Sex and disability: if we want to battle stigma, we need to talk
I’m the COO of a sex toy company, dream job, right? As part of my work I not only get to help make (and test!) new sex toys, I also get to join in with conversations about sex on a daily basis. There’s plenty of fun in it, but there’s also one thing that never fails to frustrate me: as a society, we are woefully bad at discussing sex.
Sex, like disability, is a topic that many people shy away from out of a vague sense of awkwardness. Our company, Hot Octopuss has been running a campaign called Sex not Stigma for the last few years – encouraging people to talk about sexual topics that are often stigmatised or just plain ignored like the idea that older people don’t have sex – as if somehow sexual pleasure has a best before date! Or that disabled people can’t or don’t want to have sex, which readers of this post will know is not only false but deeply harmful and dehumanising. Then there’s the idea that sex toys and masturbation are somehow shameful – as if masturbation isn’t a fun activity that lots of us want to do regularly.
So how do we change the conversation? How can we get more people exploring their bodies, talking openly about sex, and help bring the topic out of the awkward shadows?
Better sex education that highlights the fact that every body is different
We’ve been shouting this from the rooftops for a long time, young people – and adults who often missed out on good sex education at school – need information that isn’t based on hetero-normative and body normative ideas, but which is rooted in the understanding that every body is different, what gives you pleasure might not work for me and vice versa.
Sometimes our bodies work differently because of age, disability, sexuality or personal desire. Sometimes just because we have different kinks and quirks. At the moment sex advice too often assumes that everyone is having penetrative sex, and getting broadly the same pleasure from it. But people have different – and often complex- sexual needs. We need to encourage people to explore their bodies – on their own and with their partners – to understand what works for them.
Good sex education should be centred in consent and desire. Focused on teaching people firstly to understand their own needs and then how to communicate with their partners so their sexual experiences come from a place of mutual understanding and consent.
Accessible sex toys, which aren’t stigmatised as ‘dirty’ or secret, but seen as tools to enhance the sexual experience
We live in an extraordinary time, the sex toy industry is growing at a huge pace, and thanks to the internet it is much easier to research and buy sex toys that meet your individual needs. But sex toys are often still seen as ‘dirty little secrets’ when in reality for many they are the the best – or only – way to access sexual pleasure.
At Hot Octopuss, our first ever sex toy – PULSE – was created off the back of technology designed to help men with spinal cord injuries ejaculate. The original tech was designed for the purpose of IVF and as a result it was quite medical looking and not accessible to the average sex toy buyer. But with a bit of R&D and a lot of tweaking and testing we managed to create something that was affordable and accessible for people to use in their bedrooms.
Unlike most toys designed for penises, it can be used flaccid or erect and it can be used to have a hands-free orgasm even if your manual dexterity isn’t up to gripping some of the standard masturbators on the market. Far from being naughty or dirty, for those who may not be able to get erections or masturbate any other way, this sex toy can be genuinely life changing.
A testimonial from a customer called Jon who is a paraplegic
We are not the only ones creating accessible sex toys – companies like Liberator make incredible sexual positioning equipment which makes it possible to have more comfortable sex in different positions no matter how mobile or flexible you are.
And thanks to ‘smart’ sex toys which can be controlled via apps on your phone, many companies are now experimenting with things like gesture and voice control, making vibrators and other masturbation tools accessible to even more people.
As a sex toy manufacturer, we know better than most that any given sex toy won’t work for everyone, but thanks to technology were able to create sex toys that can help people experience sexual pleasure where previously, they had been sidelined or ignored. Combined with sex education that focuses on the individual needs, sex toys can be the tools we use to help more people learn what works for them.
Help us tackle sex stigma – join the conversation
The fact is, although we are getting better at talking about sex, the topic is still shrouded in awkwardness and stigma. I firmly believe that the way to battle this is to be more open about it – we need sex education that moves us away from the idea that there is a right way or a wrong way to have sex, and that recognises that every body responds differently to different types of sexual pleasure. And then we need to use all that new knowledge and technology to create sex toys that meet a range of needs.
We would love to hear from you, you can comment below and if you’re interested in writing about your own experiences on our blog – or maybe trying out some of our sex toys to see if they work for you, we’d love to hear from you.
Discussing our own experiences, sharing other people’s experiences, and spreading the word that not only should we not be ashamed of sex, we should shout about it!