December 21, 2021

Let's talk about sex...and disability

Sex is a largely taboo subject within society. It is often scrutinised and vilified, making it very hard to have open and honest conversations, particularly beyond contraception and procreation. As a result, educational resources around sexual desires and pleasure are heavily lacking, and many of us wonder how we can fulfil our sexual needs.

Abraham Maslow was a pioneer for describing and explaining what human needs are. He proposed a model highlighting different levels of needs, often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid, with the most fundamental needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualisation at the top (see image below). Maslow was the first to make a distinction in physiological needs being essential needs for humans. Still, more significantly, he was the first to shed light on sex being a physiological need. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often used as a standard framework to measure human needs, but as sex is still highly stigmatised, it is often overlooked and ignored as a need.

Image Description: A Pyramid divided into 5 rows, each row with a different colour. Starting from the bottom row in red, the text reads "physiological needs".  The second row is in orange and the text reads "safety and security". The third row is in yellow and the text reads "love and belonging". The fourth row is in green and the text reads "self-esteem". The fourth row is in purple and the text reads "self-actualization".
Maslow's Hierachy of Needs

Add disability to the mix, and it becomes a much more complex conversation when it doesn’t need to be. For people with disability, it is harder to express themselves regarding sex because able-bodied people often expect or assume that we don’t have the same urges or needs as they do. This can make the conversation tricky and awkward to navigate, so many people avoid the discomfort by not discussing it at all.

I was 27 the first time I was asked about my sexuality. The conversation centred around my needs and desires, and we touched on avenues to explore my sexuality further. While I appreciated the conversation, I wish someone would have asked me these questions much earlier in life, especially when transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. Incorporating these conversations at earlier stages of life helps promote ordinary living for people with disability. It makes us feel included and opens up space for us in the conversation. Beyond that, creating a sex education space that is open, curious, and ever-evolving could benefit all humans, not just those of us with disability. When attending sex education in high school, I wondered if I could ever engage in sexual experiences as the information was always centred around the able-bodied standard. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any sex education tailored to people with disability growing up, and that leaves us in the dark, which is ultimately dangerous and damaging.

As a person with a physical disability, I cannot do most things myself without support. This extends to masturbation. I’m unable to do it manually because I don’t have fine motor skills, so I rely on sexual assistive devices to support stimulation. When using a device, I need someone to set it up for me, leave the room while the device is being used and then come back in to help with the clean-up afterwards.

Finding a suitable device is extremely difficult due to my disability, especially as there is no try before you buy policy (obviously!). Further, all the reviews are written by able-bodied people. Over the years, I have wasted a lot of money on toys that weren’t compatible with me. While it has been an exciting learning experience, throwing money away on something you cannot use is frustrating. Therefore I’m excited to partner up with Stabilise. Stabilise is a Melbourne-based company that specialises in offering people with disabilities and those requiring support the opportunity to access adult sex toys and products to meet their individual circumstances. In my partnership with Stabilise, I will be offering open and honest reviews on a range of sexual assistive devices that I have tested. While I’m aware that I won’t be able to cover everyone’s needs, I hope to offer some insight into how to operate these devices with limited physical capacity. Through these reviews, I aim to fill in some of the gaps in the sex-related content available for people with disability and hope to help others make more informed decisions about sexual assistive devices.

Without further ado, please enjoy my first review through Stabilise!

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