Advancing the Discourse: Disability and BDSM

There is minimal research conducted on people with disabilities in the BDSM community, or how BDSM can be used to provide people with disabilities more creative ways to express their sexuality. Tellier (2017) brought attention to this gap in the literature noting that previous research had discussed people with disabilities and reproduction, but there seemed to be a lack of research on disabilities and sexual pleasure. This could be due to the stigma of sex and the stigma of disability. This article aims to highlight the need for research and academic literature on alternative sexuality among the disabled community.  

Tellier noted that the disabled population made up a significant portion of the US in 2015; 22% of the population reported having a disability – mental or physical. This number may appear high; however, not all disabilities are visible. Some people may appear as though they are “able,” even though they would not identify as being able-bodied. Tellier argues that since over a 5th of the population reports a disability, they should not be excluded from the research. However, due to the stigma of disabilities, those who are not able-bodied are often thought of as asexual. This unfortunately minimizes the amount of research done on sex and disability, and perpetuates an ignorant notion that sex is somewhat of a shameful act for disabled individuals.

Counsellors should be aware that some people with disabilities may think of their disability as a detriment to their sex lives; however, it is possible to become sexually creative with their disabilities. “To better understand and validate BDSM and disability, is to better understand holistic and creative sexualities that are already being discussed and afforded to their able-bodied counterpart” (Tellier, 2017, p. 491). Tellier believes that the counsellor should open up the dialogue of sexual creativity by discussing components of BDSM, such as working on negotiation, and being open and completely honest when communicating your needs and desires. Furthermore, genital or penetrative acts of sex may be impossible or difficult for some people with disabilities; however, since BDSM uses the whole body as a sexual organ, this may be helpful for people with disabilities. The demographics of BDSM participants is not clearly defined in Tellier’s article; however, the “primary components of BDSM dictate that practices are safe, sane, and consensual, where there is an extreme focus on communication, respect, and trust.” (Tellier, 2017, p. 491) In the BDSM community, purposeful communication is standard to ensure safe play, which in turn, creates higher levels of sexual satisfaction and more in-depth discussion within relationships.

Tellier suggests that incorporating BDSM practices and communication into the disabled community could inspire sexual creativity because feelings of pleasure can be enhanced when pain is involved. There’s pleasure in reducing pain and in increasing pain. This idea can easily be incorporated into the disabled community because “persons with disabilities may feel like a captive of their pain, where they are a victim of and controlled by their pain.” (Tellier, 2017, p. 489) So, choosing when and where they receive pain can give them feelings of empowerment, accomplishment, and change. BDSM for people with disabilities can, therefore, help in managing pain, forming a safe place to involve pleasurable pain, and gaining control of their sex lives.  Feelings of power and control over one’s body can, therefore, create “good pain” for many people with disabilities who may often feel powerless.

Tellier concludes the article by reiterating the fact that new research is needed in examining sexual satisfaction in the disabled community, and in alternative sexual practices among the disabled. Mostly, attention to these topics in scientific, academic literature is necessary, as Tellier believes that the lack of research devalues and ignores the disability population and their BDSM expression. It is therefore essential that counsellors recognize this fact – that this group is “double marginalized” – as the stigma could cause distress among participants.

Written by Westland Researcher Reyna Fisher


References

Tellier, S. (2017). Advancing the Discourse: Disability and BDSM. Sexuality and Disability, 35(4), 485-493. doi:10.1007/s11195-017-9504-x