Sexual Consent: What A ‘Yes’ Can Mean For PwD


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 we can or cannot do physically, one thing is certain: As a PwD, we 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.


Not Adding Up: Manliness and Disability

Disability and manliness are like two old lovers who’ve had a horrible falling out and can no longer bare to be in the same room together. Though they actually share a lot of the same struggles, their goals are so starkly different that they wouldn’t dare try to reconnect, nevermind look each other in the face. And out of respect for the way things are, everyone abides by this, with manliness on one side of the room and disability off crying in a hopefully-wheelchair-accessible bathroom somewhere.

It’s sad really, they could totally chum-it-up if they both acknowledged their common elephant in the room: vulnerability. Vulnerability has been by both of their sides for as long as either can remember, in fact, I’m pretty sure she’s the mutual friend who introduced them.

But anyways, I super digress. Today, I’d like to talk about the way manliness and disability don’t jive (you know, beyond the obvious “disability doesn’t play nice with anyone” stuff) , a comparative example showing the disconnect, and then a shot in the dark at how to unite the two.

Manliness: The Norm of Norms

Way back a little bit after dinosaurs, being manly was the only acceptable plight of being. This dates back to Aristotle (and probably before him), who said that women have “improper form” and are “monstrosities.” A woman named Nancy Tuana has renamed this the view “Misbegotten Men,” which clearly indicates that men were seen as the ultimate normative standard.

Add time and a population pregnant with– well– women, and this standard evolves into bland old gender stereotypes with men at the centre and women being all hysterical and such. As a society that commonly defines ourselves by our affinity for dichotomies, we see men as natural and women as unnatural. Ideas of stoicism and strength are quickly elevated and idealized.

Oops, Disability

If throwbacks to early histories tell us that manliness was the only way to go, you can only imagine the type of stuff being said about disability. More than just a deviation, disability was/still is considered an anti norm, a spectacle, often “exhibited as freaks,”(Integrating Feminist Theory, 7). Exploited for what I call points of difference from ablebodied norms, disability was the opposite of anything anyone wanted to see, outside a circus setting. It’s the furthest away from our standards of manliness and beauty as you can get, a direct reminder of human flaws, a stiff shot of non-conformity.


The thing that unites disability and manliess is that they’re both unachievable essentializations; one is a desired standard and the other a fascinating performance. They exist in the realm of human categorization, of measurability, and both do an adequate job of denying human’s humanity. Moving up to present-day, I have two examples of vulnerability, one portraying men, and the other people with disabilities. Both photo collections, the first depicts ablebodied men in their gitchies, in a space where they feel comfortable, baring their unaltered bodies for the viewers. It’s poignant, and by way of exposing vulnerability, very de-sexualized (since norms tell us manliness and vulnerability cannot coincide). The second photo grouping, which shows disabled people also in their underwear, aims to bring up sexuality in the realm of disability.

It’s interesting that two photo essays with almost exactly the same requirements(near-nudity in home spaces to demonstrate realness) can have completely different narratives propelling them. Taking pictures of ablebodied men in their homes, whilst stripped-down is exposure, vulnerability, while capturing disabled people at home in their nickers is apparently sexing them up. This distinction is reinforced by the comments below each post, with the article featuring ablebodied men inciting intelligent, discussion- driven comments like:

I was intrigued with the notion of getting away from violent imagery to portray masculinity, but as I scrolled through the photos what struck me was that — with the exception of the man holding the flower — they all look melancholic. Is that the message — take away aggression from men and they look like they lost their best friend? A man without aggression can be giddy, lively, loving and funny, too.


I’m off to the gym.

The article conveying disabled people “stripped” on the other hand, provoked uncomfortable reactions like:


“What did I just see…?”

“We really don’t need to see naked pictures of anyone,”Quite silly, being that none of the people portrayed in these photos are full-frontals, and shadows and angling are used very appropriately.

And, my personal favourite:


Since an article often speaks through its comments, this tells me that either the readers of Daily Mail UK are their own breed of trolls, or that they have simply internalized a chunk of discomfort around disability and sexuality that they haven’t yet gotten around to shaking off. Naturally, I submitted a hefty comment on re-evaluating societal standards of acceptable sexuality, but it was moderated, and the post was then closed to commenters. There’s 3 minutes of life I’ll never get back.

Maybe commenters of the able-bodied photo essay were just more open-minded than your average Joe on Daily Mail, but even so, I think this speaks volumes about what we’re open to discussing—male concepts of vulnerability and its implications—and what wer’e not—sexuality of persons with disabilities. This is fascinating, because it seems that both articles have similar end-games, in that they want to change norms around sexuality, and yet they are received with starkly different reactions by readers.

