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Disabled and Sexual

Disabled and Sexual: My Sexuality Cannot Thrive Separated From My Disabilities

Disabled and Sexual is a column by Hannah Shewan Stevens which explores all the challenges, comedy, and fun that disabled people experience as sexual beings, even while we are desexualised by a predominantly non-disabled society.


I used to invest precious reserves of energy into shedding the skin of disability, trying to displace its invisible ooze and shunt it to the darkest recesses of consciousness. You know the bit, the vast pit where we bury everything we cannot bare the look at twice. 

Dissociating from disability – and outright denying its existence for years – felt like the likeliest path back to my old cocoon of able-bodiedness and blissful ignorance of the ableism encircling society. 

I did not want to be disabled, nor could I accept it. Absolute denial and rejection, fed by my own internalised ableism, pushed me to suppress its influence over any aspect of daily living. I was not disabled, simply sickly but that could not be allowed to slow the pace of my life.

The influence of this disastrous self-deception was felt strongest in my sex life. 

My relationship with sex has always been complicated due to a long history of sexual violence, but it reached new heights of confusion when disability invaded my life.

Chronic pain and fatigue flourished at age 14, just before my first teenage sexual explorations, and a myriad of chronic health–physical and mental–conditions have been diagnosed in the 15 years since. 

To make room for sexual exploration, I suppressed my experience with illness. Trapped in a stage of vehemently denying being disabled, I used sex to escape from pain.

Losing myself to pleasure and meaningless encounters felt like liberation at the time. 

But it wasn’t some self-aware coping mechanism that allowed room to accept disability to build a healthy relationship with sex, the approach caused eroded my wellbeing.

It allowed me to bury emotions in sex and avoid acknowledging physical or mental difficulties.

The hangover of internalised ableism also played a role. I grew up in an ableist society so internalising some of that was inevitable.

Becoming disabled did not release me from these bonds. I simply turned the biases on myself, believing that I must do everything in my power to avoid being defined as disabled. 

I refused to accommodate my physical needs, such as taking the elevator over stairs, rejected the idea of pacing to protect my energy levels, and repeatedly turned down offers from support workers offering accommodations.

This abject rejection of help to mitigate the effects of my disabilities extended to sex as well.

Believing that allowing disability into the bedroom would cement the desexualisation I was already turning against myself, I approached sex as a non-disabled, able-bodied person. 

I endured sex positions that were painful, stayed silent when joints subluxated mid-encounter, and never told partners about my illnesses or disabilities. I thought that if fewer people knew, I could discard the disabled label and free myself from its necessary accommodations. 

The desperation to keep disability away from my sex life worsened my condition, increasing pain levels and exacerbating fatigue. I could not fathom uniting these two parts of myself successfully.

But I had to in order to survive. However, I took a big misstep on the way. 

Somehow, in my journey to accepting disability and accommodating its existence in daily life, the pendulum swung from rejecting the label to overidentifying with it. Disability consumed my life. It dictated every decision and the other pieces of my personality got drowned out by its demands. 

While ingratiating myself with the disabled community was life-saving, I fell into the belief that disability must dominate my life. Divorcing from disability or being consumed by it felt like my only two options. Either I could live as a disabled person presenting as non-disabled or I must merge disability into my life as an overwhelming force.

Spoiler: neither worked. Both approaches to disability forced a split in my personality and complicated my sex life. It was like watching all the layers of my life float away from each while I desperately tried to stick them together again. 

After an initial immersion into disability, I pulled back and recognised that embracing a disabled identity did not require eliminating all the others parts of me. While accepting day-to-day accommodations and learning to thrive as a disabled person happened quickly, stripping away the influence over my sex life was a harder battle.

I still felt like my sexual and disabled identities were incapable of co-existing, a result of internalised ableism and my misguided belief that disabled people couldn’t be sexy or sexual.

Discovering a world of disabled activists and their unflinching approach to discussing sex cracked open the window and my desire to unite these two sides of myself shattered that final barrier. 

The key was using pleasure as pain control. Seeing the power pleasure could have in managing my daily health made room for intertwining these two identities.

Suddenly, pleasure and disability were not so far from each other.

Finding the right balance is an ongoing journey, however, I learned to stop hiding my disability from my partners. I am no longer afraid to communicate my disabilities and educate people about how sex sometimes needs to be modified for disabled folks. 

Through a whole lot of trial and error, the lesson crystallized in my mind. My sexuality cannot thrive when it lives in total isolation from disability, nor can it survive if being disabled is allowed to become my only defining characteristic. 

Dissociating from either identity suppresses both and suffocates any hope of thriving. Forging a bond between sexuality and disability has liberated me from internalised ableism and built a steel foundation to grow from.  

All parts of our identity are fluid and super glueing these two sides of myself together is unnecessary, but allowing a connection to form has saved my life from fracturing into two sides. 


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Disabled and Sexual: How Decades of Overmedicalisation Influenced my Sex Life

TW: This article contains mentions of child and adult sexual abuse and assault as well as medical ableism and neglect, please take care when reading.


Disabled and Sexual is a column by Hannah Shewan Stevens which explores all the challenges, comedy, and fun that disabled people experience as sexual beings, even while we are desexualised by a predominantly non-disabled society.


