Those who have disabilities are among the most discriminated against when it comes to sex. Why is that?
A few weeks back I took part in an event called ‘Celebrating Sexuality’ at the Mansion House in Dublin. Celebrating Sexuality, which was organised by Choice Ireland, was a chance to discuss various aspects of sexuality in a public forum and five different people were asked to give talks.
The speeches covered a number of topics from orgasmic childbirth – yes, really – to whether or not homosexuality could be a choice instead of an innate disposition. One talk in particular got my attention – the issue of sexuality and the disabled.
A week later I watched a short film called Want by Loree Erickson, who styles herself as a porn star academic. Want graphically shows Erickson, who is a disabled lesbian, engaged in sex play with her partner. The film, which may or may not be porn – although it did win a CineKink Award – forces the viewer to consider the fact that people with physical impairments are sexual people, just like anybody else.
As a general rule we tend to overlook sexuality when we think about disability. If we do think about it at all, it is to consider it only from the point of view as a social issue.
People with intellectual disabilities are seen as particularly troubling. Either they are potential victims for sexual abuse – which unfortunately is common – or they do not understand restraint and are seen as potential predators. Either way, their sexuality needs to be monitored. Rarely are their sexual needs discussed, although that may be changing.
Last October, the Law Reform Commission suggested that the law on sexual offences relating to people with developmental disabilities should be changed. As the law currently stands it is illegal to have sex with someone with an intellectual disability. While this law has the worthy aim of protecting the intellectually disabled from unwanted sexual contact or exploitation, it doesn’t allow for consensual sex and overlooks the fact that depending on the individual, consent or some form of it, may be possible. Legislation is planned to enable people to make decisions regarding their sex lives in line with their capacity.
For people with intellectual disabilities the issue of consent and the capacity to consent is a thorny one but surely it is better to proceed on a case-by-case basis instead of lumping people of varying impairments all under one law and denying them any form of intimate sexual contact at all? Of course it is.
Issues of consent are of course not compromised by physical impairment. What is often missing here is the privacy and agency to have a sex life. For example, those who live in nursing homes – whether they are old or disabled – have their freedom and privacy severely curtailed making sex almost impossible.
Living at home may not be much better, particularly if you live with parents who are often uncomfortable with the idea of their children being sexual, even if they are able-bodied. If you are physically impaired, finding a partner may present extra challenges to begin with and a carer who is prepared to assist can be a great help.
To make matters worse, there appears to be a whole lot of silence around sexuality and disability in the medical profession. People who have suffered accidents complain that many doctors are unwilling to discuss how to continue being sexual after a life-changing injury.
Whether or not this is distaste or ignorance on the part of these doctors is hard to say. A conservative view of sex as one man, one woman, a penis and a vagina seems to be part of the problem and may make it impossible for some doctors to conceive of sexual expression outside this model if you have lost the ability to feel sensation in your genitals.
Of course if you become physically disabled, your sexual expression is potentially compromised, but that doesn’t mean that sex is no longer an option. Paraplegics, for example, may not be able to feel sensation below the waist but report being able to experience orgasm in other parts of the body. It might be a different kind of sex to the one you had previously enjoyed, but that doesn’t mean it would be less valuable or important to you.
Abby Wilkerson, an academic with interests in disability and sex radicalism posits the idea that any group’s sexual status reflects and reinforces its political and social status and that sexual oppression is part and parcel of broader political oppression. In a nutshell, any group that is denied the freedom to express sexual agency tends to be disenfranchised in other ways too. We only have to think about countries like Iran, where gay men can be executed, or Afghanistan, where honour killings of women for perceived breaches of sexual morality are common, to see that she has a point.
Wilkerson suggests that by denying people with disabilities free expression of their sexuality we are denying them the right to be full citizens. Instead we are desexualising and infantalising them.
Now I don’t pretend to have any answers here. I don’t know exactly what challenges the disabled may face when it comes to sexual expression, but surely that’s a conversation our social services should be having with those affected?
Why do we prefer to ignore the sexual needs of the disabled? Cultural theorists have argued that this is because we in the West suffer from erotophobia – a fear of sex.
Given that we live in a society where sex is used to sell just about everything from crisps to cars this seems ridiculous, but according to Michael Warner, a social theorist at Yale, it is perfectly possible for erotophobia to co-exist with sexualised environments, such as in the United States or our own. This is because a narrow understanding of sexuality is reinforced through advertising and entertainment while taboos against other consensual sexual practices, desires and identities are in operation. Our society says its fine to be sexual if you are young, slim, attractive, straight and able-bodied, but that it is a bit yeuchy, perverted or deviant if you are not.
