This is our truth, tell us yours
This is only an opening shot, an invitation to debate – please, pitch in, tell me where I’m wrong and where I’m right. And please excuse any errors of language or form.
The right to sex. It’s a conversation we’re part of sometimes, because we talk about sex where others can hear. It happened on Twitter last night, and I felt I had to respond, in long form, not 140 characters.
Do people who we regard as disabled, or less able, have a right to have sex? Is it the state’s responsibility to address that right, and make it real? (Apologies for the clunky formulation, but there is a huge distinction between rights in theory and rights in practice.)
It’s not just a theoretical question, or one for the moral maze. For many of the people our society regards as disabled or less able the state is a provider of care and support, and the enabler of many of the activities that we hope will provide a fuller, and richer life.
The first thing to say is that the language of ableism serves in many cases to medicalize difference, and to excuse our indifference to the needs of others by saying that the problem is not our poor service design, or indulgent, hard to access buildings, or a cruel, be like me or be ashamed culture, effectively claiming that people who are different are less able. They may be less able to do things the way we choose to do them, but the first challenge is for us to ask ourselves why we chose to do things the way we do, not to stigmatize others.
The second point is this. The myth of a right to sex rests on the idea that everyone else is at it all the time, that we are the lonely under-achievers in a world consumed by a sexual frenzy. Sadly, this isn’t always true, and there are plenty of people who we do not medicalize as differently able who also can’t find a sexual partner, including those who don’t want to.
Designing services or cultural structures to deny others the opportunity to enjoy sex if they have the opportunity is wrong, but to turn that into a right to sex is also wrong. It puts the emphasis in the wrong place, and normalizes a narrow range of experience as if it should be the aspirations of everyone.
What do you think?