Getting Around

A wheelchair is not a chastity belt.

There is a basic disablist assumption that people who use wheelchairs are essentially sexless, or at least not looked at as sexual beings. It’s assumed that they lack feeling below the waist — and that below the waist is the center of all sexual behavior. And media images of disabled people always revolve around the wheelchair, and are usually part of a “very special episode” on cheesy sitcoms in which Main Character realizes that people who use wheelchairs are people, too, and they can even be your friend. They might even invite you to their wheelchair basketball game if they like you enough, and they’ll assure you that their disability really doesn’t impact their lives all that much. See? They shoot a wicked freethrow!

They’re just never people that you would wanna get it on with.

This ignores the reality that people who use wheelchairs do have sex, and do enjoy sexual activities — they are people, just like the rest of us! Who would have guessed.

Of course, wheelchairs aren’t the end-all be-all of living with a disability; most disabled people don’t use wheelchairs. But they are a strong visual cue of a disability, and all kinds of stereotypes are tied up in them. So I’m glad to see Tiffany breaking them down.

Nerve has a whole section on sex and disability which looks pretty good. Unfortunately it’s for premium members only, so let me know how it is.

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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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13 Responses to Getting Around

  1. zuzu says:

    Psst! “Waist,” not “waste.”

  2. Sarah S says:

    Not to be a grammer nazi, but this sentance “’It’s assumed that they lack feeling below the waste — and that below the waste is the center of all sexual behavior” says something very different then what I think you meant to say, which was “It’s assumed that they lack feeling below the waist — and that below the waist is the center of all sexual behavior”.

  3. For a racier guy in a wheelchair than the one in that cheesy sitcom, there’s always the guy in Saved! Not racy in the sense that you actually see his sex life, but in the sense that there’s a clearly sexual interest between him and his girl friend (in the roles of the two skeptics at the Christian high school).

  4. Gordon K says:

    This is one of the better “Yes, We Can ‘Do It'” articles I’ve read.

    But if I hear one more girl rave about how hot guys in wheelchairs (by which they almost always mean athletic-ish paras and quads) are, I might just go berserk.

    The devotee part was interesting; I’m still not sure what to make of that fetish, despite having looked for websites on the topic.

  5. Ragnell says:

    Wow, here’s one point where comics did manage to handle it well. Dick Grayson (Robin) and Barbara Gordon (former Batgirl) continued their on-again, off-again romance well past the point where her legs were paralyzed. It’s often implied that they slept together between panels.

  6. Marksman2000 says:

    Great post, Jill.

  7. Helen says:

    Check out the film Dance me to my song by Rolf de Heer, 1998.

  8. Jill says:

    Psst! “Waist,” not “waste.”

    Wow, I am a moron. How did I do that? Thanks guys.

  9. Nomie says:

    Sarah S. – “grammar” and “sentence.” [/snark]

    I agree with Lynn – Roland in “Saved!” is an excellent example of a character who’s not a stereotypical disabled guy. He’s got a good sense of humor, e.g. dressing up as a rollerskate for Halloween.

    Also, on the U.S. version of “The Office,” the owner of the building where the office is based is in a wheelchair, and has no problem with it. Of course, Michael, the boss, is spectacularly insensitive, but that’s the character.

  10. David says:

    I have a sister who uses a wheelchair due to her MS. We talk. I have also watched “Murderball,” which I would love to show to my students because it works well to dispel so many myths about folks who use wheelchairs. I would be hesitant to call any of the guys in this movie disabled, because most of them could kick my fully-abled ass quite easily.

    Between these two sources, I have learned a lot.

  11. a nut says:

    I posted on women with physical disabilities and their sexuality last month for my own imposed Disability Awareness Week. I learned a lot when researching for that paper and have continued it since.

    Helen – thanks for the film suggestion. I’m going to have to try and find it now. Autism is a World is a good movie, too.

    David – Maybe you and your sister would be interested in a book titled Waist High in the World by Nancy Mair; she also has MS.

    Moving Violations is also another great book I’m told. It’s in my pile of stuff to read.

  12. a nut says:

    I forgot to mention the book Lesbians on Disability edited by Victoria Brownworth, too. I found a lot of great stuff for a presentation I choose to do.

    And I forgot the link to my posts if anyone was interested.

  13. My husband and I often joke that “once you’ve been with a paraplegic, you don’t go back.”

    But it’s true. Since I started dating my paraplegic husband twelve years ago, I haven’t had to worry about birth control or pregnancy, which makes a huge difference in just being able to relax and enjoy things. And this is going to sound awful and selfish — but if the man is impotent, the focus of sex is going to be on the woman’s pleasure. An impotent, paraplegic is of necessity going to be much more selfless in bed.

    Yikes. Now I’ve headed into the territory of TMI. I’ll shut up now.

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