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The Shocking Effect of Ableism on Sex and Living with a Disability

by | May 21, 2022

Can you remember the last time you had a meaningful conversation with someone who has a disability? Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind isn’t what it should be. Culture today often stigmatizes those with and without visible disabilities. This has created an environment that makes those with differences feel less than others, but the truth is – we should embrace our differences. They make us unique and must be celebrated. 

Studies about sex and disability are many, but the findings of surveys show that inclusivity efforts from businesses and community members are lacking in the eyes of those with disabilities. 

What exactly do people with disabilities feel about their accommodations? 

Through a recent partnership survey by OnePoll and LELO, we can gain insight into what we are doing well and what needs improvement. For starters, we need to stop thinking about people as disabled. When you see someone different and think of them as disabled, it’s called ableism

In a nutshell, ableism is acting as if someone with a disability is less than you. Now, it’s possible to take part in ableism without knowing. The best way to overcome this is education on the subject. People worldwide deal with ableism daily, affecting every facet of their lives.

It can manifest itself in ways that you can easily overlook, such as not having captions on TV in public places. The assumption is that everyone can hear and understand what is being said. 

The last time you saw someone with a physical uniqueness, what were your thoughts? It’s easy to make snap judgments, and they aren’t always your fault. They can manifest themselves as intrusive thoughts. It’s never a good idea to take someone’s word when talking about people’s feelings. So, what percentage of people with unique attributes feel they are judged for trying to live their lives?

The results are shocking. 

People living with disabilities, both visible and invisible, feel there is a lack of appropriate options when using dating apps, according to the survey by OnePoll and LELO. One in eight people in North America (12.5%) feel that there are no dating apps that connect them to people like themselves. 

Imagine the last time you connected to Grindr – how was the reception of your profile? If you were talked to and had a match with someone, imagine now telling them that you have a disability before meeting them. The stakes are high on dating apps for anyone, but a disability amplifies these fears. The discrimination against people with disabilities can be so overt that 34% of respondents in the LELO survey shared the impression that people with disabilities have no interest in intimacy. How could a disability ever indicate that someone isn’t interested in intimacy? 

You can express intimacy in multiple ways. 

Intimacy is not one size fits all. Sometimes ableism can be insidious, such as when someone with a visible disability goes to the store to purchase intimate personal care items. More than 1-in-4 North Americans with disabilities feel judged when purchasing items like condoms, lubricants, or intimate toys. The numbers serve as a humble reminder that we are all human, regardless of how we look or live our lives. 

Just because something sucks doesn’t mean we can’t make it better. No, we don’t mean the disability – we’re talking about business. Think about the last time you bought a sex toy. Why did you make the purchase? Likely because the marketing pointed toward exploring your body more intimately. 

What if, instead, we marketed these toys as self-love products so everyone can feel good about themselves? Instead of an isolating message amplified through other judgment, we embraced that everyone is unique and deserving of love?

Isn’t that what our community is supposed to be about? What are your experiences and thoughts when you meet someone with a disability? Are you guilty of ableism? If so, how would your world be a more inclusive and better place? 

To contextualize why this is important, you should know that 80% of people in the LELO survey who have a disability have been referred to as the wrong sexuality. Nobody should experience being incorrectly labeled, especially when there’s nothing indicating sexuality. 

We hate it when someone calls us straight unless you’re a hypermasculine ‘masc4masc’ guy. It kind of makes our skin crawl and may induce an “oh honey, bless your heart” in the tone of Reba McEntire. 

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Sean Kivi

Sean Kivi


Sean Kivi holds a master's degree from the University of Nottingham in translation studies from Spanish to English. He specializes in writing about gay culture and its influence on discourse. Sean speaks Spanish fluently and focuses on translating gay-themed literature to English and analyzing the discourse to understand how our culture is universal yet distinct in countries worldwide. He has translated for authors in Mexico and completed case studies related to machismo and its influences on gay culture in Latin America.

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