Safe, affordable, and reliable access to sexual and reproductive health services is an important thing for anyone engaging in sexual activity, and it is something everyone needs to talk about, and it is especially important to make sure disability is considered in the conversation.
As we have mentioned before, the existence of disability does not negate the need for access to sexual and reproductive health services, however, often times, it means that people face more barriers. Whether it be due to the lack of physical access at some clinics, or societal attitudes regarding sexuality and disability, it is no secret that people with disabilities may face extra challenges when trying to obtain sexual and reproductive health care.
Having a disability doesn’t mean you don’t have a sex life or the same sexual and reproductive health needs as people without disabilities. It is important to remember that being a person with a disability does not give you less of a right to access quality sexual and reproductive health services. If you feel like you are being treated differently or inappropriately because of your disability, you are within your rights to ask for another doctor. You also have the right to receive medical diagnostic care in an accessible space.
Before you go to a sexual or reproductive health appointment, you may want to discuss the necessary accommodations with your healthcare provider to make sure that you will get the best treatment possible. There are clinics that specialize in sexual and reproductive health care for people with disabilities, such as the Initiative for Women with Disabilities at NYU. However, specialty clinics are few and far between, so you will likely have to talk to your provider or clinic about how your disability may impact or change the way your care is administered.
Be as honest as possible when describing the way your body works, and the types of accommodations you may need to make your appointment successful, and be sure not to make assumptions when it comes to accessibility.
Ask about things, even if you think they seem obvious, and remember that accessibility is not one-size-fits-all. If you’re afraid you will forget or get caught up in the moment, make a list of the things you want to check on before calling the doctor’s office to make an appointment. Don’t be shy to ask for what you need to have a healthy sexual life.
Do not be afraid to force the discussion. If you want information from your doctor about sexual or reproductive health care; do not wait for your provider to bring it up. Disability and sexuality is still a taboo subject, even in the medical field, but that does not mean that you do not have the right to know about birth-control options (and other sexual and reproductive health needs).
The first time you have a sexual health appointment, it may be helpful to think about the topics you want to cover in advance. You may want to write down your questions or concerns so that you have a way to double check that you covered all the important issues in your appointment.
Or, you don’t have to go it alone. If you’re nervous or uncomfortable talking to a doctor about these issues by yourself, there’s nothing wrong with bringing somebody else along to support you. Bring someone you trust who respects your wishes, desires, and autonomy, and talk about the conversation you are going to have with your doctor ahead of time so that your support system is prepared to back you up in the best possible way.
You have the right to ask questions and get answers. You have the right to accessible services, even if it may not always be easy to find. You have options when it comes to your health, sexual or otherwise. You don’t have to stick with the first provider you find, or the first treatment option you try. If something isn’t working for you, don’t feel stuck! Be willing to try something else, and realize that things may not go perfectly the first time!
This post is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list of tips, but rather a conversation starter. We want to encourage you to continue the conversation in the forums after reading this post, and let us know what you think.
It’s important to be involved in your health care and work with your doctors to develop options that work for your lifestyle and center around important to you. Check out Speak for Yourself on My Life Without Limits for more information, and learn how you can get involved.