Relax, consent for PwD is just like consent for all you walkies, with a few additives. The couple extra pieces I will talk about below are equally as important, and rarely discussed. Pay attention, here comes vague references to my lived-experience.
How Consent Is Layered For PwD (And The Complexities of Our ‘Yes’):
Consent is predominately talked about by defining No. No means no, maybe later means no. Sorry, I have to finish my homework means no. But for all our no conversations, the implications of yes are left in the cold. It’s unfortunate, because when PwD say yes to sex, we’re also saying yes to many other things simultaneously. Here’s a brief starter list of what our yeses are indirectly signing us up for:
Yes, you can see my naked (and probably differently shaped ) body.
Yes, you can watch (and pretend like you’re not watching) how I move.
Yes, you can put me on the bed.
Yes, you can see that my body reacts differently than most to penetration.
Yes, if there was a fire right now, or your boner died and you ran away, I’d be SOL, laying here naked like a bug on its back. Until the end of time.
Regardless of how much you can or cannot do physically, one thing is certain: As a PwD, you are saying yes to tangible vulnerability when consenting to sex. Not the emotional kind that Brene Brown or Elisabeth Gilbert discusses, as if they’ve just become human for the first time. Vulnerability in terms of physical safety. Vulnerability that means,” I’m relying on you to treat me with respect in these intimate moments, but if you don’t, I can’t up-and-leave.” Vulnerability that, during and after sex, means a level of physical dependence. This is important to mention because it’s a big part of our yes. In saying yes, trust in our safety is implicit.
As PwD we’re also consenting to you, our sexual partner, seeing the intimate extent of our embodied difference. This too varies with disability, but could mean anything from having a non-normative body type, to muscle spasms, pain, or differing body mechanics. It could mean a different way of communicating. It might mean taking off a brace, removing a prosthetic, whatever. And as confused or unsure as you might feel about the level of difference in our ability, we might be just as unsure about showing ourselves to you. (We might also think we’re great and not give two shits how you’re looking at our differences—it really depends on who you’re sleeping with).
The Importance of Acknowledging Power
Fun fact: When you’re with a person with a disability, ablebodiedness=power. In fact, anything that you know about the person you’re sleeping with, is a form of social power. This is why it’s crucial that during sex, a person acknowledges their power. This might sound like a load of whack, but acknowledging power is the first step toward neutralizing it. And doing so can be a simple communication, starting with “Do you want this?” Checking-in is great too. I’d rather be asked a zillion times if I’m turned on/happy/comfortable than not at all. Consent is actually very sexy. It evens out power dynamics, and opens the lines of talk for a funner (it is too a word) time had by all.
Know that as PwD, our Nos are fat with truth, but so too are our yeses. If we want to sleep with you, it’s a risk, and if we’ve said yes, it’s one we’re willing to take. Feel free to add your thoughts on consent as it pertains to disability, if at all.