Sexuality can not be simply defined as if it is a basic mathematical equation, since individuals are products of their environment and genetics. Many variables interplay to produce our conceptualization of sexuality, such as personal values, media presentations, whatever inherent biological traits exist, peer pressure, and family or other cultural groups.
Within our society, sexuality is often treated as a taboo. Since Americans are famed for their independence, it is surprising that they are so ambivalent about self-expression in the sexual realm. Indeed, we are constantly barraged with media views on the link between sexiness and possessing body parts, and most citizens try to meet this impossible standard rather than disputing it.
Actually, aesthetics account for a small portion of sexual behavior. Sexuality has multiple determinants, primarily the emotional and pleasure links between couples.
Frequently, false assumptions are made about the need to educate people with physical challenges on sexuality. Physical restrictions do not mean that a person is incapable of acting as a sexual being. In particular, to focus the whole concept of sexuality on genital intercourse is far too limited in scope. Sexuality refers to a wide variety of attributes and behaviors relating to interaction with others, physical enjoyment of intimate touch, reproduction, and self-expression. If a broader definition of sexuality is accepted, it is fair to ask what actions sex educators must take to ensure that people with physical challenges are allowed to express their sexual aspect.
One glaring discrepancy is that people with physical challenges are bombarded with images of people without obvious disabilities in a tremendous variety of romantic, titillating, and erotic activities in a range of media. How likely is it that people, especially those with physical challenges existing since birth or the early years are likely to be able to easily think of themselves as sexual creatures when there are essentially no visual images of a person with physical challenges being sexual, even in the huge number of sex manuals produced in the USA? Manuals on romantic and sexual activities featuring people with physical challenges are needed for both sexually experienced and inexperienced consumers with physical challenges. And, if such manuals should happen to be viewed by a person without physical challenges, all the better, as it might counter some of the myths about the “sexlessness” of people with such challenges.
Presently, sexuality education for people with physical challenges is available through books which give technical accounts of intercourse techniques for people with physical challenges (although the great preponderance of this literature is focused on people with physical challenges from traumatic incidents, not people with lifelong or congenital impairments) especially for staff, private therapy sessions, and specialized groups or workshops. These methods are not useless, but they are far from the huge array of materials produced for people without known physical challenges. Illustrated manuals aimed at consumers are needed, with an emphasis on holistic sexual expression, including romantic precursors and dating, and covering couples in which both partners have physical challenges and couples in which only one partner has physical challenges, whether the couples are gay or heterosexual.
• A therapy group on sexuality and romantic issues for Ramsey County residents with physical challenges will be starting in November. Sessions will be from 5:30 to 7:30 on Thursday evenings through February 1992. Group member will need to enroll as clients at the Ramsey County Mental Health Center, 529 Jackson St. S. Paul. Contact co-therapists Tina Hawkins (771-3579) or Geoffrey Garwick (298-4999) for more information. There is a sliding fee scale at this Center.
• If you have a physical challenge and are interested in being interviewed about your romantic and sexual life story, contact one of the above therapists, even if you do not wish to be in the group. Confidentiality will be maintained.