Not only is that unfair, it’s damn shortsighted. After all, most of us will get old and any one of us could suffer a life-changing injury. To be denied sexual expression, not because you are disabled, but because you are denied privacy, freedom, opportunity or information seems like a gross violation of human rights to me.
Sexuality is a means of pleasure and interpersonal connection, it can give you a feeling of personal efficacy and help you to accept your body and yourself more generally – all good things no matter who you are, and perhaps even more important if you are disabled.
With the exception of condoms, the responsibility for avoiding pregnancy has generally fallen on women. But men are entitled to control their own fertility too. The question is: how?Read More
Helena Mulkerns’ new short story collection draws on her extraordinary experiences as an aid worker, which brought her to the heart of conflict zones in Eritrea and Afghanistan.Read More
It might sound complicated – but I was very impressed indeed with Laura when she gave such a wonderfully precise definition of her sexual identity. Which got me thinking: what about all of those other interesting shades of sexual orientation? Well, it turns out that there is a word for most all of them!Read More
Cannabis lube, that is. And, based on our sex columnist's personal experiments, it heightens sexual pleasure only for women. Sadly, you won’t get it over the counter in Ireland – though that might change in the future. We hope…Read More
In terms of our understanding of the human mind, it is important to remember that we are only ever getting there. Not so long ago, after all, a woman who enjoyed sex was likely to be branded as a nymphomaniac.Read More
Irish author Conor O’Callaghan’s debut novel, the gothic mystery story Nothing On Earth, is one of the most gripping books of the year.Read More
Since the introduction of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution in 1983, women in Ireland have had to live with a shockingly restrictive regime on abortion, which has resulted in numerous deaths and untold trauma. Now, the Irish public is saying: no more…Read More
The myth that only men treat the opposite sex as objects, is just that - a myth. The sooner women are more honest about their lustful feelings, and the sooner society stops treating sexually open women as sluts the better it will be for all of us.Read More
Laura Kasischke, the critically acclaimed and nationally bestselling poet and author returns with a tense psychological thrillerRead More
Journalist Miranda Sawyer’s compelling and humorous new book, Out Of Time, explores the challenges of turning forty and maintaining a rock and roll edge.Read More
Liz Nugent’s Lying in Wait comes with praise from Sebastian Barry and Marian Keyes, among others.Read More
UnderCurrent are a group unlike any other in Ireland. A mix of cabaret, musical theatre, burlesque, physical comedy, banter and dance, they are also the only performance troupe in the country composed entirely of LGBTQ members.Read More
The progenitors of Britpop came to Marlay Park in Dublin yesterday – and the crowd lapped it up. Report: Anne SextonRead More
Anne Sexton gives her take on Conor O'Callaghan's debut novel.Read More
This four-piece cut their teeth busking in Temple Bar, but their journey is just beginning.Read More
With women being given jail sentences for using the abortion pill in Northern Ireland, three activists decided that it was time to act – and made a startling confession to the PSNI.Read More
First Dates offered a glimpse into the way people behave when they are looking for a romantic liaison - and maybe some sex into the bargain. But how different was the TV version from people's pursuit of a good time - and what does the history of dating tell us about how we view this ritual?Read More
Teenager David Beattie has written a powerful and insightful account of growing up trans in Ireland.Read More
The ‘dating’ app makes great claims in relation to the numbers using it. But are people hooking up and having sex successfully through it? Now, that is a very good question…Read More
Make no mistake, casual sex can be brilliant, wonderful, even life-affirming. But in the fuckzone, things are different. Because this is where a woman is just a piece of pussy or a man is no better than a dick or an asshole on legs...Read More
Since the release of his acclaimed first novel, The Spinning Heart, Ryan has established himself as one of Ireland’s most talented writers.Read More
Eighties Ireland: in a country where divorce was impossible, unmarried mothers were treated like pariahs, gay sex was illegal and condoms could only be bought on prescription, finding the joy in sex was not easy. But the excitement of it was no less real.Read More
Glenn Patterson’s latest novel tells the extraordinary story of John DeLorean’s time in Belfast – a saga of federal agents, undercover sting operations and alleged cocaine trafficking.Read More
The introduction of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution in 1983 was one of the most regressive pieces of manipulative political chicanery in the history of the Irish state. Repealing it is essential to establishing a regime in Ireland, which respects the reproductive rights of women. Let’s end the evasiveness by making it an election issue…Read More
It may be highly illegal, but Irish women - including TD Ruth Coppinger - are willing to risk jail by taking the abortion pill all over Ireland. Anne Sexton and Julia Schimkus travelled to Galway with the pro-choice activists...Read More
