Opinion: What's so wrong with wheelchair sex?

Nick Cater, consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

Sex is old hat, right? Anything goes; no shame or censure. Sexuality and gender is like going to a car boot sale: there's nothing new under the sun, but plenty of choice, and sooner or later you'll find something that suits you. As Billy Bragg declares: "Sexuality - strong and warm and wild and free... don't threaten me with misery... we can be what we want to be."

Up to a point. Bring together the issues of disability and sexuality and suddenly the loose boundaries of sexual freedom tighten sharply, and a curious mixture of the puritanical and prurient takes hold. What's normal, understood and full of fun for those in the broad bit of the bell curve seems to be perceived as sleazy, weird and unacceptable when the protagonists have wheelchairs.

And if you try to assist socially and physically disabled people to lead ordinary lives with emotions, needs and relationships that can stretch from friendship and conversation to the bedroom and beyond, you will soon understand why the charity Outsiders might bear that name. Its own sense of isolation includes relying mostly on its members, volunteers and events for funding since foundation, government or lottery grants for projects and core costs are hard to find.

This is clearly a situation in which Outsiders should either be clustering with bigger groups to share costs and create joint services - such as its national Sex and Disability Helpline on 0707 499 3527 - or after 26 years of hard graft find itself out of a job because mainstream disability charities are offering their clients such superb sexual health services and support that a separate group is unnecessary.

And if that were the case, Outsiders might find a useful niche, transformed into a consultancy to offer charities, the health service and self-help groups specialist advice and training.

That Outsiders is still here and struggling on suggests, as the old slogan goes, that attitudes are the real disability. Perhaps, at least to judge from its resolutely cheerful website at outsiders.org.uk, Outsiders is also breaking an unwritten rule: always focus on the disability and not on what disabled people can do with their minds, bodies and, gosh, genitals.

Of course, lying behind all of this is the still significant problem that disabled people need and want equality. But as anyone who has been to a car boot sale knows all too well, you can't always get what you want.

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