My Experiences with Disability & The Kink Community

Content Note: While this post isn’t going to talk about sex at all, and it’s only going to briefly touch on some things that get grouped under “kinky” sexuality, I would recommend against it being read at work.

Here is an image to give you a chance to back out! (Image is totally safe for work.)

Image description below

Image Description: A sign that reads “Wheelchairs and Strollers Please Detour Through Bears”

Via Accessibility Fail, who got it from Oddly Specific.

Here’s the jump!

The sort of conversations I have with the general public (I do most of the talking when Don and I are out because of his vocal cords being damaged through surgery) go something like this:

“I actually have no idea how a wheelchair could get into our store, I’ve never thought about it.”
“Maybe you could try lifting the chair?”
“I don’t know anything about accessibility, sorry.”
“I’m not sure, you could ask my manager, I guess, but she’s not in today.”
“We don’t have to be accessible/accommodating to people with disabilities because we’re a heritage site and we’ll lose our placard if we change anything.” [Note: this is not true in Canada.]
“Umm…. I don’t know anything about it.”

I actually do believe people genuinely have no idea about accessibility-related accommodations, and I don’t think it’s some conspiracy or willful ignorance. It’s just the way things are.

Except, in my experience, in the kink community.

Without getting into too many details (as they are not mine to give), part of the Halifax celebration of Pride Week includes a variety of workshops and talks about sex toys and sexual activities. These are often hosted by our local feminist book store/sex shop, Venus Envy, either in the store or in other locations related to Pride.

I’ve attended these for three years now, and one thing has been 100% consistent: Whenever I ask about disability, the person giving the talk has answers.

So far I’ve been to talks & demos that have included discussions about how to use various sex toys if the user can’t hold the toys, I’ve been to one talk that’s had a ‘terp for two Deaf attendees (the only ‘drama’ being shuffling chairs so they could sit near the front), and asked multiple times about how one could do various sexual activities with a mobility-related disability. They always have answers. The most recent talk I went to included the person demonstrating the toy discussing with me how to adjust weight, angle, position, and speed in order to best work with someone with a mobility-related disability, and an offer to meet someplace a bit more private to have further discussions that included Don, should that be what we wished.

Venus Envy also routinely carries a variety of books about disability, both focused on sexuality and not, and whenever I go into the shop they’re happy to discuss the books with me, make recommendations, and act like people with disabilities can be and often are sexual people.

While I have not gone online looking for disability & kink-related discussion (I never seem to have the time…), I’ve talked to people who have, and I’m told there’s a lot of discussion out there, and the bulk of it is positive and inclusive of disability.

That said, I don’t know how universal this experience is. If you’re both disabled & kinky, or one or the other, what has been your experience (in general) with the kink community and disability? If you’re so inclined, please feel free to leave links in the comments, but please note the content of the links! (For example: Kink & Disability at Let Them Eat Pro-SM Feminist Safe Spaces, which talks about BDSM & disability, written by a woman with a disability. NSFW!)

Commenting Note: I am, sadly, still on thesis-time, and will be for the foreseeable future. Comment approval may be slow because of that. This discussion here is meant to center the voices of people with disabilities. If you’re looking for a place to discuss how kinky you think it is to have sex with disabled people, there are other places to do that. There’s a link right below this to our commenting policy.

7 Comments

  1. I honestly think it has to do with the open acceptance the kink community has for its own members that then extends to the disabled. Those in the kink community are used to be looked down on by “normal” people and they don’t like the experience (who would?), so they make sure to be as inclusive as possible to everyone and that naturally extends to the disabled.

    You should make time to check out kink communities online. You’ll never feel as accepted as you do among the kinky.

  2. Great post, thanks Anna!

    I consider myself both kinky and disabled, but I find myself reluctant to talk about it beyond saying that much. I think there is a certain creativity and willingness to adapt within kink that is great.

