It’s time to talk about sex. I make no apologies for this. One of the problems that arises when discussing disability in relation to sex is that subcultures exist in which members of some impairment groups, such as wheelchair users, amputees, or people with restricted growth, are treated as fetish objects. A common reaction is to be disgusted and hence to regard any attempt to broach the topic of disabled people having sex as unacceptable. For those affected, both extremes can be equally difficult, resulting in unwelcome and often unpleasant sexual advances in one case, and repulsion by the targets of their affections in the other. It may seem odd to complain both about being attractive and being unattractive, although I suspect rather less so to women than to men, but the key point is that neither of the objectionable groups display evidence of considering us to be normal human beings.
Many disabled people find a regular sex life hard to obtain, not only because of physical impairments but also because of psychological ones impacting upon the ability to have a full social life. However, solutions proposed to this problem are not always satisfactory. A Google search shows that, in 2003, the New Zealand Green Party campaigned for the legalisation of prostitution for the benefit of disabled people. In case you are wondering, I have no idea how this would be good for the environment, but it is highly revealing about attitudes both towards disabled people and towards sex workers. Arguments in favour of prostitution should surely be based around the concept of liberty, not just the obvious fact that there are men who want to have sex. Conversely, prostitution is presumably illegal in New Zealand because of the belief that it is exploitation, which can never be justified.
At the other end of the liberalism scale, there have been equally perplexing arguments in Denmark, regarding a government policy to use state funding to provide sex workers for disabled people. The opposition parties have claimed that this is immoral, despite the fact that prostitution is perfectly legal for everyone else in the country. Danish society clearly takes the view that sex workers are not being exploited and so it is absurd to suggest that the situation changes merely because disability access is provided by public money. The European Court of Justice has ruled that prostitution is a service for the purpose of laws on the right of establishment and so it would be entirely reasonable, and some would say necessary, to make it equally accessible to all, in countries where it has been legalised.
I did not take this substantial diversion in order to resolve the question of whether paying for sex should be illegal. In fact, because this is a blog about disability issues, I am going to somewhat tantalisingly reserve judgment. Nevertheless, I am keen to reassure you that any thoughts which I do have on the subject are not influenced either way by the fact that disabled people have been known to use prostitutes. The purpose of raising the topic is to show that the attitudes exposed in the opening paragraph are not just limited to perverted ‘devotees’ with disability fetishes and to sexually repressed prudes. The Green Party of New Zealand seem to think that disabled people have an insatiable appetite for sex which overrides the rights of women while many Danish politicians are obviously disturbed by the fact that we have sex at all. What we want is for people to realise that we are neither uninterested in sex nor gagging for it but have exactly the same desires as everyone else.