How to Meet, Date and Have Sex When You're Disabled

You probably see someone with a physical disability almost every day: the blind man tapping his way across the street, the deaf woman signing to her boyfriend, the wheelchair-bound woman shopping at the grocery store, people on crutches, using walkers or leaning on canes. You may have thought of how hard it would be to live with the disability, getting around, doing errands and working at a fulfilling job.

Can you imagine what it is like for that person to date, negotiating restaurants, movie theaters and transportation? How about meeting a potential partner -- where, exactly, do disabled people find romantic love? Did you ever think of what it would be like for a disabled person to have sex?

Just Like Us, Only Different

Disabled people are not lesser versions of able-bodied people, unable to engage in or enjoy sexual behavior. In fact, disabled people are members of a community with its own unique culture, filled with societal norms and behavioral expectations that are different, but no less rich or meaningful, than that of able-bodied individuals.

While it is true that living with a disability is difficult, the disability itself isn't usually a negative or positive factor in that person's life. The paralyzed legs aren't bad or good ; they just are, just as people are male or female, Asian, Caucasian or African American. In turn, a disability, while physically limiting, is no more limiting to that person's sexuality than one's ethnicity or gender.

Sexual Expression

Media, television and movies have represented the sexual lives of persons with disabilities in one of two ways:

  1. A master of the tongue, who, limited by his or her lower body's inability to function, has compensated by learning to perform outstanding oral sex, foregoing any sexual needs of his or her own.

  2. A bitter, asexual person, who is half the man (or woman) they used to be, unable to sexually perform and thus no longer completely human.

In reality, issues of sexual expression and attractiveness are no more or less important for the disabled than for the able-bodied -- one's desire to be found sexually desirable and have one's sexual desires fulfilled does not simply go away because one has a prosthetic limb or paralyzed legs.

The disabled person must learn to negotiate his or her own mental, emotional and sexual terrain, just as do the able-bodied, coming to terms with their sexuality and finding the best way to express it.

Do You Have Sex?

Historically, people with disabilities have been regarded by much of society as freaks, sub-humans or cripples. Now that we, as a society, have begun to put aside those negative labels and are, instead, exploring the emotional lives of the disabled, we have found new ways to dehumanize them, asking such personal and ridiculous questions as, Can you have sex? Do you still even want to?

Human beings are born with sex drives regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability status. While other minority groups, especially gay men and lesbian women, may be mocked or questioned about their specific sexual practices, it goes one step further for the disabled, who are not asked how they have sex, but if they are able to do it at all.

Perhaps the best way to address this question is to examine normal sexual behaviors, that is, heterosexual sexual practices. While penile-vaginal intercourse is certainly a common method of sexual expression, it is by no means the only way straight people have sex. What about oral or anal sex, kissing, fondling or cuddling?

Similarly, lesbian women express themselves sexually in other ways than by performing cunnilingus, and gay men don't just have anal sex. Disabled people find a variety of ways to express themselves sexually, limited only by their physical bodies and their imaginations.

Meeting Mr. Right

If you think it's hard to meet someone special, think of what it must be like for people with disabilities. Not only do they have to deal with the usual issues of personality, attraction and emotional behavior, but they must do so in a world not designed for visual, hearing and mobility-impaired people.

For example, think about the behaviors associated with flirting. You walk into a bar, spot a cute guy or girl, make eye contact and smile. A visually impaired person would get as far as the door, and then what? Wait for a seeing person to make the first move? Start talking to someone and hope he or she is nice? Whatever the method, the visually impaired person's chances of meeting Mr. or Ms. Right are greatly reduced from those of the able-bodied.

Likewise, a hearing-impaired person can't readily engage in flirtatious banter, unless he or she is lucky enough to have found a bar teeming with people who know sign language. If the hearing-impaired person finds someone not fluent in sign language who is willing to learn, it will probably take a great deal of time to establish a rapport and move things to a more intimate level.

People with mobility issues can find it harder still to make contact. As a society, we don't much know what to make of people with a visible physical disability. We've made some effort over the last few decades to become unbiased, but given the choice between and able-bodied and disabled partner, most people would chose the person who wasn't in the wheelchair. It's unfortunate for the disabled person, but it's a simple, human fact.

For example, it is often assumed that all persons who use wheelchairs are paralyzed, and therefore unable to make full use of their reproductive organs. While this may be true for some in the community, a large proportion of wheelchair users can function sexually as well as the next person. However, as there's no handy little placard reading, Yes! My penis works, the disabled person's chances of meeting a potential sexual partner are, again, greatly reduced.

