About the Author: Katie Challacombe is an amazing disability awareness advocate and is always sharing tidbits about live with a disability on her platform. She never fails to gracefully shut down any misconceptions or bust a myth about disabled folk. Her captions are powerful and many times educational, and we highly recommend you give her a follow! To learn more about Katie or learn more about the lack of accessibility in our world, make sure to check out her Instagram here!
Right as I was ready to burst out onto the dating scene as an out-and-proud lesbian, I was struck by a sudden loss of mobility and quickly had to come to terms with a new label. Disabled. I had been disabled for years, but hopes of returning to competitive dance, internalized ableism, and no diagnosis held me back from claiming the term. Within weeks I went from being on my feet working with kids to relying on crutches and largely being housebound as what I would later learn to be Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) took a firm grip over my left leg.
When I felt comfortable enough with myself to date, I found I didn’t have many options. There weren’t many people in my university town who were eager to get with a visibly disabled partner. I would occasionally express my frustration at trying to find a partner online where I had a sense of anonymity.
The responses I got opened my eyes to a pervasive attitude.
“Can you even have sex?”
These were the most common responses. My disability somehow totally desexualized me, or would only be accepted by those who had an underground kink. The more I talked to other disabled people, the more I learned that I was far from alone.
The popular narrative is that disabled bodies are sites of pain and shame. While the former can be true for some like myself, this doesn’t preclude our bodies from being sites of pleasure, pride, and euphoria. Consider, for example, the last time you saw a disabled lingerie model or disabled character in a fulfilling relationship. Pornhub has plenty of categories, plenty of bodies, but attraction to disabled bodies is confined to the realm of underground fetish.
The most sexually liberating thing I saw were other disabled people embracing their sexuality, whether solo or partnered. Disabled YouTubers such as Stevie Boebi and Hannah Witton highlight accessible sex toys for those with mobility challenges. Just because we experience pain doesn’t mean we have no interest in experiencing or giving pleasure. In fact, if we live with bodies that put us in pain frequently, wouldn’t we be more interested in moments where our bodies offer relief and pleasure than our able-bodies counterparts?
The more I researched, the deeper I realized the desexualization of disabled bodies went. Many disabled students receive different sex ed than their able-bodied peers. Not only does this reinforce a narrative of differentness, but it places disabled students at risk. Young disabled girls face sexual violence at a far higher rate than their able-bodied peers. This number is also twice as high as it was 10 years prior (Alriksson-Schmidt, et al, 363). The sexual liberation of disabled people is important to having a healthy and safe population.
To disabled readers, I hope you celebrate all your body can do. Just because the popular narrative is one of desexualization doesn’t mean you aren’t sexy, desirable, or deserving of pleasure.
To able-bodied readers, you would be so lucky to get to share an intimate experience with someone as familiar with their body as us.
Alriksson-Schmidt, Ann I., et al. “Are Adolescent Girls With a Physical Disability at Increased Risk for Sexual Violence?” Journal of School Health, vol. 80, no. 7, 2010, pp. 361–367., doi:10.1111/j.1746-1561.2010.00514.x.