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A struggle for intimacy

A documentary in the UK captures some people’s struggle for intimate experiences.


Can people with severe disabilities have sex? This is a legitimate question that is often considered taboo in America due to our sensitive attitudes toward sex and physical disability and our primal instinct to shy away from debating our most primal instinct.

Channel 4 in the U.K. is set to air a documentary called “Can Have Sex Will Have Sex.” The production will feature the lives of four individuals who suffer from a wide variety of medical conditions that have left them in a state largely without the possibility of and/or desire for an intimate experience, until now.

In what I believe is a very noble and humane thing to do, these men and women with disabilities are given the opportunity to experience the feeling of being intimate with someone and are able to recount their experiences in testimonials in the Firecracker Films documentary.

This encompasses individuals who have never had an intimate moment in their lives, like 26-year-old John, who suffers from a learning disability, to people who acquired their disability much later in life, like the recently paralyzed Karl, who, as the film’s website describes, “is coming to terms with life without an erection.”

As the film’s title suggests, it’s more than the physical ability, it’s the desire of these people that counts in their pursuit of finding or redefining their sexuality. It’s clear that these individuals, along with the 11 million people in the U.K. with disabilities and the many more in the international community, want and should be enjoying the physical, emotional and psychological revelations of an intimate experience.

So what’s the issue? Well, in the U.K., laws have gotten in the way of people with various needs seeking sex. Earlier this year, many care homes were under investigation on prostitution charges because of the “services” that were provided to residents. I do not think that these care homes, alleged sexual surrogates or “sex workers” or the families of these residents who have helped set up intimate encounters have truly committed a crime. These people with physical conditions or needs possess just as much desire as you or I. I would ask the 70 percent of British people who said in a newspaper survey that they wouldn’t consider being intimate with a person with a physical disability to consider how they’d feel if they were disabled.

In the U.S. we have even refused to debate the legalization of prostitution, mainly because of our overemphasis on “family values” and antiquated viewpoints about embracing sexuality. We have leaders calling homosexuality a choice. We have sexual surrogates like the real-life equivalent of Jane Lynch in “Boston Legal” and Helen Hunt in “The Sessions,” who are almost assured to be publicly shamed, thus criminalizing what may be one of the happiest moments for someone who has been through a life of enough trials and tribulations already.

I know it is too much to ask to forward our society’s views on “prostitution,” but I would suggest an alternative to the legal hassles of sexual surrogates. A disability card identifying someone with a disability should be necessary, which has been adopted in a variety of forms in the U.S. and abroad. I see no real need to demonize, criminalize and/or penalize these surrogates who seek to help people with disabilities.

We have the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which ensures that the constitutional rights of people with disabilities are protected and that they have every option available to cater to their needs so they can live life as normally as possible. It is illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability. Intimacy is happiness, and we shouldn’t infringe on the ability of people with disabilities to pursue it.

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