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Evidence-Based Sexual Assistive Technologies - Too Taboo for Disability?

We are on a mission to tackle the taboos of sexual pleasure and build a community for people of all gender identities, sexual experience levels and abilities. That's why we want to develop sexual assistive technology that meets the diverse needs of our community. We believe everyone deserves a choice and to experience pleasure, because we all have the organ that regulates libido : the brain.

It’s difficult to find help for sexual issues
Living with a disability can impact the experience of sex, pleasure and intimacy in many different ways. Not just physically, but it can be challenging emotionally, especially if you struggle to be able to communicate your needs. 

Did you know? 
There are nearly 1.2 billion people worldwide that are living with disabilities? In Australia, one in five are living with a disability. That’s 4.4 million people!

Despite how prevalent it is in the community, disability discrimination accounts for the highest volume of complaints across the board to the Australian Human Rights Commission. This is no different in the sexual wellness space, as the vast majority of sexual aids are designed for able-bodied people and are inaccessible to people with disabilities.

Sexual assistive technologies aren’t built for people with physical disabilities
The vast majority of sexual aids are designed for able-bodied people and are inaccessible to people with disabilities. Assistive technology for sexual health is decades behind the technology for everyday living. It doesn’t help that sexuality continues to be viewed negatively in many spheres and disabled people suffer even greater stigma. This is problematic because it prevents many individuals from achieving meaningful, pleasurable, and healthy sexuality.

“Stigma can lead individuals to internalise concepts of asexuality and may negatively impact confidence, desire and ability to find a partner while distorting one's overall sexual self-concept.” (1)

Join the movement!
Download this image and share on social media. Let's raise the profile of sexual wellness for all bodies and let people know that people with disabilities what inclusive devices.

The vast majority of sexual aids are designed for able-bodied people and are inaccessible to people with disabilities. Assistive technology for sexual health is decades behind the technology for everyday living. It's time to make a change.

Is there such a thing as sexual assistive technologies for people with disabilities?
The answer is no, not really. There are sexual devices that have been adopted by the disability community and labelled “disability friendly”, but there’s no devices currently on the market that have been designed and built for people with disabilities. There is clearly a lack of attention to the problem of sexual health for this community, despite The World Health Organisation classifying sexual pleasure as a human right. For everyone!

To give a recent example, if you were to attend the Disability Expo in Perth in June 2021, out of more than 200 exhibitors focusing on disability services and products, not one stall was focused on improving the sexual well-being of people. Sexual assistance was not even on the agenda. There is a huge demand for these products, yet there is clearly a lack of awareness, education, and research within the disability sector. Sexual assistance is simply not being considered an important component in helping individuals achieve their full potential as sexual beings.

Disability providers and therapists are putting their head in the sand
Disability providers and therapists are ignoring the huge demand for sexual technology assistance. The disabled population is widely being ignored when it comes to sexual technology. In fact, studies have shown that people with physical and intellectual disability experience lower levels of sexual knowledge and experience, more negative attitudes to sex, and stronger sexual needs than the general population, in all areas of sexuality. (2)

Disability providers and therapists need to facilitate the exploration of sexual well-being and sexual assistive technologies. More specifically the prevalence, and the health and well-being implications of addressing sexual occupation. They also need to facilitate a better understanding of consent culture, and the challenges that it poses for disabled individuals. This is desperately important to the health and well-being of a disabled individual.

In her book titled Supporting Disabled People with Their Sexual Lives: A clear guide for health and social-care professionals, Tuppy Owens describes the difficulties that healthcare workers face when conducting sexual advocacy or the promotion of sexual health for people with disabilities professionally. For example, healthcare teams often experience a diffusion of responsibility, whereby team members believe that other professionals are addressing or taking responsibility for sexual aspects of their patients' lives.

Owens also points out that too often sexuality will only be discussed in the context of sexual abuse or risky sexual behaviour, which can result is professionals being uncomfortable or inexperienced in talking with their patients about positive and healthy sexuality. This has been clearly demonstrated in a 350 page report focusing on gaining a greater understanding of disability in Australia in 2020. Throughout the entire report, there was no mention of sexual health and well-being, outside of sexual violence.

Despite findings showing people with disabilities experience stronger sexual needs than the general population, they continue to receive less education and information from the organisations and professionals that are employed to help them.

Who can help me with improving my sexual well-being?
This is a question that is increasingly being asked by many individuals who are looking for solutions to improve their sex life. There is already a plethora of products for the mainstream populations. You name it, it's there! Viagra, Cialis, Blood Flow Enhancers, Erection Enhancers, Massage Aids Tools, Penile Traction Devices, and yet nothing specifically for disabilities. There is a market for these products and services, but people with disabilities are being ignored.

One of the greatest areas of concern is that disability service providers simply don't consider sexual well-being as a component that needs to be addressed in therapy. But it’s not just health professionals, as evidence shows that even parents struggle to discuss sex with their children with disabilities. For example, mothers of adolescents with intellectual disabilities discussed fewer sexual topics, started these discussions at a later age, and expressed more concerns about sexual vulnerability than mothers of other adolescents. (3)

You can always make an appointment with an Occupational Therapist or a Sexologist, but the problem is that the average waiting period for a therapist is 2 months. For those people with physical disabilities, it’s even worse. Despite the demand, many people who are in need of sexual assistance aren't able to get the help they need.

The NDIS can help pay for assistive technologies for sexual well-being
Your NDIS funding can help pay for assistive technologies for sexual well-being. Assistive technologies are separated into 3 categories based on cost; low, mid and high-cost assistive technology.

Most sexual well-being technology will be under $1500, so would be considered as low-risk assistive technologies. This means that it can come out of your Core budget as long as you can show that it meets one of the goals in your NDIS funding plan.

Regardless of whether you’re self-managed or plan-managed, we’ve created a helpful guide that explains the process of how to claim assistive technology through the NDIS.

Register your interest now so you can be amongst the first to receive the first sexual device designed for people with disabilities. We look forward to you joining us a we work towards changing the perceptions about sexual wellness and disability.

References
1. Shaniff Esmail, Kim Darry, Ashlea Walter, Heidi Knupp (2010). Attitudes and perceptions towards disability and sexuality, pp 1148-1155. doi: 10.3109/09638280903419277
2. Marita P. McCabe (1999). Sexual knowledge, experience and feelings among people with disability. Sexuality and Disability, volume 17, pages 157–170. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/23879019
3. Pownall JD, Jahoda A, Hastings R. (2012). Sexuality and sex education of adolescents with intellectual disability: Mothers’ attitudes, experiences, and support needs. Intellectual Developmental Disabily, 50, p.140–154. doi:10.1352/1934-9556-50.2.140

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