Physical integrity includes life, liberty and security of the person; comprehensive health care and health protection; the ability to make informed and autonomous decisions about your sexual and reproductive health; and living a life free of sexual violence.
Sexual Health and Disability
People with disabilities are sexual beings. Having a disability does not make you less attractive or desirable and, able-bodied or with a disability, sex can be liberating, safe and pleasurable. Of course there are people with disabilities who are asexual, but living with a disability does not mean you can’t be sexual.
Sex is not just intercourse and your disability can make you more creative and in tune with your body as you explore your sexuality. Depending on your disability, sex may require more innovation, patience and planning. And so, it’s important to listen to your body, talk with your partner(s), and, when relevant, your health care providers. Get all the information you need to protect yourself against STIs and unintended pregnancies. Some disabilities may affect the type of birth control you use, so it’s important to talk to an informed health care provider.
Many people experience sexual violence. They face it at the hands of partners, families, people they interact with, people they barely know. There is no place or time or a particular situation where sexual assault is more or less likely. But we know that certain factors like low social status, low ability to negotiate, or something that may exacerbate the fear of reporting crimes (e.g. engaging in sex work, being without citizenship status, etc.) can make people more vulnerable.
Disability is also a factor that can contribute to someone’s vulnerability to assault. Some of us may need to rely on care from individuals or institutions, some of whom take advantage of this situation. Some of us may be isolated, or seen as an easy target. Nobody deserves to be assaulted or asks for it.
It’s important to know your sexual and reproductive rights.
Equality and non-discrimination includes protection from discrimination in your sexual and reproductive lives. In particular discrimination in relation to accessing health care and services, based on race, colour, sex or sexual orientation, marital or family status, age, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, financial status and disability.
Information and education includes access to reliable, accurate, comprehensive and accessible information about your sexual and reproductive health, rights and responsibilities in a way that is gender-sensitive, free from stereotypes and provided in an objective, critical and pluralistic way.
Sexuality and intellectual disabilities
Everyone has a sexual identity. How you express your sexuality is influenced by many factors, like your age, culture, ethnicity, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, body image, values, attitudes and beliefs. These factors also play a role in your choices when it comes to sexual activity. How, when and whether you are sexually active with another person is your choice.
Being in the know!
It’s important for people with intellectual disabilities to have age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education that goes beyond biological facts. That also teaches how to manage and enjoy relationships, make responsible choices and distinguish right from wrong. This helps to recognize when someone is trying to take advantage of you and nurtures the ability to report incidents or uncomfortable situations. It also helps to learn how to seek and assess consent from potential partners. It’s important to keep communication channels open with trusted people around you.
It’s important to be prepared for puberty and the emotional, physical and social changes. Learning about sexuality and your body prepares you for changes related to your sexual development (e.g. menstruation, wet dreams, being aroused, etc.). You may find it empowering to be able to independently take care of your body (e.g. using a menstrual cup or pad, or cleaning up after ejaculation).
Understanding feelings of attraction, developing and maintaining appropriate social skills and comprehension of physical changes may require support, practice and repetition.
Get the Facts
To have a healthy and fulfilling sexual life it’s important that you understand key things about your sexual and reproductive health, including sexual pleasure, contraception and birth control, pregnancy, safer sex, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.
Being informed about your sexual and reproductive health and rights can help to protect you from sexual violence. It’s important that you know:
how your body works
that you have the right to say NO to sexual relations of any kind
who you can talk to if you experience unwanted sexual contact
the difference between public behaviour and private behaviour
under what circumstances it’s OK to be touched by a stranger (i.e. a physical examination by a health care provider)
that touching another person without their permission is not acceptable
Know Your Rights
Understanding your sexual and reproductive rights and communicating them to others is important. Rights are about dignity, respect and responsibility. Being treated with dignity and respect also involves respecting the rights of others by engaging in healthy sexual relationships and practicing safer sex.
Sexuality and physical disabilities
Everyone has a sexual identity. How you express your sexuality is influenced by many factors, like age, culture, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, body image, values, attitudes and beliefs. These factors also play a role in your choices when it comes to sexual activity. How, when, and whether you are sexually active with another person is your choice.
Expressing your sexuality
We all benefit from broadening our understanding of what sex consists of. There are many ways to express your sexuality, some that may work for you and turn you on, like maybe:
outercourse (kissing, touching, mutual masturbation)
penetrative sex (anal, vaginal, either with a penis or a sex toy)
fantasizing (i.e. thinking about sex). Our biggest sex organ is the brain and experiencing pleasure has far more to do with how you feel about a situation, person or fantasy, than your body’s ability to perform a certain way.
Learning more about your body and sexual thoughts and feelings, as well as what can get in the way of feeling sexual (like pain, fatigue or medication), knowing where your erogenous zones are on your body and what gets them revved up, are all important steps for a satisfying sexual life. Educating yourself about sexual and reproductive health and rights issues (including safer sex and consent) can help you make informed decisions about your sexual and reproductive health when you choose to have sex.
Know your rights
Understanding your sexual and reproductive rights and communicating them to others is important. Rights are about dignity, respect and responsibility. Being treated with dignity and respect also involves respecting the rights of others through healthy sexual relationships and by practicing safer sex.
What are my rights as an LGBTQI person with a disability?
People in Canada are protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation and mental or physical disability by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and by provincial human rights codes. This means that you need to be offered the same kinds of services and supports that a heterosexual or non-disabled person would receive. This includes:
support in developing a social network
receiving appropriate sexuality education
respect and support for your relationships
access to comprehensive health care and services
If your personal care attendants or health care providers do not uphold these rights, you can contact an organization that advocates for people with disabilities to get help in demanding fair and equitable services (such as your local Independent Living Centre) or file a complaint with either the Canadian Human Rights Commission or your Provincial Human Rights Commission.
Sexual Health and Fertility after Brain and Spinal Cord Injury: Sexuality and Disability
Kaufman, Miriam; Odette, Fran; & Silverberg, Cory. The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain and Illness. Published in 2003.
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