I don’t have concrete answers for the gap we face with acceptance of vulnerability, in the contexts of manliness or disability, but I like to think reminding others of their commonalities (deviation from the norm, disapproval from the mainstream, unachievable standards of performance), we can move towards more positivity on both fronts. Because divided we fall,or whatever.

Huge Disclaimer: If you are a family member who likes to think of me as innocent, please don’t read this blog. Love you mom. They’ll be other blogs. That goes for you too, Uncle Steve.I’m rating this blog 18A because I can, and because the subject matter is not for kids.

A few weeks back, Andrew Gayness and I were having our usual conversation–which, if by some flaw in the universe you are unaware of Andrew and my routine–consists of mutual bitching about our lives, then competing (in a friendly way) over our recent successes, and then more comiserative (<–apparently not a word. Definitely should be.) lamenting with some angsty laughs and half-joking insults throughout. It’s positively magical and entirely thriving.

During this specific bitchfest, Andrew and I were broaching our favourite topic–sex (with other people; even if Andrew were straight, it’d be disgusting and impossible. Not because we’re both wheelies you ignorant bastard, but because we hate each other so deeply it’s admirable). I was talking about my most recent romp, complaining mostly, something about how I suck at sex and men aren’t very patient with me, when Andrew said something that surprised me:

” I know you’re feeling rejected on 5 levels, but dude, you don’t even like sex.”

I felt myself inhale, but I couldn’t exhale. He was right.

“Wha–no. What do you mean?” I swear, when people realize things about me for me, before I do (always), it feels worse than realizing the 90s were pretty much a decade and a half ago.

“Sex is painful for you at best,” he added patiently.

Even though Andrew regularly makes me vomit in my mouth, he has wisdom that is like a splash of cold water. His explicit grossness is kinda like cold water too though–today he explained to me the sexual act of feltching–.For all you kinky curious cats reading this, Don’t look it up. You can’t un-know it, and if you’re cursed with the knowledge of it, 1)I’m so sorry for your loss of innocence and 2) You can now fully appreciate how Andrew’s gross depictions are a dose of ice water.

Like always, because this is a blog and i don’t care as much as I should about writing style, I digress. From here on in, Drewsies and I deconstructed this idea of me not “liking” sex, arriving a different end points. His end point sounded very similar to his life mantra lately, which, if I may be so bold, is something like embrace your difference wherever applicable. He’s very much of the mindset that sexuality should be as much a sensual experience as a “standard” sexual one (whatever that is). If this cannot be achieved, le coitus should not be had. My endpoint looked something like a confused mix of denial, uncertainty,  conformity, and a whole bunch of other garbledeegook I’m too emotionally constipated to write about.

It’s common knowledge that sex is everywhere, but the internalization of sex because its sex, despite possible discomfort, is like this little tiny secret that is not even a fully formed thought and yet somehow has the power to change my behavior. Excuse the run-on sentence. What I mean is, sex is multi-layered, for me and maybe for other people, and depending on which layer wins out on any given day, can change my course of action. The layers look something like this:

  • Layer One: I’m a sexual being, attracted to pheromones, symmetrical faces and abs, with good personalities as a super bonus.
  • Layer 2:I’m a sexual being who’s got this motive for “love” crashing smack into it on my hierarchy of needs chart. Recipe for disaster.
  • Layer 3: I have a sex drive (just kidding, mom).
  • Layer 4: conventional sex hurts me.
  • Layer 5: I’m so focused on ideas of fun sex, acceptance and living it up that I actually manage to block out that most typical sex is somewhat unpleasant for me.

The layers go on and on for ever, but I’ll spare you the full-blown diary entry. The reason I write this is because I know I’m not alone in this huge, murky pile of denial and carefully constructed standards. I’m standing here wading the the swamp of my own making, wondering how and when I’ll leave this denial. I like sex, but I don’t like sex in the way most people typically think of it. And I was so delusional about this fact that I’ve written an entire post discussing how everyone needs to stop assuming disabled woman can’t have sex. Don’t misunderstand, the stereotype of disabled people being asexual or unable to have sex does need to be destroyed, if for no other reason then that generalizations serve no positive purpose in a context like that.But I wrote that article with no thought to the intricacies of what I’m fighting for–to be viewed as equal, or the same, in many respects. In doing so, I totally just ignored the fact that sex is, for me and some other wheelies, always going to be different. Denial to the max.

I think I’ve got a lot of exploring to do.