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There’s a lot people can learn (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)
‘About three years ago I started using a wheelchair,’ explains Katy Venables, 29, from Worcestershire, ‘and now people always assume my hot, able-bodied boyfriend is my carer.’
Venables has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a chronic pain disorder affecting her joints and soft tissue that means she is prone to frequent dislocations.
A Goldsmiths University of London graduate with an MSc in cognitive and clinical neuroscience, Venables has teamed up with online erotic shop Lovehoney and disability and sexual health products start-up Handi (a company whose mission is to create sex toys for those with physical disabilities) to smash the taboos on sex and disability.
About time too. According to government statistics, there are more than 11million people in the UK with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability. Of that number, one in three thinks there is ‘a lot of disability prejudice’ in society. Venables agrees.
‘I didn’t use a wheelchair when my partner and I first got together in 2019, although this meant I was in a lot of pain and needed to stay home a lot more,’ she says. ‘I now use my chair for anything more than going short distances and have noticed that people often read my partner as my carer and will even address questions for me to him, which didn’t happen before.
‘Despite us both being happy and fulfilled in our relationship — before and after this change — I believe we are seen differently because disabled people are desexualised by society. I’m not being seen as a viable romantic option for my non-disabled partner.
Katy Venables wants to shatter stereotypes about disabled people’s sex lives (Picture: Chlo Healey)
‘Disabled people are also infantilised and fetishised — some people seek out disabled people sexually or watch disabled people doing mad things on porn sites.’
To challenge this, Venables has co-edited, co-curated and contributed to The Handi Book Of Love, Lust & Disability. She deems it ‘more than a guide… it’s a discussion about sexuality and disability’.
‘I got involved because I wanted to get proper disabled representation and to smash taboos,’ she says. ‘There are 50 people in the book, all disabled, all talking from their own unique perspective about their sexuality.
‘It’s packed with powerful and inspiring stories, poetry and artwork from our phenomenal disabled contributors around the world. This is an incredibly special book to me.’
Venables says everyone can learn something new from the book, be they disabled or non-disabled.
‘The things that make up the conversation around disabled sex are relevant to non-disabled people too,’ she says. ‘For example, the body image chapter. A lot of our contributors who had a progressive disability ended up feeling sexier after going through the whole process because you have to let go of the shackles of societal expectations and perceptions of what is beautiful and what is sexy.
‘You’re almost forced to let go of that because society will not see disabled bodies as sexy — at the moment, at least. We’re hoping to change that.
‘We have to find these beliefs within ourselves. And if you’re a human being who is overweight or who is going to age or who is going to go against the grain of what is set out as beautiful, you need to find that within yourselves, disabled or not. The book teaches all people about sexual liberation — how to truly embrace your body and your sexuality — giving you the best sexual experience you can possibly have.’
Katy’s six things disabled people can teach the able-bodied about sex…
Sex isn’t what you think it is
‘Sex doesn’t have to be penetrative or orgasm-focused,’ she says. ‘It can be more about BDSM stuff or mutual self-pleasure or fantasy sharing… People can find sexual release just through talking.’
‘One of the chapters is “What was your best (and worst) disabled sexual experience?”,’ says Katy, ‘and through that we learned the incredible importance of communication. The worst sex was always because people didn’t communicate properly.’
Learn body confidence
Venables says: ‘Once we let go of the arbitrary rules of beauty, we can improve our sex lives. I’ve done it. I grew up fat and because fat women weren’t represented as sexy, I had to learn how to find my own sexuality. Once you let go and you’re not constantly thinking “Is my belly jiggling?”, you can be present and just feel the sensations.’
Representation is so important
‘A lot of our contributors spoke about how they massively found inspiration and confidence through other women putting themselves out there and showing themselves as sexy, wearing lingerie and looking, being, sexually empowered,’ explains Venables.
‘I’ve seen some of our contributors on Lovehoney’s Instagram and they look so hot. But we need this in mainstream media too. Lizzo allowed lots of women to feel sexually liberated. We need a disabled Lizzo (for want of a better phrase)! Let us feel sexy!’
‘Sex can become clinical and repetitive in relationships but if you are forced to think about how to make sex good for you, you’re going to have better sex. For instance, I take medication that kills my ability to orgasm so I try to time my sexy times around that.’
Know disabled doesn’t equal desexualised
‘Eighty per cent of disabled people become disabled, they are not born disabled,’ says Venables. ‘So, representation again. It’s important that if people become disabled they don’t think, “Right, that’s it for me, then.” They shouldn’t have to learn that they can still be sexual. We need representation and explanation out there. You know, people might even become more sexual when they become disabled because the relief that we can get from sex is invaluable.’
The Handi Book Of Love, Lust & Disability is available now from the sexual wellness brand Lovehoney.
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