A future, where increased availability to conventional notions of civil rights and increased social awareness, is a part of the lives of the most stereotypically marginalized people is happening now.
Adaptive Methods for Sex and Dating
It all arguably started with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down all state bans on same-sex marriage and requiring states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses on June 26, 2015. This evolved into an increased visibility and awareness for transgendered individuals, queer people, and now, in a greater degree, the disabled and chronically ill.
Current Statistics Suggest a Rise in Coupling Between Differently Abled and Abled Adults
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in every four American adults live with a disability. As for chronically ill Americans, that number increases to 40% according to the National Health Council. With such a large number of differently abled people now entering the social and sexual mainstream, the potential for abled-disabled dating, then coupling to occur is greatly increased.
Nervous, concerned, or worried about how to approach what could be a difficult topic or activity?
Well, after having conversations with sex educator and Hedonish.com’s Rachael Rose and queer sex performer Billie Skies — both disabled (Rose has a chronic illness and Skies has fibromyalgia) — the potential for quality, honest, and decent interactions is not just possible, it is ideally something that should become prevalent.
Empathy Is Key
An obvious first concern that many have related to the notion of partners is a heightened level of empathy regarding a partner’s disability. For those less aware, the potential of being with anyone whose health and or appearance is altered by anything outside of the very strict societal norms is, on the surface, difficult. However, in regards to how one can best understand how to proceed, Rachael Rose provides a wonderfully comprehensive answer:
“Empathy is important in any relationship, regardless of whether any of the individuals involved have a disability. In relationships where one person is disabled or the people involved have different disabilities, if a lack of empathy leads to doubting your disabled partner's experience and that they know their own body and needs, that can be really challenging to navigate.
"That said, a ‘disability’ is a broad term that encompasses an enormous variety of disabilities and the biggest hurdle is going to vary by the individuals involved. Every person, disabled and able-bodied, have a unique life experience that makes you different from the other people in your life, and being disabled is just another element of that.
"Being disabled doesn't make you any different than the differences that already exist between all people, and implying that a disability is something a partner would need to overlook to accept someone is a harmful way of thinking that perpetuates the idea that disabled people can be hard to love—we're not.”
A Growth in Global Consciousness for the Disabled and Chronically Ill
Who, where, when and why the disabled and chronically ill persons movement took greater shape in the global consciousness is again, arguably linked to gay marriage, but its growth has roots too. In this regard, Billie Skies opines, “The hard work and dedication from the most marginalized peoples from which these identities intersect — Black and Brown disabled people, disabled trans non-binary and gnc individuals, disabled women, and those with mental health issues — are to what I would attribute to the growth of the disabled persons movement in the sex positive space. For people like us whose entire lives revolve around our access to care on so many levels, it is those people who put in the most work and have the most skin on the line when it comes to the progress we’ve made, as a community, as a whole.”
Rose adds, “[It’s also] a growing understanding and awareness of intersectionality [that] has helped shine a light on a lot of aspects that hadn't previously been a part of the conversation, and that includes disabled sex. It seems like there are far more sex educators who focus on chronic illness and disability out there in the last couple years, and there's been more openness among other educators about any health issues they personally have and about how those aspects impact their sex lives.”
Abled / Disabled Coupling Impacts Many Aspects of Dating
Abled-disabled coupling as a hot topic does not just salaciously impact issues directly related to sexual performance. Rather, it’s the minutiae regarding interpersonal communication and dating that may actually be of greater importance as there’s inarguably far greater chance of dating, rather than sex, as the most impacted space of relationship development.
In direct regard to chronically ill people, Rachael Rose suggests that “If you use dating apps, mention your chronic illness (or the relevant information they'd need to know) on your profiles. For example, mine says that I have a severe fragrance sensitivity and that they can't wear fragrances around me. Our time is valuable and you don't need to waste your time on people who won't be okay with you being chronically ill or with meeting your needs.”
Regarding both disabled and chronically ill people, Billie Skies notes, “Taking the time to research the disabilities of those in your life and the specifics of their individual chronic conditions and how it affects them personally. It’s important that able bodied people put in the work to take the heavy lifting off of disabled people when it comes to learning about our lives and experiences. There are so many different means and methods of learning information, many of which are at most people’s disposal at all times, so taking the initiative to be informed and knowledgeable about your loved ones conditions can be a wonderful way to take the burden off of people who are already constantly doing so much work.”
In final, Rose adds, “[Partners] can be helpful by asking their person what they need and how they can best support them. Another great idea for dates is if you plan an outing, also plan a fun, but chill, backup plan you can do together at home or at their place if they're up for it, so regardless you have something to do that you both can enjoy.”
Ultimately, in regards to abled-disabled coupling and navigating the potential divide, Billie Skies offers the best general rule of thumb for any and all involved:
“Do not question disabled people when they say they’re interested or capable of participating in anything. This is a huge and gross way of taking away another human’s autonomy and it says that you think you know their bodies and capabilities better than they do. Sex and play are a bumpy road for everyone and it takes time, practice, and dedication to get to a point where all parties involved are enjoying themselves, so when it comes to having sex or playing with disabled people remember that just because it doesn’t go right the first time doesn’t mean you should give up. Methods can always be tweaked and adjusted, there’s always another way to try and do something, so be ready to listen and put in the work to learn how to get better each time.”
Marcus K. Dowling is a journalist, broadcaster and entrepreneur. Recently, he's had a role in concept development, marketing, and promotion for Rewind and Decades, two wildly popular retro-themed entertainment venues in downtown Washington, DC. In the past ten years, Marcus has written for VICE, Pitchfork, Complex, Red Bull, Bandcamp, Mixmag, ESPN's Undefeated, and more. As well, he's the CEO of professional wrestling startup company Capitol Wrestling.