Life is a drag for Miss Panti - but wonderfully so!Read More
Anne Sexton chats to Hanya Yanagihara, whose second￼ novel A Little Life has been the subject of truly rapturous reviews...Read More
Men have been lectured for a long time about how ladies need a bit of foreplay before getting it on. But that is an axiom that rubs both ways – because men tend to like a long, slow build-up too...Read More
Men have been lectured for a long time about how ladies need a bit of foreplay before getting it on. But that is an axiom that rubs both ways – because men tend to like a long, slow build-up too...Read More
...Or, in a different situation, you might ask, why didn’t he leave her? Abusive relationships are unfortunately common – and both sexes are victims. But perhaps you have to have lived through one to really understand the cruel dynamics at work...Read More
Acclaimed author Glenn Patterson continues his exploration of the Northern Irish psyche in his latest book, which cherry-picks his finest non-fiction pieces from the last decade.Read More
The crass outlook of pick-up artists is insulting and fails to recognise each individual's unique attractivenessRead More
There are no rules as to how much you reveal to prospective sexual partners. But it is probably true that – most of the time anyway – honesty is the best policy...Read More
Before the gay marriage ‘Yes’ vote had people dancing in the streets, before civil partnerships, before gay people could publicly identify as such, Senator David Norris was waging a brave and often thankless fight on behalf of minorities in Ireland. In his first major interview since the referendum he recounts his long struggle with prejudice in Ireland...Read More
With her second novel Tender dealing with homosexuality, emotional abuse and mental illness, Belinda McKeon reflects on the repressive, oppressive culture of mid '90s Ireland and the perverse pleasure she takes in pushing readers' buttons.Read More
It may be the name of a cocktail, but it is also a reasonably popular pastime. So is public sex a good idea? And how are you best to go about it?Read More
Every now and then, they come out of the woodwork: people who believe that thinking, talking and writing about sex in a positive way is a sin and should be punished. It is a bit scary when someone like this tracks down your email address just to tell you...Read More
As the results came in, crowds gathered in Dublin Castle to hear them. It became on of he biggest and best parties Ireland has ever seen...Read More
The novel is about an Irish family and all their problems in life from 1980 on and written in episodic style.Read More
It is vital to gay couples that the upcoming referendum on same sex marriage should be passed. But an even bigger prize is the feeling that we are living in an open, inclusive society that a resounding victory would inspire. So, make sure to get out and vote ‘Yes’...Read More
When it comes to sex, men have it far easier and far better than women. In fact, there are ten good reasons why a sex change might just be the best option...Read More
A lot of concern has been expressed in conventional media about ‘hook-up’ culture. Curiously, however, the impact of social media and online mate-seeking sites seems to be that people are having less sex rather than more. Something will have to be done about it, is all we can say...Read More
It is an invitation that most people would find extremely difficult to turn down. But there are those who prefer giving head one at a time to the classic 69. Which side of the great oral sex debate are you on?Read More
When Hot Press ran a competition for a columnist to write about sex, the competition was pretty hot. In the end, we chose a certain feisty, red-headed female, who wrote with wit, verve and style – and whose name just happened to have the word ‘sex’ in it. Clearly it was a role that she had been destined to, um, perform...Read More
And there’s nothing wrong with that! Indeed, while sexual conservatives try to claim otherwise, the reality is that men and women are really very similar in their appetites for sex, porn and all the rest...Read More
That was the implied message in Teleflora’s 2012 Valentine’s Day ad, which featured the model Adriana Lima. Is that really what romance is all about?Read More
That’s bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism to you and me. Oh, and there will also be copious face- sitting; lots of gay sex – some of it within marriage hopefully; and vibrators that know what you like. Bring it on!Read More
During the Graham Dwyer murder trial, members of the Irish BDSM scene were sometimes depicted in unflattering terms. So what is BDSM all about?Read More
Cowboy landlords, substandard living conditions and ever increasing costs are just some of the problems facing people in rented accommodation, and many of those in difficulty are afraid to speak up.Read More
But not always in a good way! Because someone out there apparently thinks that sex toys specially designed and packaged for Christmas are, like, a good idea! Starting with the Barack Obama dildo…Read More
It’s a tough one. The man you want just happens to be hooked up — with your best friend. If you really want him, there’s only one way to go about it. But should you dare?...Read More
As Ireland emerges from a period of economic turbulence, there are now a myriad of ways to get a foothold in the jobs market.Read More
That’s a question that more or less everyone has had to ask themselves at some time in their lives. Because, modern mating methods notwithstanding, getting regular sex is still a minefield for a lot of people to negotiate…Read More
