Annotated Webliography on Sexuality and Disability
Compiled and annotated by Sara Kragness for
History of Disability Studies at Smith college
Cover Image provided by: Disabled and Here
This document serves as a digital resource for those seeking more information as it regards sexuality within the Disabled community. This guide is to serve as a starting point and is in no way meant to be comprehensive. Rather, I have tried to highlight some key subjects that are often neglected in the experiences of disabled communities; this includes stories of disabled sex workers, stories of disabled people expressing their sexuality, the role non-disabled sex workers play within the disabled community, and finally a section regarding assault, abuse, and sexual violence against people with disabilities.
Disabled Sex Workers Stories
Sex Workers have been historically delegitimized and deeply stigmatized for the important services they provide society. For people with disabilities, however, becoming a sex worker can prove to be emotionally, mentally, and financially liberating. This section works to highlight the experiences of sex workers who are also disabled as well as different threats the profession is currently facing with anti-trafficking legislation, FOSTA/SESTA.
This article in ReWire.News helps detail the experiences of various disabled sex workers as they face the implementation of FOSTA and SESTA, two congressional bills that are intended to help curb human trafficking, but have also been noted to be a direct attack on sex workers of all backgrounds as they are limited in advertising, which then results in “a decrease of income and safety”. This article provides a grounding in the issues that sex workers generally face as a result of these policy changes but gives emphasis on how they are especially harmful for disabled sex workers.
This article is a guest op-ed written by Hayley Jade, a disabled escort, for HuffPost Personal. Hayley offers insight as to the conditions that led her to becoming an escort and the fulfillment she finds in her profession. She also offers brilliant commentary on her profession, giving readers a glimpse into the various demographics of her clients and various intimate needs they seek to address. Additionally, she shares ways she and other sex workers can make their services more accessible to populations outside of the “traditional john” stereotype that is known through popular media, that being of cis white men.
This reading in urevolution is also written by Hayley Jade, the author of the previous article listed. Here, she gets more personal about what it’s like to have a chronic illness and the benefits the profession has provided her and her overall wellbeing. Heyley details how even when she is not feeling the best, the act of self-care serves both as a means of preparation for her work while also helping her escape from her illness. This reading gives a rich detailing of one individual who has found stability and healing through offering escort services.
Disabled and Sexual
Sexuality and intimacy are wired into us all, it’s human nature to need physical touch and connection - even non-sexually. Yet, for generations it was assumed that if you were disabled, these needs were simply not present, reversely for some folks in the community were seen as hypersexual due to their disability, leaving them more likely to be raped or abused if they were institutionalized. Today, people with all kinds of disabilities are speaking out regarding their sex lives. This section hopes to reveal a bit of the history surrounding this topic in Disability Studies as well as offer readers an opportunity to learn about the different situations sexually and romantically active people face when they also happen to be disabled when they try to date and/or have sex. From tips to fetishes, there is a lot to unpack here, and I barely scratched the surface with these readings.
This reading in The Atlantic gives an excellent outline of the history of sexuality and intimacy in relation to the disabled community. Covering the roles myth, literature, eugenics, and witch hunts have played in establishing the various tropes that surround the concept of sexuality and disability. The reading then outlines how resistance to these tropes has been building since the 1960’s and the start of the disability rights movement. It goes on to give insight into the different ways people have begun to address the need for intimacy even if you are disabled over the last twenty years around the world. The reading offers many resources and offers readers a solid foundation to build their knowledge on this subject upon.
This Vice article by Mark Hay interviews Alexander Presthus, a man with CP, and Christina Casetti, his long-term able-bodied partner, and how they together have overcome his cerebral palsy in the bedroom. Alexander emphasizes that he is leaning into what he can do in bed, rather than focusing on what he cannot achieve. The interview between Alexander and Christina gives readers a beautiful glimpse into a loving relationship between a couple with different abilities. Additionally, there is a fair amount of outside resources to validate the claims Mark makes regarding CP and sex, as well as a bunch of resources for people facing these challenges as well.
This reading in The Guardian highlights the experiences of a few different folks and their online dating activity in relation to their physical disabilities. Chronicling the messages that people with disabilities receive when their Tinder matches learn they are physically disabled it becomes very clear that dating with a disability will present its own set of challenges that will need to be overcome. This article also incorporates data from a UK Poll conducted by a disability charity that gives some support to the claims being made by the interviewees.
This BBC article by Emily Yates details her experiences finding herself being called a “pretty cripple” after she shared a photo of herself in her wheelchair online. This opened her up to the world of devoteeism, a fetish that finds sexual pleasure and arousal from disabled people. This article also shares Emily’s experiences as she approached this fetish community and meets devotees who she described as helping her “realize devotees are people too” as well as people who are self-described “bad devs” and the arousal they get from the struggles that disabled individuals face daily.
