How did Jane (not a real name) get a child?
This is a question that I found myself struggling to answer. I did not know where to start considering the person asking me was not just a friend, but a person I highly respected. Though I do not have any superficial disability, I have friends who have various physical challenges, who have been able to achieve more than I have in many ways. We come from societies that every phenomenon is characterized by stereotypes, some of which scream to the inner core of our moral and human consciousness. Stereotyping the sexuality of people living with disability is therefore not uncommon.
There are various sexual stereotypes held by those who lack the right attitude to disability, like my friend, or are too inconsiderate or ignorant of the subject. Unfortunately, such stereotypes are advanced towards our brothers and sisters or fathers and mothers who live with various forms of disability. Here are some of the stereotypes on people living with disabilities:
- People with disabilities do not need sex
People who hold such myths look at disability as a form of handicap and not a challenge. They see people with disabilities as people who have been seriously impended and therefore cannot perform the basic and socially essential acts such as sex. Jane for instance, is a lady who lived with a physical disability. Her limbs were underdeveloped and consequently dysfunctional. Unmarried, probably due to the fact that no man came to offer her his hand, she decided to get a child and the result was the kind of questions my friend asked. A fact is that disability is not a hindrance to a good sex life. Depending on the type of disability, there is a wide leeway of options unless one has a myopic understanding of sexuality.
- People living with disability are not sexually attractive
People with the right mindset towards disability see those with various forms of disability as –abled’ differently. With this approach, one is likely to appreciate a disabled person as an ordinary human being with some challenges.
Those with a contrary mindset may fail to appreciate them and take the challenges as permanent problems denting their beauty fabric. With such an approach, they look at the disabled as incomplete and thus negatively endowed in personal attributes.
It is worth noting that in some African cultures, disabled children were considered a bad omen and were not allowed to grow. Such a background automatically fuels this stereotype.
- Men and women with disability have more important needs than sex
Some people tend to sympathize with the people living with disabilities.They see them as people who have been condemned into perpetual suffering, thus have to be pitied and helped to cope with life. They take sex as a secondary need; a need that should be swept under the carpet in favor of more primary needs, like being helped to cope with the challenges they are experiencing. This, however, is untrue, as most of those living with disabilities have accepted their challenges and consequently do not have esteem issues; rather they don these disabilities proudly like trophies. Sex at the right time, therefore, is a basic need to a person living with disability as it is to people without similar challenges.
- Boys and girls with disability do not need Sex Education
This myth is advocated by those who feel that people with disabilities do not require sex.
- People with disabilities can’t have real sex
This stereotype is advanced by the people who hold the view that people with disabilities are disfigured. They think that the faculties that are required to propagate sexual activity are abnormal, or because of disabilities on some body parts like the limbs, their sexual activity is incapacitated. My friend who asked me how Jane had a child believed that she was incapable of having sex and therefore seeing her with a child was startling to him. The truth is that people living with disabilities have, and enjoy a good sex life like any other person. As I stated earlier, it only calls one to select from a banquet of options available, depending on the nature of the disability.
- Men and women with disability should not have children and should not be allowed to have children
There are people who believe that disability is a genetic problem and will be passed from a parent to a child. While this may hold water for some cases for instance albinism, not all cases of disability are genetic. Disability may have risen early during birth probably due to prolonged labour, after birth, due to certain infections or even later in life as a result of illness or an accident.
It is, therefore, appalling and uncalled for to hold that people with disabilities should not have children, either because they will pass on disability to them or will not take care of them. I have friends who have very healthy families and children who are in no way disadvantaged by the condition of the parent(s).
As I conclude, I personally believe a good sex life can, is, and should be enjoyed by people living with disabilities. We need to demystify our understanding on the wide subject of disability, to be able to appreciate that disability is not a synonym of incapacity especially in matters of sexuality. In fact, one Lexie Krell of University of Washington medical Center, while inviting participants to a workshop for sexuality and disability noted that disability does not mean sexual life is any less exciting than that of able bodied person and that disability does not need to describe anyone’s sex life.