Joy Gunn: Sex for disabled a complex topic

Being disabled does not make someone less human but should the Government pay for sex workers?
The desire for love, companionship and intimacy is a very human and basic need most people experience. Photo / Getty Images
The desire for love, companionship and intimacy is a very human and basic need most people experience. Photo / Getty Images

Should the Government fund sex workers for disabled people?

The controversial question was posed on TV3's Story last week with one young man's call for such support for himself and other disabled people.

It has opened debate on what some would say is a taboo topic; disabled people, sex and sexual relationships.

For many people the idea of disabled people needing or wanting sex seems to be something entirely new to think about.

However, for many disabled people - and for CCS Disability Action - this topic isn't new. But it is complex.

Sex for non-disabled and disabled people alike is an individual issue. People have different needs, expectations and of course different experiences. So, it's personal. Which makes asking people to help - or to support you to have sex - a very intimate act in itself.

Perhaps to some degree it's even more intimate and courageous than the sex act itself.

Admitting you can't find someone to love you or want you, and that you need help to feel the touch of someone else must be an incredibly humbling and vulnerable experience.

As an organisation supporting disabled people across the country for eight decades now, CCS Disability Action has been trying to give as much dignity and discretion to this issue as possible. But we haven't ignored it. We support disabled people to learn about sex, talk about it - and yes - experience it.

What we believe is that everyone we support is a unique person with very human needs. Being disabled does not make someone less human.

So, we've partnered with other organisations to run sex education workshops for parents and teens, including the upcoming sex and intimacy workshop for young people at our national youth-focused event The Gathering in Wellington this weekend.

We also support disabled people to talk to family and loved ones about their sexual orientation and we help adults to find and access sex workers.

This help is given when we're invited in. We understand not everyone wants us in their lives, knowing their most personal desires. We respect that.

We also respect that for the young man on TV3 using sex workers is not his ultimate desire, but meets a very human need. Where we differ with him is we don't agree his need should be funded by the Government.

CCS Disability Action believes this idea sends some negative messages.

First, that paying for sex is the only way any disabled person can have a physical connection. We know this is not true.

Many disabled people have partners and loved ones in their lives, including people who have high support needs.

Secondly, this call for government funding of a personal issue goes against the demand by many disabled people to have the "same lives" as others - to get the same rights but also have the same responsibilities.

Some of them will question why they should not have to pay for sex as others do. I'd also like to point out that while Story's emphasis was on a "red-blooded young male" wanting sex, it did not explore the needs of disabled women when it comes to sex. As far as I'm aware (and I admit to not being too knowledgeable here) there aren't a lot of male sex workers available to disabled women.

So, when we're talking fairness, disabled women can be seen as more disadvantaged in terms of accessing sex than disabled men.

And is it really sex we're talking about, or intimacy, relationships and love? It's been argued that our view of sex and intimate relationships as a human right is ridiculous.

Perhaps it would be better to say that the desire for love, companionship and intimacy (including physical intimacy) is a very human and basic need most people experience.

And most people don't have to pay for it if they don't want to.

If they do, however, pay for it we are clear the Government shouldn't be asked to fund this. That to us is a personal decision. That said, perhaps it's time the issue of sexuality and disabled people was discussed more openly.

Perhaps only then will we have acceptance of disabled people as people who want the same things others have, including sexual relationships.

Joy Gunn is national manager of quality, innovation and development for CCS Disability Action.

- NZ Herald

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