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.

Assumptions About Disabled People’s Sex Drives & Seeing An Escort

It has been said before, but society in 2016 is highly sexualised.

Young people in particular are often focused on their image and what that means to others. With so many avenues providing instant gratification, including sexual gratification, the disability sector has a long way to go in order to address the general public in a way that will help youth.

There are a lot of assumptions that are made about disability out in public, and like anything, the mainstream idea of disability is either to pity or to portray as inspirational. In terms of sexuality, a lot of people think one or two common things:

  1. Physically disabled people are paralysed, so they can’t feel their intimate areas.
  1. It hurts the physically disabled to have sex, so they don’t.

The assumptions aren’t limited to that however. Perhaps not to the fault of their own, another idea people have is that those living with a disability have far bigger problems in their day-to-day life, so therefore, there is no room for sex.

Everybody has problems, disabled or not, and the question then becomes do people realise the positive therapeutic effects that sex can have for somebody?

If therapeutic,  is it time that disability organisations started taking a harder look at the entire area of sex, intimacy, and how that can be worked for someone living with a disability. Or, is it not up to these organisations to tackle such an area?

Many organisations in the disability sector cringe at the idea of lobbying the government to take a more serious look into how the sex lives for disabled people can be addressed.

One organisation The Real Michael Pulman spoke to said that sex is a personal responsibility, but what happens when a disabled person is so limited that this is not possible? Should it just be forgotten about?

With that said, many organisations do offer help to the people they support in the area of sex.

Advocates have tackled nearly every other aspect of disability and often they’ve done this directly speaking to the community.

Why not sex?

The problem facing anybody trying to advocate for the sexual expression of disabled people is that sex, by its nature, is such a dividing subject. Another problem these advocates face is the disabled people themselves, because research shows, a lot of disabled youth and young adults have a very negative view of themselves and their ability to engage in sex.

Being sexy, in many ways, is being confident in ones self.

What also must be kept in mind that many in the community are parents of disabled children and youth, and often, they won’t go near the subject either.

Yes, disabled people are very vulnerable, but is it not their right to make a decision on how to discover sexual pleasure?

That brings the conversation, very often at least, onto the subject of sex workers.

The sex industry in New Zealand is alive and well, but a lot of people still think that prostitution is still illegal.

For a disabled person, as bad as it may sound to some people, seeing a sex worker is often the only way a sexual experience is possible.

That in itself opens the door to another lot of assumptions.

Depending on where you look, some sex services that are on offer are actually of very high class, are clean and professional, and aren’t riddled with dodgy drug dealings behind the scenes. It would be fair to say that no one wants to lose their virginity to an escort/sex worker, disabled or not, but that doesn’t mean that a person utilising that service should be condemned for doing so.