My name is Magenta and I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy when I was born.
Now that I’m 20 and out of school, I look back on my education and realise how little it prepared me for real world experiences. Especially when it comes to sexual relationships and my own sexuality.
From conversations I’ve had, I don’t think I’m alone.
I believe that sex ed, as it is right now, isn’t providing able and non-able individuals with the resources needed to experience intimacy safely. I went to a mainstream primary school and then to a special high school, and the sex education I got in Grade 10 and 12 was the kind of basic stuff a primary school kid would learn.
All we were taught was basically 'keep this on at this time', 'take that off at this time', 'doctors and support workers can do this and this'. Not much detail about anything at all and very, very formal.
One time a teacher was talking about certain things that happen on your period but was stopped because 'That's too grown up for them'. We were a year off graduating. Like, excuse me, I actually want to know those things.
We didn’t even learn about consent and that everyone has the right to say no at any time during a sexual encounter. We weren’t taught where the sexual body parts are or what they look like.
It wasn’t just the minimal sex ed, either. Teachers actively discouraged us from romantic and sexual relationships.
All they were doing was further perpetuating the stereotype that people with disabilities are essentially non-sexual creatures, which couldn’t be further from my truth.
And yet, in both mainstream and special schooling there's this idea that we don't have sex to have pleasure and enjoy; we have sex to reproduce. Nowadays people still think you must have children to feel successful and to be happy. And I think our education encourages that perspective.
It really started getting to me when I was around 17, and was getting more of the 'when are you going to have kids?' questions. I was like, ‘I haven't been taught enough!’ You can't just go from “no touching allowed” to giving birth, with nothing in between.
This just in: the touching needs to happen if you're gonna have kids.
I’ve found that there’s still this expectation on women with disabilities that they all bear children one day.
It’s like people believe that since our disability cannot provide us anything else, we must give up the rights to our own bodies to birth children, despite the harm it may cause to us or our fetus. It’s as if our uterus is the only thing that gives us value in this society.
Personally, I’ve thought about having children extensively and have concluded that pregnancy is simply too much of a risk for me to take. The implications of pregnancy and child rearing on women with disabilities do vary significantly, however, the research on this topic is extremely limited.
We simply do not know enough about the effect of pregnancy and the necessary recovery for women with specific disabilities.
I’ve also never liked the idea of having kids and just don’t believe that it’s something that would fulfil me as a person. I have always been career-orientated and I am not ashamed of that.
Living with my disability has forced me to consider these issues that’ll come up later in life and I’ve had to do my own research. I’ve started to teach myself.
There’s a lot out there that’s unreliable or just doesn’t come from people who understand my situation. But still, I’ve learnt more about sexuality and sex from social media than I ever did in 12 years of schooling. (Shout out to sex positive TikTokers @terryhammond88, @esme.louisee and @gigi.peache!).
Right now, the Australia-wide sexual education curriculum for high school students is only representative of heterosexual relationships, with little to no thought for LGBQIA+ young people. To me this shows that the curriculum is outdated and not at all relevant to today’s society.
I’ve also had to learn about how, when it comes to support workers, it should always be a ‘helping touch’. In school we were never taught what a creepy touch was; how would we know what that extended to?
Although there are many people with disabilities partaking in safe sexual activity, the numbers of people with a disability involved in sexual violence have skyrocketed.
1 in 14 (6.6%) men with a disability have experienced sexual violence after the age of 15, compared to 3.9% without disability. Even worse, 2 in 5 (40%) women with a disability have endured sexual violence, compared to 26% of women without a disability.
Most disturbingly, the perpetrators of sexual violence towards people with disability are not always a stranger. In fact, it’s commonly a family member or close support staff who is responsible.
You can see why a thorough sexual education is even more important if you experience a disability.
There’s a reason that sex workers have often been employed by people with disabilities. This is often the safest way for us to enjoy sexual relationships, as we haven’t been given the education growing up and need to explore with people we trust.
There has been an ongoing debate whether sex workers should be funded by the NDIS. I personally believe they should be to ensure all people with disabilities have access and can become aware of what safe and consensual sexual encounters are.
Sex workers are often more understanding and open to the reality that people with a disability still have sexual needs and wants. Also, sex workers can help to build confidence to explore sexual relationships with others.
Honestly, the first informative and sex-positive experience that I had was only last year. I wheeled into an adult store to buy my first vibrator and was greeted by friendly and knowledgeable staff who were more than happy to provide actual advice and guidance.
Naturally that whole experience came as a massive surprise to me. But since starting to do my own research and looking into these things, I’ve gone to a lot of sex shops and the amount of confidence those workers have makes all the difference.
I’ve known many women who were scared of saying no because they weren’t taught that it's okay to say 'stop'. In the disability community we're not taught how those body parts are meant to feel (or even what they look like in certain schools).
Consent isn't talked about nearly as often as it should be. I want there to be a change in the education system. I want people to know that yes, these sexual feelings are okay.
I’ve loved writing this piece and hope it is not my last. I hope it gave you an insight into the lack of sexual education for people with disabilities, the importance of sex positive environments, the danger of sexual assault and the pressure of expected child bearing in the disability community.