Sure, the disabled wouldn't have as many problems if they were to date within their own communities, but shouldn't they have as wide a selection as the rest of us? Most of us wouldn't enjoy being told to date only within our own ethnic or social cultures. Why should it be any different for the disabled?

Dating With Disabilities

Once the disabled person has met a potential partner, he or she faces another host of problems: dating in a world designed for hearing, seeing and walking people.

  • Consider Stephen, a blind person, who would like to treat his friend, Sheila, to dinner at a nice restaurant. First, he would have to arrange for transportation, especially if Sheila were also visually impaired and could not drive. Stephen would have to either have to pay for a cab or take the bus, which would involve figuring out the route, knowing when to get off the bus and finding his way back home. Banish the notion that Stephen would pick Sheila up -- unless she were a seeing person, she would most likely have to meet Stephen at the restaurant. Once there, Stephen would either have to ask for a menu in Braille, or, if none were available, rely upon a seeing person to read the entire menu to him. The rest of the dinner would be fine, until the bill was presented; Stephen would have to ask Sheila or the waiter to read the total to him.

  • Think about Linda, a deaf person who uses sign language to communicate. Linda would like to go to brunch and a movie with Larry, a new potential partner who knows a little sign language, but she's wary of the obstacles she will have to face. Unless her waiter knows sign language, Linda will have to point at what she wants and won't be able to customize the meal to her liking. Her ability to converse with Larry will be limited by his abilities to sign. After the brunch, they can either select a subtitled foreign film or return to her home to view a close-captioned film. Their options are definitely limited.

  • Finally, consider Allan, a mobility-impaired person in a wheelchair, who wants to see a play with his new girlfriend, Amy. First, he or his date must make sure wheelchair seating is available in the theater, ensuring the limited seating isn't sold out for the show they want to see. Next, Allan must find out about wheelchair-accessible restrooms -- are they on the same floor as their seats, or must he take the elevator or negotiate stairs? Then, Allen would have to consider transportation for the evening. Unless he is wealthy enough to afford a wheelchair-accessible car or van, he must rely on others to get around. Either Amy must drive (and hopefully she doesn't have a small car!), or Allen must take wheelchair-accessible public transportation.

While none of these hurdles are insurmountable, dealing with them can be exhausting. Able-bodied people are able to pick up and go at a moment's notice; disabled people must consider the mechanics of the night, plan ahead, and say goodbye to spontaneity.

How Do You Have Sex?

While still a personal inquiry best made only of a good friend, How do you have sex? is a legitimate question whose answer will vary according to the person's specific disability.

  • Mobility-Impaired Person with Able-Bodied Partner: The able-bodied person can maneuver the impaired person's body into different positions, stimulating erogenous zones as desired. The sexual experience -- whether it be kissing, touching, cuddling or oral, anal, penile or vaginal intercourse -- is very similar to that of two able-bodied people, although it is likely the able-bodied person will be in charge, as he or she can move without assistance.

  • Mobility-Impaired Person with Mobility-Impaired Partner: Depending upon the severity of the impairment in each partner, some, but not all, sexual activity may be possible. For example, kissing and touching may be quite simple, but penile, vaginal or anal sex might be too difficult. Oral or manual sex could be managed if both partners were able to position their bodies as needed.
  • Paralyzed Persons: Depending upon the severity and cause of the paralyzing injury, individuals with partial or total paralysis may not be able to experience a physiological orgasm. However, it may feel good to have certain parts of their bodies sexually stimulated: neck, nipples, ears, arms or any other area that is responsive to touch. The hardest part for most totally paralyzed people is their inability to experience sexual release, but some say their sexual feelings have been moved into their heads, claiming they have mental orgasms instead of physiological orgasms. If it works, do it.

Beyond the mechanics of sex, mobility-impaired people also face sexual communication issues. Think of how difficult it is for able-bodied people to ask for and get what they want in bed, and imagine how much harder it might be for a disabled person, who is already battling social stereotypes, physical restriction and emotional discomfort.

In Conclusion

Remember: disability does not necessitate a disabled sex drive. Regardless of the person's disability -- visual, hearing, mobility or paralysis -- he or she has the emotional drive for closeness, affection and sexual stimulation. Granted, it may be more difficult for that person to meet, date and become intimate with another person, but it is far from impossible.

As we, as a society, become more aware of the needs, limits and abilities of disabled people, we will become more comfortable with the idea of having a disabled person as a partner. Ideally, we will learn to see past the person's disability altogether, and learn to know and love that person as the intellectual, emotional and romantic person he or she is capable of being.

Dr. r. Linda Mona, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in disability and sexuality issues and a disabled woman living with a mobility impairment.

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2021, December 25). How to Meet, Date and Have Sex When You're Disabled, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: March 26, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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