Please note: Links from this post go to pages that may include frank discussion of sex and sexuality.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day! Across the country, couples are lining up to buy heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for each other or making frantic, last-minute reservations at nearby restaurants. Single folks may be planning a date to meet that special person. Among those celebrating amore, you’ll find people with all kinds of disabilities. Healthy, intimate relationships are an important facet of living and fully participating in the community. However, people with disabilities may face challenges as they search for love, from a lack of accessible dating websites to confronting myths about disability and sexuality.
As this series in the Minnesota Star Tribune pointed out, there are perceptions that people with disabilities are “asexual,” are physically unable to have sex, or are too helpless to consent to intimacy. The Atlantic also covered the topic in Disabled and fighting for a sex life. Certainly, some disabilities may affect sexual functioning, either because of neurological or neuromuscular impairment or as a side effect of medication. However, the truth is that people with disabilities, across the disability spectrum, do have intimate relationships, including sex. In their joint position statement, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and The Arc affirmed that “Every person has the right to exercise choices regarding sexual expression and social relationships. The presence of an intellectual or developmental disability, regardless of severity, does not, in itself, justify loss of rights related to sexuality.” That statement holds true for any disability.
The NIDILRR community has covered the issue of sex and disability, both through research and in development of curricula, guides, programs, and other consumer-level resources.
For individuals with mental health/psychiatric disabilities
- Addressing sexuality and intimacy interests of persons with mental health conditions: Recommendations for program administrators from the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Integration and Participation of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities (TU Collaborative).
- Addressing the Intimacy Interests of People with Mental Health Conditions: Acknowledging Consumer Desires, Provider Discomforts, and System Denial from the TU Collaborative
- Date Night: Things to Do with the One you Love from the TU Collaborative
For individuals with physical disabilities
- The Importance of Sexual Function, Satisfaction and Use of Aids for Sexual Activity from the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Promoting Healthy Aging for Individuals with Long-Term Physical Disabilities (Aging RRTC)
- Sexuality after Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC)
- Social interaction after burn injury from MSKTC
- SCI Forum videos on romantic relationships, sex, and parenting (among many other topics) from the Northwestern Regional SCI System Center
For individuals with intellectual, developmental, or cognitive disabilities, including traumatic brain injury
- Sexual functioning and satisfaction after traumatic brain injury: An educational manual (PDF) from the Texas TBI Model System (2007-2012).
- Sexuality after TBI from MSKTC
- Impact Feature Issue on Sexuality and People with Intellectual, Developmental and Other Disabilities from the RRTC on Community Living for People with Intellectual Disabilities
Our sister project AbleData includes a selection of assistive devices, software, and other products to help with sexual function and sexuality education.
We recently published an issue of our reSearch series covering the topic of sexuality and disability, featuring abstracts of research literature in our collection, PubMed, ERIC, and other well-respected literature indexes. This issue also features resources for people with disabilities for starting and maintaining healthy intimate relationships.
See what we have in our collection in these REHABDATA searches:
Research and consumer literature on sexuality or interpersonal relationships from other sources, including international research (there was so much, we divided it into years for easier browsing):
Many of these items are available in print through our document delivery service. Call us toll-free at 800/346-2742 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.