing and learning - not fun, spiritual bonding or eroticism, for instance.

"When we talk about disability and sex work, [it is often framed] in this very therapeutic and rehabilitative call-it-a-sexual-health-centre way. says Kirsty Liddiard, an expert in disability, sex and relationships at Rierson University. "Why is it not OK for disabled people to go to a brothel and pay for sex in a standardised way?"

Liddiard, who is herself disabled, was speaking on the latest talk show from BBC Ouch!

She says: "Even though some of the headlines are problematic in the way they put disability and sex across, I think it's really important that they're starting dialogues and conversations around disability and sex which I think can never be a bad thing."

The Englishwoman in Toronto says she became interested in the subject when she found most academic conversations around disability were about "systemic structural barriers" like transport, education and employment. She felt that the personal aspects of disabled people's lives had been largely overlooked.

"The stories of young people are something I have a particular interest in," she says. "Their sexuality and their sexual stories were [about] lack of privacy ... and issues with parents [and] having basic physical access to places like nightclubs and pubs which is still quite dire.

"I think when you have a body that needs to be cared for in some way you have a very different relationship with privacy than I would imagine for most non-disabled people. Sex and sexuality ... are inherently private things."

Download or stream the Ouch! talk show and hear the full interview with Kirsty Liddiard.

Read more about Kirsty Liddiard's research and findings - the "plain language" document linked-to on this page is a good starting point.

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.


  • Comment number 1.

    As a single female who is disabled I have great difficulty finding anyone for a long lasting relationship - which is something I really want. It's not going to send me to a brothel looking for a man though - I want a relationship, not just sex. Is there a man out there who is prepared to take on someone with MS? Answer : No..Not in my experience.

  • Comment number 2.

    Yes we should be able to go to a brothel, what happens then if the Prostitute says no, because we look different or we have an illness or what ever, what then force them.

    Sadly sex and having sex is not that simple


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