Before we dive in, I’m going to note that ableism is an area I am still working on myself.
As we are discussing some ableist myths, this may be a tough read for some. Please take whatever necessary steps to care for yourself, up to and including skipping this one.
As per usual, I already hear fictional author A sighing, and saying fine, if I just have able bodied characters having sex in my stories, can I skip this one? Oh, fictional author A, I would hope that you do not. Because ableism is a thing we should consider even when out main characters are, by all accounts, fully able.
But let’s start with characters who have some long term, chronic, or even acute condition. The character may certainly be nervous if they have not had sex since the onset of the condition. They may also have had this condition most of their lives and the only thing they are nervous about is the response of partner(s) unfamiliar with the condition.
We are now very many words into talking about sex among fictional characters. I obviously believe that sex is and can be an important part of a wonderful life, and can be used to demonstrate growing closeness between characters.
But, sex is not magic. (I mean, unless you are writing paranormal.) Sex can create a large number of pleasurable physical responses, and those things can be great for stress relief and overall happiness. But it also doesn’t materially change a character’s body or their life.
A character with a condition who has sex, is still a character with a condition after sex. Certainly the character may experience relief that pre-sex nervousness was less necessary than predicted. Similarly a character who has sex with a person with a condition, is not better or kinder for doing so. As an author, the work still needs to be done to demonstrate why this relationship is going to succeed – if that is your goal.
Some typical ableist myths about folks with disabilities and sex: -They don’t need or desire it. (Of course, folks with disabilities can also exist on the asexual spectrum, but society’s default assumption tends to place them there solely on the basis of disability.) -If they do want it, they would have to find someone incredibly kind to get some. (Characters that only have sex out of kindness are not good characters. Again, this may be the authorial intention.)
-They would have to pay for it. (Again, paying for sex is a choice characters can make, but should not be presented as an obvious or only choice without further work on the part of the story to ground that.) -If they get sex, that would be a lifelong fulfillment of a dream they never thought they’d achieve. (Um, no. I mean if the sex was really that good, wouldn’t the character want more?)
How does this come up with a story that doesn’t feature any disabled characters having sex? I’m so glad you asked. There’s a lot of ableist language we reach for often without thinking about it. Things like, “What are you blind?” or “How lame is that?” are just a few examples of ableist things characters don’t need to say – unless of course your authorial intention is to demonstrate their ableism.
Resources – Everyday Feminism – Sex Doesn’t Solve Ableism - https://everydayfeminism.com/2014/01/getting-laid-isnt-answer-to-ableism/ Disabled People are Better at Sex – includes discussions of sex work: https://medium.com/pulpmag/disabled-people-are-better-at-sex-4b18e04e4e2c Common Ableist Terms You Might Be Using: https://www.learnfromautistics.com/common-ableist-terms-you-might-be-using/