Disabled people’s access to sex hindered by ideological barriers

Whether we choose to admit it or not, people with disabilities are not seen as being capable of having a “normal” sex life.

Disability is so often looked at in a negative light, especially by the outsiders looking in. When it comes to sex and intimacy; it’s a discussion that’s been brushed under the carpet for decades.

The biggest question is why? Why has this been a discussion too difficult to be had?

Sex education, as it pertains to those with disabilities of all kinds, needs to be on the agenda more. The access issues that disabled people face to sexual expression and experience are also very real. Those issues are misunderstood by the non-disabled community.

Funding Sex Workers For People With Disabilities

The Government pours billions of dollars into health budgets and social investment plans each year in New Zealand – and it’s time that investment helped people with very high needs disabilities toward a better accessible sex life.

Legislation in the Netherlands and Denmark supports Government investment for disabled people using sex services. In Britain, a programme called ‘Putting People First’ funded a young man to fly to Amsterdam and visit a sex worker, with all expenses paid.

In other areas of the UK, some local councils revealed they had used ratepayers money towards similar schemes in situations where it was deemed that the disabled person “couldn’t achieve sexual expression and release in any other way”.

No such funding models exist in New Zealand.

“Doing Things For People With Disabilities”

Perceptions and decisions have been made about “what’s right” or “in the best interests” of people with high needs disabilities, including those with intellectual impairments. The notion of someone with an intellectual disability choosing to see a sex worker is immediately seen as unsafe, or inappropriate.

This gets back to the discussion about consent and informed choices. But there is a fine line between informed choice and being talked out of doing something. Can we really deny that this doesn’t happen?

Like other areas of a persons life; sex and intimacy is another example of many people with disabilities (as well as their families) being afraid to have a discussion. There are so many reasons for that, and it will vary from situation to situation.

Let’s just stop and look at what’s happening in our society today.

Sex matters, for the good and the bad, because it is a normal part of the human culture. Let’s not put up yet another barrier for people with disabilities because we can’t look past our own definition of “what’s right”.


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.

Why I Can’t Keep Quiet: Part 2

When the Government made the decision to focus more on early intervention for children with disabilities, it was bold and uncompromising.

This blog today, the second in the ‘Why I Can’t Keep Quiet’ series, will take a look at my thoughts on the disability sector and where we are at the moment.

A lot of people would look at me and think that I am an upstart little shit with no sense of control or thought into the claims I make. Continue reading Why I Can’t Keep Quiet: Part 2

Why I Can’t Keep Quiet: Part 1

This is PART ONE in a series of “Why I Can’t Keep Quiet” blogs to be published over the next month.

I was on Facebook the other night and a friend messaged me and congratulated me on how I speak my mind about things. He said it takes a lot of strength to speak publicly about what you believe and not be afraid of the backlash.

My friend then suggested I should write a blog about this, and give my readers a bit of an insight into it all. I’ve taken him up on this and will be writing a series of personal, and revealing blogs that hopefully take you a little ‘behind the scenes’.

So to begin, I guess the first question isn’t really a question but a statement.

I am a loud mouth, I speak my feelings, and I am not afraid to talk in a public forum and challenge ideologies that I believe are wrong.

If you know nothing about Mike Pulman, know that. Continue reading Why I Can’t Keep Quiet: Part 1

Sex & Disability: Smashing down the barriers

Men, Women, Young, and Old, the discussion of sex and disability is now everywhere.

As time goes by, more and more disabled people are beginning to find ways of bringing the issue previously known as ‘the elephant in the room’ to light for mainstream society to consider.

Many people in the disability sector are guilty of putting the discussion of sex (as it pertains to people with a disability) into the ‘too hard basket’, throwing out all sorts of reasons why advocacy is better used in other, ‘more important’ areas. To have a lack of understanding surrounding sex for disabled people is wrong and immoral, but this has been the status quo up until now.  Continue reading Sex & Disability: Smashing down the barriers

Tom McAlpine’s Paths Together Acknowledges Disabled’s Need For Sexual Support

Paths Together is perhaps New Zealand’s only real legitimate advocacy organisation for the sexual rights and exploration for people with disabilities.

Paths Together was created in March 2013 by Dunedin-based Tom McAlpine and has since gathered over 1600 followers on Facebook.

The not-for-profit organisation, based mostly on social media, is a network that seeks to assist the disabled with the knowledge and skills to lead a fulfilling and healthy sex life.

Paths Together believes that disabled people do need assistance to achieve relationships and a sex life. Continue reading Tom McAlpine’s Paths Together Acknowledges Disabled’s Need For Sexual Support

Sex & Disability: Looking At Ourselves

Hiding your disability to a potential sex partner or romantic interest may just be the worst thing you could do.

The more research I do on the area of sex and disability, the more I am finding that a lot of disabled people are expressing their feelings of frustration toward how they are perceived to be asexual or ‘incapable’ of physical intimacy.

People meet and engage with new friends or potential lovers through Social Media, and research shows that this is now occurring at a near equal rate as through the traditional means of going out and meeting someone at a bar or nightclub.

In some ways, Social Media acts as a good barrier for people in those initial stages and it minimises, but doesn’t diminish, the danger aspect. If nothing else, it makes conversation a little easier and it helps someone decide if they like the person enough to arrange another encounter, perhaps this time in person. Continue reading Sex & Disability: Looking At Ourselves