I Can Do That, Too: Relationships and Sexuality for People with Disabilities

Written by ETI Content Writer Hillary Dolinsky

Across society, many people make assumptions about our interests and hobbies depending on our identities. We tend to assume that all women want to be moms, that college is the best choice for everyone, and that busy people are more productive.

Yet when it comes to disabilities, we throw these social norms out the window and assume that if someone has a disability, whether physical or learning, he or she must not care about relationships, careers, or setting goals. It is almost as if we think that people with disabilities are no longer entitled to experience social norms—heartbreaks, lust, independence, education, hobbies, and romance—in the same way that able-bodied people do. Too often we group a person’s entire being into one label, forgetting that people are made up of so many different, unrelated identities.

We’re here to say, “Hey, I can do that, too!”

Sexuality, the idea of marriage, and the desire to participate in a romantic relationship sound normal, right? These are natural “coming of age” experiences we see in every teen rom-com. Then why does it seem to shock people that someone with a disability would want to experience these things, too?

Everyone is allowed to experience love. Just because someone is unable to see doesn’t mean they are incapable of enjoying the warm embrace of a loved one. If someone is unable to read, that doesn’t mean they don’t crave companionship or that they don’t want to be taken out on a nice date. And please, don’t assume that people with disabilities are only interested in dating other people with disabilities! Love is love, and it comes in all shapes, sizes, and abilities.

People are sexual beings, and this includes people with disabilities. The narrative around sexuality and disabilities is changing, thanks to nonprofits like Point of View. Still, we need to work towards normalizing this experience for everyone.

The same applies to marriage and parenthood. For people relying on government benefits for income, they can be at risk of losing their benefits if they move in or marry their significant other. Their “household income” now includes any income from a partner, which could push someone over the income limit required to receive benefits and services.

Moving in together and getting married, exciting steps in any romantic relationship, now feel like a penalty. Dominick Evans, a disability and LGBTQ advocate, spoke with Audacity Magazine about his fear of losing benefits once he marries his partner. Dominick explains the financial burden he might impose on his partner if they were to get married because he would lose essential healthcare services. It seems as though policy is now weighing in on social norms for people with disabilities, perpetuating the assumption that people with disabilities must not want to live with their partner or get married.

And on that note, let’s also talk about having kids—another very common and normal desire that many people have, regardless of their individual identities. While it’s wrong to assume that every women wants to become a mother, it’s equally as wrong to assume that women with disabilities don’t want to have children. We should all agree to let women (and men) decide this for themselves without making assumptions one way or the other.

Yes, there may be fears around safety when it comes to sexuality or parenthood, but we cannot address those concerns with the removal of these experiences altogether. We must first acknowledge everyone’s right to these things, and then offer support where needed. For example, Sara knows that when she has children, she will have to learn new ways of keeping her children safe – ways that someone with sight might not use. She can try audio cues to hear where her children are, and she can set up safety barriers to keep them in the same room as her. The art of parenting may need to be done a little bit differently, but it is still a possible (and safe) experience that Sara and all women with disabilities are entitled to.

People (and policies) need to open their hearts to the belief that people with disabilities can have romantic relationships. We can go on dates, we can fall head over heels in love, and we can have very messy breakups. We can get married, buy a house together, and have children. It may not look the same as when other people do it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.