Author: Leuteris Anestis
Student of Psychology
Translator: Elissavet Botsaki
As people with disability are defined, “those who suffer from any form of prolonged physical, mental, intellectual or sensory disability, which combined with a variety of other factors may seriously hinder the full, efficient and equal participation of an individual in social activities with the other members of a society”. One of the areas people with disability may experience exclusion is sexual satisfaction. Although Western cultures have achieved a great level of sexual liberation and while the number of people with disabilities amounts to 15-19% of the world’s population, Greek society, once more, seems to have been left behind.
In modern Greece, the issue of sexuality of people with disabilities remains a taboo issue. People do not feel confident to talk about it and the general lack of awareness around it, both from the educational system and the state creates faulty assumptions and stereotypes regarding the ability and the need of these individuals for sexual life. For instance, the family and the social context of people with disabilities seem to ignore their sexual needs assuming that “They have to deal with more serious problems than that”. Furthermore, while their capabilities are generally underestimated, their ability for sexual intercourse is negatively questioned, since any physical damage may be associated with the loss of the sexual identity and, in extreme cases, these people may be regarded as sexless. In many cases, if the person with disability is not efficiently educated about this issue and is not surrounded by positive and supportive people, it is possible to embrace the belief of asexuality and adopt a negative attitude towards any chance of a normal social and sexual life.
The globalized culture has shaped and propagates strict norms about the image of the acceptable and desirable body, something highly demanding for all the people who are called to follow, at all costs, the social standards. Many individuals with a physical disability are far from the stereotypical looking body at first sight, which results in low self-confidence and creates a distorted body image, which focuses on the dysfunctional parts rather than the abilities and their further use and development. Often, people with disabilities believe that they must form relationships only with other disabled people, while men usually resort to prostitutes. These commonly held views reflect the social stereotypes that are still present in modern Greek society, according to which a disabled person is totally helpless and for any “healthy” person to commit to a relationship with such a person is considered a misfortune, a “bad choice” and a “tragedy” for his family, even a shame!
However, what is the reality about sexuality and disability and what is the approach by more developed countries on this? Every disabled person has the right, and the need, to an active love and sex life and each Disability Rights movement should stand for it. Furthermore, biomedical scientists have developed mechanisms through which people, even with serious physical disabilities, can enjoy sex and have an orgasm. For instance, there are sex-aiding devices that help people stand in the right position and support their movement during intercourse. Also, after acquiring a disability the recovery is achieved holistically. So, the person is trained to be able to handle this new condition, whilst is also fully informed about the physical limitations and capabilities regarding his love life.
Western societies seem to be more open to diversity; able-bodied people dare to get into a relationship with a disabled person and there are also those who work as sexual aids, as teachers, and help people with disabilities, and sometimes their partners, to know and love their sexual body and enjoy sex, overcoming any motor or sensory limitations. The entire practice and philosophy of the sexual act is redefined and changes so as everyone, regardless of the factor of disability, can have equal access to sex life. In Greece, the education and information about this matter is anachronistic and all the disability societies -apart from some exceptions- focus their attention to the allowance policies of the state, thus paying way less attention to other fundamental rights, like that of sexuality. Therefore, it is necessary for this issue to be reviewed both by the disabled and abled citizens and scientists, whilst is also necessary for effective sexual education to be provided to people with disabilities. The only aspiration is to gradually end all prevailing stereotypes and change the overall attitude towards sexuality and disability.
PS: Movies «The Sessions» and «The Intouchables» flirt with the subject of the article and are highly recommended!
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