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Sex Toys For People With Disabilities: 'We Deserve Access'

People with disabilities are often left out of conversations about sex and lack access to sex toys. We're here to talk about why — and how — that needs to change.

Disabilities are incredibly common, and yet so many people with disabilities miss out on sexual experiences and pleasure as a result of societal ignorance, stigma, and lack of access.

In fact, up to one in four adults in the United States has some kind of disability, underscoring just how many folks are impacted by mainstream attitudes that disabled people don’t deserve sex and pleasure just the same as anyone else.

“There is a pervasive stereotype that people with disabilities are asexual, undesirable, or don’t care about sex,” Suzannah Weiss, an AASECT-certified sex educator, and resident sexologist for pleasure product brand Biird, tells Healthnews. “However, many people with all kinds of disabilities have a strong desire for and enjoyment of sex, and many people do find them desirable.”

Weiss, who is also an advocate for those on the autism spectrum — she herself is autistic — and the author of Subjectified: Becoming a Sexual Subject, says despite societal attitudes, enjoying your sexuality alone or with a partner can be a beautiful way to celebrate your body in a society that says it is not good enough.

A lack of accessible sex toys on the market can make doing so challenging, however, especially for those with mobility issues.

The impact of exclusion

Exclusion of people with disabilities from conversations about sex is widespread, according to Andrew Gurza, a disability consultant and advocate, and the co-founder of an accessible sex toy called the Bump'n Joystick. This, Gurza says, translates to a serious lack of representation, with disabled people not being seen in sexual media, dating apps, movies, and more.

“We are not represented because we have been told via pseudoscience for centuries that procreating with disabled people is bad,” Gurza says. “Disabled people don't get included in sexual conversations and are left out, leaving them with limited sexual health info and lots of self-esteem and body confidence concerns.”

In recent years, Gurza says the conversation has shifted to suggest that having sex with a disabled person is wrong because a disabled person cannot give consent — a belief that is incorrect in many cases.

According to Weiss, if someone has the capacity to understand what they are doing and who they are doing it with, they can, in fact, consent.

Due to the false belief that disabled people are not sexual, non-disabled people also often don’t see disabled people as viable sexual partners, and Gurza says this allows the mythology around sex and disability to persist.

“We are also left out of the conversation because of ableism,” Gurza says. “People simply don't want to engage with us because they are afraid of disabilities in general, so when you add sexuality — an already taboo topic — in the mix, that fear of disability gets amplified.”

But this exclusion has detrimental impacts: rates of sexual violence are significantly higher among the disabled community. Research has shown that adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted, while a meta-analysis found that individuals with disabilities of all ages are twice as likely to be the victim of sexual violence during their lifetime than the general population.

“People with disabilities are often conditioned to feel undesirable and to think they must settle for whatever they can get,” she explains. “This can lead to self-abandonment and sexual experiences that leave someone feeling bad afterward because they didn’t honor their feelings and desires.”

Accessible sex toys

For people of all ability levels, sex toys are often a safe, empowering way to experience pleasure. But for those with specific mobility issues, a lack of accessible toys makes this experience out of reach.

“Accessible sex toys are important because disabled people deserve the right to explore their own bodies without needing help from someone else, and accessibility is an area where the sex toy industry is painfully lacking,” Gurza says.

That’s why they co-created the Bump'n Joystick, an accessible sex toy created by sexual health and wellness experts, occupational therapists, and the disabled community. It’s a body pillow to which you can attach a vibrator, dildo, or sex sleeve and grind against without needing to use your hands. It can be used by all genders and sexes.

However, despite their best efforts, and though the toy's design stage is complete, the company has decided not to proceed with full-scale production and is looking for another team to take the project forward.

Still, there are other accessible options for those with disabilities who are looking to engage in self-pleasure. There’s Wildflower's Enby, for example, a hands-free toy that you can grind against.

Pleasure-tech company Ohdoki! also sells a toy called The Handy, which is an automatic stroker that has gained attention for its accessibility and versatility through its customizable functions and hands-free setup.

“The Handy has helped many individuals achieve a fulfilling sex life,” Ohdoki! co-founder Jens Petter ‘JP’ Wilhelmsen tells Healthnews. “One user, Nils Arne Morka, a former athlete and boxer diagnosed with ALS, highlighted how The Handy has positively impacted his sex life by providing accessible pleasure.”

For those who require caregivers to help assist with sexual pleasure, Wilhemsen says remote-controlled toys can allow the caregiver to provide stimulation while upholding the user's privacy and personal space.

Sex tips for people with disabilities

As with sex toys, some people with disabilities may have specific needs in the bedroom.

For instance, Weiss says neurodivergent people may find certain types of touch off-putting.

People on the autism spectrum sometimes report that they feel irritated when receiving very light touch, she explains. Sensory sensitivities, which are common among autistic people, can cause them to dislike certain kinds of touch, but can also make them very sensitive to the types of touch they like.

Sensitivity to other types of sensory input, such as smells, can also affect sexual experiences for autistic people and other neurodivergent people, Weiss says. Some neurodivergent people are also into BDSM because they enjoy specific sensations, such as the texture of rope or the feeling of ice cubes.

“Have fun exploring and figuring out what sensations feel good to you,” she says. “The best way to address this is to have a conversation before sex about how you most like to be touched and turned on as well as anything that turns you off.”

For those with physical disabilities, sex pillows can help with positioning during partnered sex, she says, ensuring that both people are comfortable.

There are pillows made specifically for sex, such as Dame's Pillo, which has a wedge shape so it can be used at different angles, but Weiss says any old pillow will do in a pinch. A woman can also use pillows to make sex easier on her knees when she's on top or have her partner sit in a chair and straddle them for another variation of woman-on-top that's easier on the knees.

“It is important to be in touch with your own mind and body and remember that your disability doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have boundaries and standards,” Weiss says. “Tune into your body when presented with a sexual opportunity and communicate how you feel.”

If you are feeling uneasy, she recommends being honest about how you’re feeling because the experience won’t likely be positive if you simply “push through.”

“Know that you are just as entitled to self-esteem as anybody else, and you are just as entitled to sexual experiences where you feel respected and honored,” she says. “If a partner doesn’t make you feel that way, find one who does. There is no need to settle. Another opportunity will come along.”

If you feel really stuck in the bedroom due to your disability or feelings of undesirability resulting from it, Weiss suggests working with a sex therapist or a more hands-on professional such as a sex surrogate, a sexological bodyworker, or a professional cuddler to get comfortable with giving and receiving touch and develop an embodied sense of your own worthiness of pleasure.

Cuddle parties — events designed to provide people with the experience of nonsexual physical intimacy through cuddling — can also be fun, non-judgmental zones to practice connecting with people within an accepting community, she says.

The need for societal change

While there are steps disabled individuals can take to improve their experiences of pleasure and sex, Gurza says we need change on a societal level.

“We need to address our ableism when it comes to sex and disability,” they say.” Disabled people need to be given opportunities for sexual expression that are actually accessible.”

Gurza believes non-disabled people also need to be given the opportunity to confront their ableism and discomfort around sex and disability in a safe, non-judgmental environment where they can explore why disability and sexuality make them uncomfortable.

“Disabled people are hot and we deserve access to sex toys, sexual information and pleasure,” Gurza says. “So many non-disabled people will [one day] experience disability themselves, and we need to have these conversations now, so that they can have great sex when it's their turn.”

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