Ethical Brothels and Sex for Disabled People

The recent story about “ethical brothels” published by NZME has once again exposed an intolerable truth. New Zealand’s society still judges those who work in the sex industry and the consumers who’ve made it the “oldest profession in the book”.

The term brothel, and the wider ideologies about prostitution, have incurred many stigmas that haven’t changed since the sex industry became more prominent in New Zealand. Prostitution was made legal in this country over 14 years ago; it’s hardly an outrage for there to be such a high consumer base. Some critics still argue that the sex industry shouldn’t be discussed in mainstream culture; and in the disability world the discussions around this are only just beginning.

But yet, people (whether they are disabled or not) who purchase these legal sex services are labelled and stigmatized by a society that is completely hypocritical.

In 2017, society is more sexualised and diverse than ever, it’s just a question of those people who actually chose to accept that. The issue at hand here isn’t about brothels and how they choose to run their business, it’s the morals of the onlookers. Those onlookers are just like you and I, they form an opinion based on their own bias and current life situation.

It isn’t for them to say what’s right and wrong, because what seems to be the “moral” thing to do in their eyes may be entirely out of the question for someone else. There is nothing wrong with men, or women for that matter, to engage in sex services that are provided on a legal and safe basis.

The lady running the brothel in the recent “ethical prostitution” story that ran on the Herald last week raised a perfectly valid point when she said that men seek the services of the sex industry for entirely plausible reasons. Some may have a stale marriage, others may be too busy caught up in work to have a relationship but still want that intimate human touch. The onlookers who judge both those who work as prostitutes, and the people who are consumers of it, simply believe that it’s impossible to achieve such intimacy with a sex worker. That’s entirely incorrect and it’s ignorant to hold such beliefs.

People with disabilities can find relationships and achieve healthy sex lives without the help of the sex industry. This has been proven. But for those who choose to access the services that the sex industry provides, that should be equally as acceptable. People with disabilities are often looked as as asexual; this means that they have no desire for sex. Some viewpoints are often that the disabled are incapable of having sex and cannot feel the pleasures associated with it. Both claims are untrue.

Sex and physical intimacy, or the lack thereof, for people with disabilities in one of the most rampant and undiscussed issues that’s ever faced the disabled community worldwide.

 

Sex & Disability: The Sector’s “Complex” Topic

As I will state on social media when I post this blog; I want to reaffirm the message that I am writing this blog as myself, and not a representative of any organisation in the sports journalism field or the disability sector. These thoughts are entirely my own and are my version of events.

It was December 2015, and I’d been thinking about sex and disability for a long time. I knew that I really needed to turn my thoughts into action.

I started writing as much as I could about the subject. I came at it from the perspective of a disabled person, but I wanted to advocate for those who weren’t lucky enough, or brave enough, to make the decisions that I’ve made in the past. That’s right, seeing a sex worker, and especially losing your virginity to one, is a brave choice to make for anybody. It’s not the way you’d imagine that first experience going, and it’s very daunting. Following that, all the moralistic thoughts and emotions are another battle on their own.

Without CCS Disability Action, my employers at the time, the thing with TV3 would never have happened, and that’s when the subject reached a national audience.

To the surprise of nobody, the feedback was relatively negative. The ‘powers that be’ at TV3 Story turned it into a profile about a guy in a wheelchair asking the government to fund sex worker visits for all disabled people. However, most of the country saw it as the guy in the wheelchair wanting all the money for himself, and it sparked massive uproar.

In that story, I am quoted as saying that sex is more accessible for most people than it is for those with disabilities. What I should have said was that it was more acceptable, acknowledged, and probable. Because it is; people with disabilities are not seen as sexual beings capable of having sexual thoughts, desires, or abilities to engage in a “good” sex life.

The week after the story hit the media, CCS Disability Action wrote a column in the NZ Herald that labelled the topic of sexuality as it pertains to the disabled “a complex issue”. Due to my employment with them, I couldn’t exactly go public with how infuriated I was at some of the things Joy Gunn wrote in that column, and I congratulated her on social media.