With the ominous chime of cheap plastic curtain rings, the doctor separates us from my mum. After placing me on the bed, she examines my vulva and conducts what I later learned was a hymen check.

Frozen in place, I submitted to her ministrations and silenced the protests trying to escape my head. “Just do what you’re told,” I thought. “Be a good patient and then you can go home.” I was eight years old. 

Medical professionals have long held a monopoly over my body. From being poked and prodded to quizzed and demeaned, they have dictated how my body is treated, how its symptoms are managed and how much information I receive about my diagnoses. 

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Disabled and Sexual: We Don’t Want Ableists at our Sex Parties

Disabled and Sexual is a column by Hannah Shewan Stevens which explores all the challenges, comedy, and fun that disabled people experience as sexual beings, even while we are desexualised by a predominantly non-disabled society.


The desexualisation of disabled people is a tale as old as time. In my first column for The Unwritten, I outlined the historic battle disabled people have fought against rampant desexualisation. Sadly, the presumption that none of us are interested, or capable, of sex endures largely unchallenged and is now openly supported by fellow disabled people. The latest a Twitter user claiming to speak a thought preying on everyone’s mind,

Why would anyone bring a wheelchair user to a sex party? 

To state the obvious: disabled people are sexual beings. A physical, mental, developmental, or intellectual disability does not spell the end of sexual pleasure, romance, or partnered sex. 

If you’re one of the people who readily agreed with this hellishly rambling Twitter thread, then it’s time to broaden your horizons.

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Disabled and Sexual: Allowing Myself to be Vulnerable in Dating

Disabled and Sexual is a column by Hannah Shewan Stevens which will explore all the challenges, comedy, and fun that disabled people experience as sexual beings, even while we are desexualised by a predominantly non-disabled society.


I am in pain, like always. Except, now, I am lying in the dark beside someone that I barely know, wondering whether they are capable of handling the knowledge that every nerve in my body is screaming in agony. 

I can hear the subtle tug of breath that says they are seconds away from falling into a deep sleep. Part of me is thankful because I can mask symptoms far easier next to a sleeping partner, instead of a fellow insomniac. Another part feels the loneliness and frustration knocking at the door, informing me that they will be accompanying the pain until dawn breaks. 

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Disabled and Sexual: The Met Police Guidance on Women’s Safety is Useless to Disabled Women

TW:  This article discusses sexual violence, domestic abuse and abuse towards women and femmes, in particular disabled women and femmes. It also mentions police misconduct as well as the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa. Please practice self-care. 


Disabled and Sexual is a monthly(-ish) column by Hannah Shewan Stevens which will explore all the challenges, comedy, and fun that disabled people experience as sexual beings, even while we are desexualised by a predominantly non-disabled society.


This month, the Metropolitan police’s misguided advice on women’s safety, reminded every woman and femme of the inescapable knowledge we live with daily: none of us are safe.

The Met advised anyone concerned about being approached by a lone male police officer to ring 999, “shout out to a passerby, run into a house or wave a bus down” for help. It also suggested quizzing the officer on their reasons for the stop. 

In the wake of the trial of Sarah Everard’s killer and the murder of Sabina Nessa, the police’s PR face has been an undeniable mess but for disabled folks, the latest advice felt particularly ignorant and exclusionary. 

A blind person cannot easily flag down a bus for help, a wheelchair user may not be able to run for their life and a non-verbal person is incapable of quizzing a police officer. 

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Disabled and Sexual: Disabled LGBTQ+ People Deserve to Feel Welcome in Queer spaces

Disabled and Sexual is a monthly(-ish) column by Hannah Shewan Stevens which will explore all the challenges, comedy, and fun that disabled people experience as sexual beings, even while we are desexualised by a predominantly non-disabled society.


If you took one look at a Pride parade or any of the capitalist Pride advertising during June, you’d be forgiven for assuming that disabled people are almost non-existent in the LGBTQ+ community. 

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Disabled and Sexual: How Internalised Ableism Gave me Sexual Imposter Syndrome

Disabled and Sexual is a new monthly(-ish) column by Hannah Shewan Stevens which will explore all the challenges, comedy, and fun that disabled people experience as sexual beings, even while we are desexualised by a predominantly non-disabled society.


In daily life, the words ‘I am an imposter’ play on an interminable loop in my head. Most of the time, I shrug them off and dive back into whatever I’m doing, but when those words pop up during sex they are much harder to ward off.

Those words are also the reason you’re reading my second column a lot later than I intended. The original theme of this month’s column was very different and although you will still read it in June, these words just had to come first.

Every time I sat down to write, I felt like the word ‘imposter’ was emblazoned across my forehead.

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Disabled and Sexual: How the Historical Desexualising of Disabled People Still Impacts Our Sexuality Today

Disabled and Sexual is a new monthly(-ish) column by Hannah Shewan Stevens which will explore all the challenges, comedy, and fun that disabled people experience as sexual beings, even while we are desexualised by a predominantly non-disabled society.

One of the most pervasive myths about disabled people is that we’re either incapable of or disinterested in sex. As a result, society desexualises us because people genuinely believe that no one could possibly find a disabled person sexy. Well, I’m here to tell you that they’re very wrong.