Dating and sex

Tips suggested by members of our online community about dating, sex and relationships

Dating and sex is as important for disabled people as anyone else, but there can be barriers to overcome in order to live a satisfied life in these areas. The following tips on dating and sex for disabled people have been provided by members of our online community, and by Gill, our resident sex and relationships expert.

Dating, sex and relationship tips for disabled people

Don't be afraid to explore

"This doesn’t need to be with someone else, and is open to all kinds of interpretation. Sexually, of course, it makes sense to be in tune with your body and your responses, physically as well as emotionally, and to know what works for you. But when it comes to relationships and dating, the idea of exploring can sometimes get a bit overlooked. It can be really useful to actively think or talk about your wishes and hopes for how you want a relationship to be, or what you’re looking for in a partner. It means that you’re acknowledging your needs, and hopefully that means you’re thinking of ways to meet them too." - Gill, Sex and relationship expert on Scope's online community.

This is your right, so embrace it

"It’s easy to forget that we all have the same rights to enjoy intimate relationships that give us joy (in whatever context you might want to experience it!) On that note, it bears repeating that it’s also everyone’s right to access free and confidential advice and services relating to our sexual lives, whatever they may be.  There is no restriction on this on the grounds of age, disability, faith, culture, racial heritage, etc; everyone has the right to information, advice, and education that is accessible to them." - Gill, Sex and relationships expert on Scope's online community.

Use alternative contraceptive barrier methods if dexterity/fine motor skills are an issue

It's important to use barrier protection wherever possible to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy. A very common problem is that traditional male condoms can be extremely fiddly if you have any issues with dexterity or fine motor skills. In these cases, it may be advantageous to use femidoms.

For those who haven't encountered femidoms, they're essentially a large, non-latex sheath (a bit like a condom but looser fitting) with an internal, removable plastic ring and a semi-rigid rim at the bottom. They are usually used inside the vagina, but the inner rim can also be removed, making it easily possible to ‘pop it over’ the erect penis with one hand,with no tricky rolling or twiddling required.

Try not to worry

One of our community members who works as a sex and relationships therapist says, “I work with a huge array of people with very different bodies, different abilities to move and position those bodies, and varying sensory issues. One thing that's clear to me is that there's often a lot of anxiety around how our bodies look, what they can do, and whether or not we'll be able to please our partners.

“I can categorically say this: your partner, unless they haven't been paying attention, already knows what shape your body is going to be (you can tell through the clothes!) and they're attracted to it, and to you, so try not to worry.”

Keep going, and try new things

Another community member says, “I think one thing that troubles us all, disabled or not, is whether we're getting it right. All. The. Time. Firstly, this is impossible for any human being, and secondly, it can often be fun to make mistakes, and even healthy to have a bad experience.” 

Remember - If you don’t ask, you don’t get

"It’s very easy to bottle out of asking for things that we want. That could be anything from an initial introduction to something new in the bedroom. However, it’s even easier to forget that if we want something that involves another person, there’s really no guarantee that they will have picked up on what it is we want. Worse, they might have picked up on it but then come to the wrong conclusion. If you’re hesitating, consider what’s stopping you from asking – what’s the worst that could happen?" - Gill, Sex and relationship expert on Scope's online community.

…but if you DID ask, it doesn’t mean that you WILL get

"And that’s okay, too! If we always got everything we wanted or asked for, there would be no space for negotiation or meeting the needs of others as well as our own - particularly important  in intimate relationships and situations. So someone said no - so what? If you can talk about it, that’s a positive. If they’re not on the same wavelength, or don’t want the same thing, that experience wouldn’t have been positive even if it had happened. So don’t let it worry you."

Nurture self-confidence

Just as important as your relationships with other people, if not more, is the relationship that you have with yourself. One community member says, “It might be tough, as we live in a society that never tells disabled people this, but try to remember you are great! You are an amazing person, and you deserve to be loved. Whether you are in a relationship or not, every morning look in the mirror and tell yourself how great you are. That way you go out into the world feeling good about yourself, and that shines out of you.”

Think yourself to orgasm

For people who have suffered spinal injuries or have impairments that mean they are unable to feel their genital areas, it can be more difficult to reach orgasm, but it is not impossible. In a sex and disability article on the Scope website, broadcaster Mik Scarlet explains that it is possible to “turn the erogenous zones on the parts you can feel into orgasmic zones, which opens up a whole new world of sexuality”.

Relax

If you have any concerns about any aspect of dating or sex, it’s good to address these, but it’s also a good idea to look on the lighter side of things. For a slightly raunchy yet light-hearted look at sex and relationships, check out Scope’s ‘A to Z of sex and disability’. You might also like to have a swoon over our saucy Mills and Boon cover recreations featuring disabled people.

Don't forget - It’s fine to say 'no thanks'

"It’s common to feel a bit awkward about saying no, especially when it comes to things like dating or when it’s in the context of a new romantic or sexual offer. It’s a common pattern that people can fall into when they’re on their ‘best behaviour’, as is often the case when it’s someone new. If you need to give a negative answer and you’re finding it a challenge, consider what it is that’s making it difficult. Very often the reasons we have for going along with things mean that we’re putting our own needs second to someone else’s, and whilst there needs to be compromise it’s also a good idea to be upfront about your preferences, likes and dislikes from the word go. ‘No’ is a perfectly good answer, and you shouldn’t need to justify it any further to make it valid."  - Gill, Sex and relationship expert on Scope's online community.

Dating a disabled person

Try not to make assumptions

If you’re not disabled but you have started dating a disabled person, don't make assumptions about what someone can do, how they live or how being disabled affects them. Disability comes in many forms and affects people differently, so take the time to get to know them and understand.

Choose your venue carefully

Be it a pub, cinema or cafe, ask your date what kinds of venues they can and can't go to. It isn't just people who use wheelchairs who can have access issues – for example, people with autism spectrum disorders may find noisy environments stressful and uncomfortable.

Tips for parents and carers of young adults

Don't think that ignorance is bliss

A community member who works with young adults writes:

“I've met lots of parents of young adults with learning disabilities, who genuinely believe their kids have no interest in sex. Like most teenagers though, the last people they probably want to talk to is their parents!

“Growing up, my brother, who has Down's Syndrome, used to confide all sorts of secret crushes and passions to me that my parents never knew about. My advice would be, if you have children who are older, engage their support in educating their younger siblings with learning disabilities about sex. It's so important they know the facts, and the chances are they'll be more comfortable hearing them from a sibling.”

Get professional support

The Family Planning Association (FPA) offers a training programme to support adults and young people with learning disabilities to understand sexual health issues. They also work with the parents and carers of people with learning disabilities and the professionals who support them. 
Looking for advice, support and friendship from people in a similar situation to you? Join our online community today.