Disabled people deserve — and have — great sex. This may seem obvious to disabled people, and maybe even a little silly to call out. But when so much writing and coverage around disability comes from a medical, ableist, and nondisabled perspective, that simple truth can get lost in stigma and a sea of statistics on how "joyless" living with a disability is.
Of course, no one's experience of disability is exactly the same, and to ignore the very real consequences of ableist institutions, poor accommodations at every level of infrastructure, and the limitations of the medical industry is naïve at best. But it's also important to hold two truths at once: disabled people face unique challenges and obstacles both on interpersonal and societal levels and disabled people form thriving communities, creative problem-solving strategies, and have hot sex lives.
The state of sex education particularly fails disabled people, though. This isn't exactly groundbreaking information — most free, school-led sex education does not educate its students about pleasure, consent, queer sex, and gender in a relevant, ethical manner. But even in a wave of sex positivity and stigma-free educational media, disabled people are too often sidelined. According to the CDC, 61 million adults living in the United States are disabled, so it simply doesn't make sense that on a national level, the lives and realities of disabled people are not front and center.
POPSUGAR spoke with three disability activists about sex, their favorite sex toys, and how they cultivate pleasure in their own lives.
Roxy Murray (she/they)
Roxy is a London-based disability rights advocate, speaker, model, and founder of the Sick and Sickening podcast, where she shares candid stories from the disability communities. Roxy has lived with multiple sclerosis (MS) for 16 years. After an initial misdiagnosis, Roxy turned to activism, speaking about sex, fashion, and disability.
Murray says you can tell just how sparse sex resources are for disabled people by how sex toys are advertised and how physically inaccessible brick-and-mortar sex shops tend to be (which is so important if you need to see a toy in person to judge if it might work for you), especially in London. As a whole, the industry isn't changing fast enough for Murray. "Featuring one disabled person on an image now and again isn't making a dent," she says, especially when most sex toy or wellness campaigns don't highlight disabled people in their campaigns. Or when they do, it's token representation for toys not made with disabled people in mind.
" Do not let anyone convince you that keeping you alive is the only thing that counts as a disabled individual. We deserve to be seen and heard: it's OK to ask for more than the bare minimum."
Currently, Murray is working with the National Health Service (NHS) to improve the resources offered to disabled people, so that "in the future, medical professionals take our sexual pleasure into consideration when creating your health wellness plan."
Sexual wellness is part of Murray's overall wellness — and it's a priority for them to discuss it with their neurologist and other providers when receiving treatment. Both in regards to medical care and in social situations, Murray says, "I'm quite a loud and proud individual. I am usually the first person to bring up the conversation of sex in a room. I do that to normalize it and open the topic up . . .[Disabled people] absolutely deserve pleasure. To experience joy. Do not let anyone convince you that keeping you alive is the only thing that counts as a disabled individual. We deserve to be seen and heard: it's OK to ask for more than the bare minimum."
Andrew Gurza (they/he)
Andrew is an award-winning disability awareness consultant and the chief disability officer and cofounder of Bump'n, a sexual wellness company made for disabled folks. In addition to working as a disability consultant since 2012, he also hosts their own podcast, Disability After Dark.
A Bump'n survey found that over 50 percent of physically disabled people surveyed struggle to achieve sexual pleasure on their own, "and shockingly, no products have been designed with them in mind, despite over 90 percent of those surveyed telling us they wanted one," says Gurza. Basically, there were "hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who had hand limitations who couldn't access the human right to self-pleasure."
Sex toy options for Gurza were so limited, they decided to work with their sister Heather, an innovation strategist, to design their own resources, like the Bump'n Joystick (which helps folks with fine motor skill issues) and a book on love, lust, and disability. "I think one of the most important considerations when designing sex toys, or any product, really, is having disabled people on the journey with you, so that you can discover what is and isn't accessible," he says.
Aside from the lack of sex toy options, Gurza says a unique challenge disabled people face is the internalized ableism surrounding their own right to pleasure. Repeatedly society has told disabled people that "their sexuality is nonexistent and is not as valuable." But, as defined by the World Health Organization, pleasure is a fundamental human right — and everyone deserves it.
Evan Sweeney (he/they)
Evan is the founder of the Cripping Up Sex platform, where they host online classes and private consultations, review sex toys, and offer books like "How to Talk to Your Doctor About Your Sexual Health," "How to Find Cool Sex-Posi Queer-Friendly Aides," and "Dating For Disabled Youth." He also hosts a podcast and interviews sex educators, disability consultants, and dating experts.
For Sweeney, a career in sex education and advocacy was born out of necessity — they couldn't find any helpful information about sex and disability, so they decided to write their own handbook "Queers on Wheels" and began traveling around the country to teach workshops.
Sex toys, in Sweeney's view, aren't actually toys at all — they're assistive technology, "just like a wheelchair or a hearing aid." When picking out tech that's best for you, he recommends considering where and how you want to use a toy.
A few questions to keep in mind: do you want internal stimulation, external stimulation, something else, etc.? Can you hold the toy, or does it need to be hands-free or wedged? Can you push hard buttons, or do they need to be easy buttons to push?" When you narrow down the answers, Sweeney says you have a better chance of finding a toy that truly suits your needs.
Being disabled, trying out sex tech, and going through a trial-and-error process of finding what positions work for you requires a lot of creativity — and Sweeney says that's all part of the fun.
Evan's favorite sex toys: There's no "one" sex toy that works for everyone, Sweeney says. But if you've narrowed down your options, he recommends buying a cheaper version before committing to the higher-end option to see if it's truly a great fit. Want a little extra help with positions and choosing the right toy? Check out the "Cripping Up Toys" class to get started.