Handicapped Persons and Sex
From Encyclopedia of Sex and Sexuality
Until modern times, persons who were physically challenged due to birth defects, accidents, various diseases, or other reasons, were viewed as “disabled”—to the point of not having or needing sexual activity or intimacy. More recently, many rehabilitation workers, sex educators, and sex therapists have become advocates of the sexual rights of handicapped persons. Not only do physically challenged persons have a need for sexual expression, they often have the ability to participate in sex, although there may be limitations on their sexual activities because of the nature of their individual disability.
While we have become increasingly sensitive to wheelchair accessibility in public buildings, this sensitivity has yet to be extended to include “bedroom accessibility.” There have been movies in which paraplegics are portrayed as having sex with partners who are not handicapped, but this marks the extent of the public’s education and awareness of the issue. Some believe it is sufficient to teach handicapped persons or their partners innovative acts and positions in which they may potentially engage. For handicapped persons without partners, however, the main difficulties seem to be social—initiating contacts that might lead to sexual involvement. There is still a great deal of prejudice against recognizing the legitimacy of sexual needs in the handicapped. Sometimes even rehabilitation center administrators believe that allowing couples to have sex at these institutions may create problems with those who do not have partners, or that it may be illegal or immoral.
If a couple in which one or both partners are physically handicapped chooses to have a child by natural means or by adoption, their choice should be respected no less than the same decision by any other responsible and adult couple. However, for persons who are intellectually or emotionally handicapped, various ethical considerations come into play. If they are not emotionally capable of raising a child or intellectually able to understand the responsibilities and consequences of parenting, should they be allowed to have children? Should our society encourage or even insist on mandatory birth control of some type for these couples? These are not easy questions to answer because the issues involve many more persons than the couple themselves. Clearly, much sex and parenting counseling is needed for the mentally handicapped since they, no less than the physically challenged and those fortunate enough to have no physical or mental handicaps, may also have very strong sexual feelings and needs.