This article in urevolution is written by Bruce Campbell, PhD was written to support people with Myalgic Encephalitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) and Fibromyalgia, among other chronic illnesses in improving their sex lives. Being sexual with a chronically ill body can pose many challenges and can put strain on relationships as intimacy can become harder to achieve. Bruce outlines six strategies that were revealed from research he was doing on chronically ill communities and their sex lives.
Sex Workers Helping Disabled People
This section is a bit more internationally focused (although unintentionally) and it seeks to bring attention to the sex surrogates and sex workers who assist people with disabilities in achieving intimacy and sexual pleasure as it is recognized as part of an individual's physical and emotional needs as they mature. The readings and docu-short also provide a glimpse into how these services can serve as a form of ‘hands-on’ sexual education for the clients.
In this docu-short “Sexual Healing: Inside the World of Medically Assisted Sex” by Vice Video viewers are introduced to the world of sex surrogates and medically assisted sex, as the title
suggests. “In this episode of 'Slutever,' host Karley Sciortino investigates this culturally taboo therapeutic treatment, and meets the clients and practitioners straddling the line between therapy and sex work.” Runtime: 18 min.
This article by Spencer Williams for Vice is an interview he conducts with his sex surrogate about her profession and experiences. It sheds light on the way the movement of medically assisted sex is progressing in Canada while also giving readers the scoop on the dirty details, like what a spouse thinks and how sex surrogacy differs from the services of an escort. Spencer is a regular contributor for Vice and there were many articles that I wanted to include for this webliography, but decided to just link you all to his landing page instead. I highly encourage everyone to go take some time and read more.
In this reading from Vice, the perspective of sex work is explored from the British lens. In Britain, prostitution isn’t necessarily illegal, “it's the activities around it”. This leaves an opening for sex workers to provide essential services to an often negeleted community when it comes too sexual health and education. I brought in this reading as it offers another way to view sex work and invites the reader to understand the various benefits that come from receiving these services besides “just a quick fuck”, there is an emphasis on education and giving folks an opportunity to learn skills they would not otherwise be able to develop.
Abuse and Violence Against People With Disabilities
In this final section, I wish to highlight a topic that is certainly under-discussed with current progressive circles, that of sexual assault and abuse against those with disabilities. These links will cover testimonies from survivors as well as a perpetrator of these crimes; offer more information regarding the issue of abuse and violence as well as tips for remedying these issues, and how to better practice consensual communication in sexual relationships.
This story by NPR details how sexual assault among people with intellectual disabilities “women and men — are the victims of sexual assaults at rates more than seven times those for people without disabilities.” This stunning fact is barely talked about and is punished even less. In this report by NPR they share the story of a survivor and the story of a perpetrator who was once a caregiver and is currently serving time behind bars for filming himself rape a 10-year-old developmentally disabled boy who was in his care. This report can be triggering for some as it details assault, gaslighting, and victim-blaming manipulation, however, it sheds light on the pervasiveness of these issues and should be read by those who are capable.
In this second reading from Spencer Williams for Vice, he details his personal experience of sexual assault from two different home health care workers, whom he depends on if he wishes to live as independently as possible. “Physical arousal does not equate to consent—this is especially important to keep in mind when considering disabled people.” The reading is raw and very honest, as all of Spencer's work is. Not only is this reading important from a disability justice standpoint, but it also gives space for people to consider how men, including those who are able-bodied, may have become victims of sexual abuse from women. Although this is not the prevalence of cases, it is rarely discussed as an issue for people to be aware of.
In discussing sexual and physical violence, it’s always helpful (in my opinion that is) to provide people with resources around how to have safe and consensual sexual experiences with others. I chose this reading specifically because it is from a larger sex blog/store that I found through exploring Spencer Williams’ writings. I also think this reading is just a good “How to” Consent page. Never hurts to brush up. Additionally, I wanted to highlight this company, Sportsheets, as it sells sex toys and bondage props while also offering a wealth of free information via their blog for people of all stripes. They sell toys that anyone can use, but the blog will detail how individuals with certain disabilities can utilize the products to have a more fulfilling playtime. They also offer resources on positions to try and ways to deepen your connection with your partner. They are just a great resource overall.
This is an important link to research from a study conducted by Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD) from 1992-2002 which looked at how women with disabilities received support when violence was enacted against them. There are two key factsheets at this link, along with the reference information for the associated papers. The first fact sheet gives a thorough explanation of the research that was conducted and then outlines key findings across different topics. The second fact sheet clearly defines eight key issues at length and then offers a list of recommendations for improvement.