It doesn’t make sense to start blaming social media for what is a horrible crime. Because the truth is that women are entitled to go about their lives free of the fear of rape…Read More
It may be a cliché but there is a lot of truth to the notion of “a healthy body, healthy mind.” As Bressie notes in his emotional fitness tips, the food you eat affects your mood, and physical activity promotes the creation of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good.Read More
Time spent overseas volunteering shouldn’t be treated as a holiday and is only worthwhile if you are prepared to put in some hard graft...Read More
That, as they say, is a bold statement. But new research has indicated that the association that has often been made between casual sex and lower self-esteem is really a product of prevailing religious-based orthodoxies. Having sex will not cure depression. But as an aspect of a holistic approach to our well-being, it can play a vital role…Read More
She has chronicled the seamy side of Dublin in her novels. Now crime writer Tana French turns her attention to the privileged elite of south DublinRead More
Everyone else seems to be! However, the recent celebrity Hackergate scandal throws up a multitude of intriguing questions about the wisdom of recording DIY porn...Read More
We all know how enjoyable a bit of role-playing is – especially when it comes to sexual matters. So get down on your knees: our resident sexpert Anne Sexton is about to give you a lecture…Read More
Is it the Yanks with their enthusiasm; the Aussies with their frankness; or the Germans with their, umm, precision? And how do Irish men compare with their international peers? Anne Sexton road-tested males of eight different nationalities (not in the last fortnight, you understand) and is delighted to offer her educated view on the subject...Read More
It makes a huge difference to your sexual development – and ultimately to your sexual happiness – if you can talk about things openly with your mother...Read More
They have a long and distinguished history, and nowadays come in all shapes, sizes and colours – but the basic latex cock ring beats the rest hands down, where making sex better for women and men alike is concerned.Read More
A debate is currently raging about the idea of ‘Enthusiastic Consent’. That’s when you say ‘yes, please’ to having sex with someone else. But should that be required under the law? It is, as they say, an interesting one...Read More
The beloved drag queen deals with the serious business of "Panti-gate" and more in hilarious fashion in new show High Heels in Low PlacesRead More
Whoever you had sex with, and whatever he or she looked like, there is someone out there in academia who wants to try and explain it. But the fact is that sex is – thankfully! – far more complicated than your average bit of social research allows. The question that really matters is: how can we all have better sex?Read More
There are those who might say that it is an unholy combination. But from the pill through LSD to Viagra, chemical agents have made a huge difference to our ability to enjoy ourselves sexually...Read More
And you know it. So should you tell the wife or girlfriend who is being cheated on? Or would you let a bloke know if his wife was having it off with someone else? It's an interesting conundrum indeed...Read More
Social awkwardness can be endearing in moderate quantities but, come on guys, let's not overbake the pudding here...Read More
If so, then read on. For what follows is a primer in how to escape the clutches of the very scary and decidedly horrible breed known as MRA pick-up artistsRead More
It's only February - and already a series of controversies on sex and sexuality have erupted. It is you might say, a sign of the times...Read More
Is giving a gift on Valentine’s Day the ultimate expression of love or just a way of getting into someone else's underwear? A good question: now read on, for a happy ending...Read More
While the basics remain constant, the sexual climate is likely to get even better over the coming 12 months. But with apps emerging to measure every aspect of performance, there may be a few downsides too...Read More
A winner of the Booker Prize for 2007’s The Gathering, Anne Enright is one of the most acclaimed contemporary Irish authors. During a recent Q&A at the Write Touch competition, run by HOT PRESS in association with ALCATEL ONETOUCH she discussed the creative process, the pressures faced by female writers – and the subject matter of her next novel.Read More
There are some things which even a well-known sex columnist won’t do (perhaps Paris Hilton shouldn’t have either). One of the most important sex lessons we all have to learn is to respect other people’s limits…Read More
Though his debut novel suffered multiple rejections, Donal Ryan has nonetheless received widespread critical praise – not to mention several awards – for his books The Spinning Heart and The Thing About DecemberRead More
The cliché is that men are responsible for 95% of sexual harassment and rape cases. But the truth is very different...Read More
Being healthy, fit and trim is not only good for your bodily well-being – it will also make you a more attractive person. Let Hot Press be your guide to toning up and shedding pounds in time for Christmas.Read More
Well, the last thing they want – and this may go for blokes too – is to feel that they are being hounded into a ‘relationship’ on the basis of a single encounter. Never forget that there really is an art to seduction...Read More