Intimacy is for Everyone

I’ve never been a stranger to inaccessibility. Growing up with SMA, I expected to be met with accessibility barriers everywhere I went. I also didn’t want it to slow me down as a kid, so I adapted whenever possible. - Karli

We all know the basic types of inaccessibility. Stairs without ramps. Cramped elevators. Raised tables. You get the point. But there’s another type of pervasive inaccessibility most people don’t consider: disparities in intimacy education.

Let’s start from the beginning…

Integration of disabled people in schools was still a relatively new concept when I was growing up. It wasn’t even that long ago, but progress is predictably slow. And based on what I know, accessibility for students remains inadequate to this day.

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"I didn’t immediately realize my peers were getting an entirely separate curriculum tacked onto their education. It was a gradual revelation for me. Subtle indicators until eventually, it was undeniable."

Sex education was often done in gym class — a class I was never in. I thought it was a coincidence, not deliberate exclusion. So, I took it upon myself to do my own lesson plans on the subject. By myself, for myself. I distinctly recall flipping through a health textbook and discovering the “birds and the bees'' independent of my actual assignments.

It wasn’t until later I became active in the disability community. Lo and behold, exclusion from intimacy discussions was a massive disability-specific problem. Across the globe. Not only in schools, but in all sorts of different settings.

There’s no shortage of stereotypes implying all disabled people are uninterested and unable to have any intimate relationships. These misconceptions are not only harmful to the disabled community, but also dangerous. It’s the root that keeps us sidelined from intimacy and relationship narratives.

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"I refuse to accept this, which is why I’ve made it a personal mission to take my sexual and reproductive health knowledge to the next level."

My objective? To start rectifying the problem from within the disability community itself.

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"I started simple, by being open and comfortable sharing my dating adventures (good, bad, and ugly) with fellow disabled pals."

I offered my tips and experience whenever it was solicited. I collected resources so I could pass them along when someone needed direction on a specific problem.

Currently, a few friends and I spend much of our free time facilitating safe spaces online for disabled people — many of whom have SMA — to crowdsource advice and other intimacy pro-tips. Peer-support has continuously proven to be an invaluable asset, including for myself.

My hope is that one day spaces like this can be supplementary to academic intimacy education instead of being the only source. After all, everyone deserves equal and adequate access to such basic health education.