‘How does one research disability and sexuality?’ – that is the question that I continuously find myself asking as a PhD candidate. I wouldn’t want you to think that this is merely a dull methodological question for me. I assure you: it goes far beyond methodology.
As a Polish man with cerebral palsy and in my mid-twenties, I am deeply interested in the dynamics at the intersection of those two phenomena. Thanks to both my ongoing research, and my lived experiences I know – perhaps better than I would want to – that to some people the very idea of disabled people being sexual seems, well, alien.
In the age of such programmes as, for example, Channel 4’s ‘The Undateables’, or films such as ‘The Sessions’, you might well think ‘What is this chap talking about? Disabled sexuality has never been as much in the spotlight, as it is contemporarily’ and you would technically be right. Why only technically? Look at the message these – and other – cultural representations of disabled sexuality tend to carry. The title of the programme says quite clearly that – according to its producers – if you’re disabled, you’re likely to be ‘undateable’. Yet, in their supposed grace, they will pair you up with someone and see how it goes, meanwhile getting a lot of money and impact broadcasting something as intimate as dating.
Similarly, ‘The sessions’ – an otherwise very balanced and likeable film – posits that if you’re severely disabled, the only way for you to be sexual is to employ a sex surrogate. While I am not against the idea of sex surrogacy, recognising that it has helped many people around the globe, I am somewhat upset about the tacit assumptions of those responsible for producing the above. I’m the last person to promote or condone naïve depictions of any given phenomenon – disabled sexuality included. I am only asking my readers: ‘How would you feel about yourself, if you were confronted with mostly negative depictions of yourself?’ ‘Would you not be frustrated / lost / angry / feeling misunderstood, if it was your sexuality that is popularly presented as doubtful, unattractive – or, indeed – undateable?’
These rhetorical questions prompt me to go back to the beginning of my post. When I ruminate about the ways to research disability and sex, the particularities of methodology are not my primary concern. What keeps me up at night – or wakes me in the early morning – is the question of what should I do with my research to offer a respectful, authentic, and yet enabling account of disabled sexuality that reaches as much people as possible. I have a strange feeling that writing this blog may help me do just about that.