Professors are creating booklets to debunk perceptions that people with disabilities are asexual. 

Three Wits professors are on the verge of concluding five years’ worth of research into a subject too often swept under the rug and shrouded in shame: how people with disabilities navigate sex and sexuality.  

The key findings show that there is a lack of easily accessible information about sex for people with disabilities. As a result, people with disabilities are often excluded from discussions about sex and are further dismissed as sexual beings. 

The research is intended to equip caregivers and people with disabilities with knowledge about sensuality. It is expected to be published by the end of 2021. 

Dr Victor de Andrade and Dr Joanne Neille, from the speech pathology and audiology department, and Dr Haley McEwen, from the Wits centre for diversity studies, finalised their data collection for the research in 2019.  

They plan to distribute their findings in booklet format to various organisations that cater to people with disabilities, to ensure that information about sex and sensuality is easily accessible. 

Reflecting on what inspired the project, de Andrade recalls hosting a webinar where the general perception towards people with disabilities was that they had little desire for sex or falling in love. De Andrade said that while people who do not have disabilities have agency over their relationships, people with disabilities experienced extra levels of gatekeeping. 

“People with disabilities are seen as different. They are seen as not being able to make decisions or speak for themselves,” de Andrade added.  

Neille, who is the head of department for speech pathology and audiology at Wits, says that the research has necessitated discussions within the department about their own students. “We are relooking at [the] disability and diversity course for first years, to encompass sensitivity to diversity.” 

Neille says that the research project involved an extensive list of academics and spanned over a variety of departments, including the Wits Disability Rights Unit (DRU), the GALA Queer Archive and the Wits Gender Equity Office (GEO). 

Senior administrative assistant at the DRU, Tish White, noted that they often spend a lot of time explaining that people with disabilities are no more likely to be asexual (having no sexual feelings) than the rest of the population.  

“People with many disabilities can consent to and enjoy sex with partner(s). This may require thinking outside of the box. For example, sex with a person whose disability may require a less conventional sex position,” says White. “It’s not impossible.”  

FEATURED IMAGE: The cover of a manual written by Dr Haley McEwen for people with disabilities. Photo: Provided