Sex isn’t what it used to be

Deborah Pritchard

Societal norms, disabilities don’t prevent finding sexual enjoyment

If someone is the significant other of a person with a disability, he or she needs to be willing to talk openly, especially if there are physical restrictions, said Laurie Wagner, human sexuality professor.


Credit: Ron Soltys

The human body provides a wide range of sexual opportunities, regardless of physical limitations.

When it comes to sexuality, people have different ability levels, said Laurie Wagner, who has taught Human Sexuality for almost 10 years.

“If we are talking about people who have hearing issues or sight issues or flexibility issues, all those people are going to require different things in the same way that a person who is less comfortable with his or her body or larger in size does,” she said.

People with vision problems can’t tell by a person’s expression if he or she is physically aroused, Wagner said. People with hearing issues might not be able to hear their partner orgasm, and people with arthritis might not be as flexible to get in a certain position.

She said there are signs for sexual words that those who are hearing impaired aren’t always necessarily taught, but they can benefit from learning them.

Different possibilities

Two keys for people to remember, regardless of ability level, is openness and experimentation.

“Who would think that someone making out with the back of your knee would be something that feels good unless someone does it to you?” she said as an example of a unique sexual behavior.

Sex swings can be helpful and fun if a person doesn’t have the strength to hold him or herself on top or if he or she has an arthritis issue, Wagner said. There are also different kinds of cushions to push up different parts of the body.

“I think a lot of times we get caught up in the idea that there is only one kind of sex and that that kind of sex and sexuality is the right kind, and everything else is different or weird or strange,” Wagner said.

“Our definition is so rigid of regular sex,” she said. “We have teenagers who are having oral sex and anal sex and not calling it sex. We have people saying that sex should be between one man and one woman in a certain position in a certain type of relationship.”

“Again, depending on the definition, does that mean lesbians can’t have sex and that even heterosexual couples who don’t engage in penile-vaginal intercourse aren’t having sex?” she said.

A man who can’t control the use of his penis may feel he can’t have sex, but sex doesn’t necessarily involve the use of a penis, Wagner said.

“The major problem is that if we only see ‘We had sex’ as ‘He put his penis in my vagina’ or vice versa, then we are eliminating all kinds of people,” she said. “When that becomes your version of sex, you are missing out on a lot of other fun things.”

Sex and disabilities

She said if someone is the significant other of a person with a disability, he or she needs to be willing to talk openly, especially if there are physical restrictions.

Individuals should take time to explore their body on their own and with a partner to find out what their personal turn-ons and turn-offs are, she said. People’s erogenous zones are different based on what they personally find pleasurable.

“Ask what feels good: ‘Does this feel good? What do you know about yourself that feels good? What doesn’t?'” she said. “In which way can you move your body that will feel pleasurable to you and that wouldn’t be uncomfortable?” she said.

Stephanie Parsons, recent Kent State graduate whose fianc‚ has a physical disability, said the key to a relationship is to be understanding of each other.

“I guess it could be frustrating for some people, but you just have to be understanding, which is something you need for every relationship no matter if someone has a disability or not,” Parsons said.

Wagner said she thinks many people in the United States aren’t educated very well about the sexuality of people with disabilities because they have conservative views about sex and sexuality.

People with different ability levels often get caught in the category of people who aren’t supposed to be sexual and are not thought of as having sexual needs or desires, she said.

“People are kind of ignorant and do not understand very well how it is to be in a relationship with a handicap person,” said Justin Bloomquist, senior management and information systems major who has arthrogryposis, a disorder of the joints that requires him to use a wheelchair. “They are kind of quiet and stay to themselves.”

He said if he runs into difficulties, he makes his date laugh about it, which makes things easier.

“I have to meet the girl somewhere because my parents have to drive me, and it would be awkward,” he said. “I am looking for a girl with a great personality. And good looks aren’t bad, either.”

Contact student life reporter Deborah Pritchard at [email protected].