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Sex and disability

5-minute read

Key facts

  • If you have a physical or cognitive disability you can have sex, but you may benefit from aids or some extra planning.
  • Having safe sex means using protection against the spread of sexually transmissible infections (STIs).
  • Speak to your doctor about contraception options to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
  • You and your partner both need to consent before having any kind of sex.

How can physical disability affect sex?

If you have a physical disability the type of sex you have may be impacted by your disability, but there are many ways to show your sexual feelings. You may need to plan, use aids or use trial and error to find what works for you.

If you have a physical disability, you can have sex with another consenting person, regardless of if they have a disability or not. More information is available through Aruma, which dispels some of the myths about sex and disability.

How can cognitive disability affect sex?

Having a cognitive disability may affect your sexual sensation (feelings) and function (actions). Sometimes, a person with cognitive disability may be less able to enjoy sex.

If you have a cognitive disability and can give consent, you have the right to have sex with another person who has given their consent. Your carer or health professional can help you make decisions, but it is your choice. Sexual Health Victoria provides more information about sex and cognitive disability.

Safe sex with disability

Having safe sex means making sure you are protected from sexually transmissible infections (STIs). Sexually transmitted infections can be spread from person to person in many different ways. Using a condom and lubricant can help you to have safe sex. Family Planning NSW — All About Sex fact sheet has more information about how to have safe sex.

Using contraception is important if you and your partner don't want to have a baby. There are lots of different types of contraception — most are temporary. It's a good idea to speak to a doctor about which options are best for you. More information about your options is available on the Family Planning NSW fact sheet on contraception.

What is consent?

Consent means that you and your partner both say that you want to have sex together. Sex is only allowed if both of you give consent. You must also be above certain age to be able to give consent and have sex, according to the law. The age that you can give consent for sex is different in different Australian states. The age of consent for South Australia and Tasmania is 17 years and in all other states and territories it is 16 years.

Having sex with someone who has not given consent is sexual assault. People with disabilities are more likely to experience sexual assault than people without disabilities. Sex education can reduce the likelihood of people with disability suffering sexual assault and increase their positive sexual experiences. 1800 RESPECT provides support for women who are subjected to violence or sexual assault. You can also find out how to get help at Women with Disabilities Australia.

Sex with support workers or carers is against the law.

How do I manage my feelings on sex and disability?

People may incorrectly think having a disability means you don't have sexual needs or desire. Some assume because you need help from support workers that you can't or shouldn't have sex. Even if you can't have traditional sex, there are many ways that you can express sexual feelings, including:

  • kissing
  • touching
  • massaging
  • using fantasy, relaxation or breathing techniques

You may choose to masturbate. You might decide to be with a sex worker who has been trained specifically to work with people with a disability or another consenting sexual partner. There is no single right way to have sex.

Sometimes people with a disability may feel they don't deserve a sexual relationship because they look different to how society thinks men and women should look. It can help to talk to someone about your feelings, and how they relate to body image. You may also benefit from speaking to a counsellor or psychologist.

Sometimes, the medicines you take can affect how you feel about having sex. If you think your medicine could be affecting how you feel or affecting sex, speak to your doctor.

Resources and support

  • SECCA has easily accessible resources to help people of all abilities learn and teach about relationships, sexuality and your rights.
  • Family Planning Victoria has a brochure about consent in simple English.
  • Family Planning NSW has a range of factsheets about sex for people with cognitive disability and their carers.
  • Oursite has information about sex and relationships for women and girls with disability in simple English.
  • If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual abuse, contact 1800RESPECT using their online chat or call 1800 737 732.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2023

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