Confronting and Transforming Sexual Ableism

ableism changing attitudes healthy sexuality sexual ableism sexuality and disability Jul 16, 2020
Group of friends, including woman in wheelchair at a party. Message: The pain has to stop. People with disabilities need to take their rightful place as sexual - and sexy - beings.

Looking at the issue of ongoing ableism in our culture as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, where does sexual ableism work into the discussion?

Sexual ableism is a system of beliefs that discriminate against people with disabilities in dating, intimacy, and relationships, suggesting the very presence of disability implies inferiority.

Stating the Obvious

As human beings, it’s our basic need to be close to others. Our lives are enriched by sharing ourselves with others. That’s how we grow.

Because of this, we are all sexual beings, no matter what our life circumstances may be and no matter what form our abilities take on. 

For many people with disabilities, there are STILL societal myths and false beliefs which prohibit the growth of a healthy sense of sexuality and relationships. Thus, creating walls that hinder the development of a healthy sense of sexuality.

Society, media, and social media reinforce myths about what is beautiful and also promote unhealthy and unreasonable body images.

That’s why in a survey I run on dating concerns of people with disabilities about dating, these are the majority of concerns people feel:

  • I’ll be rejected.
  • I don’t have enough confidence.
  • I’m concerned about someone accepting my disability.
  • I don’t believe I’m attractive enough.
  • I’m afraid to be a burden to someone.

Sampling of Ableistic Beliefs Toward Sexuality

Projections of people with disabilities as being “fragile” or “a potential victim.”

Perceived need from caregivers to “protect” people from relationships, or at the very least, being “supervised.”

A continued perpetuated myth that people with disabilities are asexual.

Mistaken belief that people with disabilities have less to offer in relationships.

False belief that people with disabilities generally get into unhealthy and unbalanced relationships.

All of these beliefs perpetuate sexual ableism and keep people with disabilities isolated and lonely. The pain has to stop. People with disabilities need to take their rightful place as sexual – and sexy – beings.

Ways to Transform Sexual Ableism About Sexuality and Disability

We diminish the damage of sexual ableism by honoring ALL people’s sexuality. We do this by:

  • Answering questions people have about sexuality and relationships
  • Encouraging people to pursue desires in this area
  • Teaching people how to take responsibility for oneself 
  • Offering guidance in developing healthy relationships
  • Honoring the beauty (internal and external) in all people

Yes, most people don’t know what sexual ableism is. That’s why we need to talk about it because it will ultimately change the dating and sex lives of so many.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. 

~Margaret Mead

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