The story had drawn so much criticism, and many people in CCS Disability Action were uncomfortable. An insider has informed me that the whole reason why TV3 got the tip of my work was because of a partnership between CCS Disability Action and a company called Ideas Shop.

Apparently, the story had put sexuality for the disabled into a somewhat negative light, but I was just glad that the light had been shone on it at all, because it was about time.

Joy Gunn left the organisation just a couple of months later.

One of the things I was disappointed in was when Gunn said that the organisation didn’t support my idea that the Government should fund “his need”. It was never about my needs at all, I was simply sharing the experience of how I had lost my virginity, I wasn’t asking the government to pitch in financially towards my own sex life.

Secondly, Gunn never once discussed the lack of access to money that many disabled people in New Zealand have. Yes, some disabled people work, and others are on the Supported Living Payment, but particularly in that second example, many aren’t able to save any money, let alone save enough to hire a sex worker.

In the months following that saga, CCS Disability Action released their first Sexuality, Gender Identity, and Intimate Relationships policy.

It’s my hope that CCS Disability Action and other leading organisations really do begin to start more robust discussion around this area. Advocating on sex and disability is indeed a very complex task, but it’s not an impossible one. Government funding sex workers for those with disabilities isn’t the ideal scenario, but it’s an option for some disabled people in very unique situations. Perhaps more research into such unique situations needs to occur.

Sex & Disability: The Public Morality

The issue of the taxpayer subsidising sex for people with disabilities in New Zealand isn’t about the cost, it’s the morality that society has toward the entire notion.

As has been reported previously, people with disabilities in Holland can claim the cost of sexual services as a medical expense. Recently, the Green Party in Germany pitched the idea of a similar scheme, where both the disabled and the elderly would have the costs of seeing an escort or accessing therapeutic sexual services covered by the government.

The criteria for the idea in Germany isn’t exactly robust; it simply states that an escort subsidy would improve the lives of the disabled and elderly, with the end goal of them moving on to a much healthier life.

In 2010, an investigation uncovered a similar program running under the table in England. It caused massive debate among local taxpayers, but several advocates have said that the consideration for taxpayer funded sex services for the disabled is plausible.

But in New Zealand, no such avenue is available, under the table or otherwise. The conversation is tough and the outcome is anything but plausible. The public, the government, and service providers just won’t have it.

It is hard to argue the benefits of sex, especially for people with physical conditions. The issue is, most governments and citizens don’t understand the needs, and this is in direct relation to a misunderstanding and stigma surrounding disability in general.

According to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; people are entitled to the same range, quality, and standard of free or affordable healthcare and programmes as provided to other persons, including the area of sexual and reproductive health.

This is just another example of how New Zealand, and many other countries, aren’t living up to one of their core, binding documents. Millions of dollars is spent on rehabilitation services; for people with both physical and intellectual conditions, and yet the benefits of sexual expression during rehabilitation continue to be ignored.

In a column recently released on theconversation.com; readers were reminded that the discussions about sex and sexuality for disabled people have previously been ignored. The column argued that this is because the focus is always on human rights and discrimination in the workplace. Recently in New Zealand there has been a lot of focus on education after the government announced reforms that will directly impact disabled New Zealanders rights to a fair education.

The sex industry has long been demonised, but prostitution is perfectly legal in New Zealand, and it has been for a long time. The people who work in the sex industry, men and woman, are seen as drug addicts and as contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted disease. But for people with disabilities, they often rely on a third party to help them access sex services. In New Zealand, that third party help is hard to come by.

This is an ongoing discussion; but it’s time the robust investigation into this issue gathered momentum.

Sex & Disability: Intimacy Coaches

It is time that sex and disability were in the same conversation, because this is an issue of human rights. Overseas, what is being called an ‘intimacy coach’ is helping to fill the gap for people with disabilities, and it is entirely legal.