  3. My experience is that the kin community is accessible and accepting of disability EXCEPT MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity), with one caveat. If I talk to a sex toy store about products, they know about MCS and can talk about ingredients and which have latex, etc. So, in that way, I find the “sex positive community” on top of the MCS issue. However, that’s just when it’s one person buying products to use in their own home or whatnot.

    When it comes to trying to go to events or being around others — the community part, IOW — you hit the wall. Leather, for example, is really toxic and fumey, and nobody wants to forgo their leathers. Or perfume. Or hair gel, etc. It’s all considered “part of the experience/lifestyle.” Anyway, this was my experience before I gave up trying. Maybe somewhere, for some, this has changed. That would be great to hear. The events were held in WC accessible locales, but the MCS access was nonexistent and there was no interest in changing that.

  4. I have mixed experience with kink communities. And it really also depends on what country you’re in and what sorts of disability legislation is in place to support variously accessible spaces. If a space is already accessible to me, great, there doesn’t tend to be a lot of back and forth. If it isn’t, or if there are other access issues, trying to get that changed is one uphill battle after another. It has taken years and years of constant and varied approaches to info sharing, letter writing, resource gathering, and doing the grunt work as individual disabled people etc to get anything done in this city around accessible kink spaces. And for me it has never, not once, come without a price to both my physical and emotional health, as well as costs to friendships. The same conversations over and over and over. The same predictable responses. And don’t even get me started on some of the positively heinous discussions in kink communities regarding scent-reduced space. What a fricken trainwreck.

    No matter the positive changes that have happened in some local kink organizations, it has never, not once, been a simple matter of saying “this isn’t accessible and this is why and here are some options for fixing that based on what resources this group has or could have available” and then just go ahead and make it happen. It is always about forging relationships so that people can show on a personal level why it is important. I would very much love for this to change. I don’t want to keep having the same discussions. It’s so draining, and all I want to do is play!

    Kink communities in my experience are as ableist as any other. It’s the degree to which individuals within those communities are open to taking the information you are offering and doing something with it that varies.

  5. I strongly second Sharon Wachsler.

    I found the leather community was wonderful for mobility issues, pain issues, and movement issues, but absolutely, unwaveringly unwilling to either learn about or accomodate chemical sensitivity, especially re fragranced personal care products, smoke, and toxic leather care products. The typical response is/was completely dismissal, often with a declaration that MCS is a psych disorder and that “people like you” aren’t welcome at their events and in their space because we’re too toxic ourselves.

    Two types of ableism for the price of one.

  6. Yeah, in my experience it depends on what kind of disability you’re talking about. The kink emphasis on explicit consent, negotiation, check-ins, aftercare, etc., is a boon for me, having a psych disorder and sexual dysfunction. But a lot of the venues I’ve been in have not been accessible to people with mobility impairments. (In one case, it was for a big kink community event benefiting a disability organization and the elevator broke at the last minute…whoops.) Partly, I think, it’s because of the covert, underground nature of some kink stuff—gay bar on the ground level, dungeon in the basement; an ex-council flat being converted to a dungeon; etc. Which is no excuse; it just means kinky disabled people are even more isolated.

    Another aspect is money. Many kink events have a dress code which requires expensive clothes/gear, and in my experience none have provided free food, transit fare, or any other allowances for low-income people. And, let’s face it, disability and low income intersect quite a bit. I might be kinky as hell but if I’m only working part-time or on a very low fixed income due to disability and all I can afford are clothes from the Sally Ann, that’s not gonna get me into the play party with a fetish/formal/leather dress code.

  7. l am both disabled – active wheelchair user and with a kink – 100% sub & transgender. have been involved the past 33 years – wow sooo long but still going. Have been to a number of clubs in London in the time l was there – always found peeps accomodating even if the venues where not that wonderful for access.

    Have had various Doms & Dommes who have also been willing and understanding – looking beyond the disability.

    l feel that its not where you are its the people who make the difference. Maybe those who do not want to learn are just unsure on how to start engaging – lm sure things will improve.

    Am in the UK here!

    the post was really good – well done