The problem with #EndTheAwkward campaign about sex and disability

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Jax Jacki Brown

Jax Jacki Brown: "We need to talk about why society views disability as awkward."

Jax Jacki Brown: "We need to talk about why society views disability as awkward."

Scope UK are currently running a campaign called #EndTheAwkward, prompted by a recent study that found that two thirds of people feel awkward around people with disabilities. Furthermore, only 5 per cent had ever asked a person with a disability on a date. The campaign aims to reduce how uncomfortable people feel around those with disabilities and to stimulate discussion of sex and disability.

The campaign features a series of online short films showing various scenarios of what not to do around people with disabilities, as well as an A to Z of sex and disability - personal stories of people with disabilities' relationships and sex lives - which promises to be racy, raunchy and break down assumptions.

But does it really achieve any of these things? Well, no. I found it to be a bit of a tease - not hot, luke-warm at best. A bit of a letdown.

Maybe I have different expectations than most when I hear disability and sex. See, I am a lesbian and an out and proud wheelchair user, and I've had my fair share of lovers both non-disabled and disabled. Personally, I have to say, I prefer those with interesting bodies because we're more experimental and inventive lovers. Just saying.

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But I digress.

So why am I refusing to get into bed with this campaign? Firstly, almost every story begins with the person revealing their disability right at the get go. Sigh. I know people are curious, but why must people with disabilities disclose their medical condition before anything else can be spoken about? Given the stories are accompanied by photos or a video, why couldn't it have been left at that? A little mystery that may or may not be revealed if you ever make it into the sack?

As people with disabilities, we are all too often expected to disclose personal information about the workings of our bodies to complete strangers. This can be tiring and boring, and frankly it's irrelevant unless you're going to bed with me (and then I have much more intriguing ways of exploring my body and how it works with you).  

Another reason I'm not all over this campaign is its lack of representation of LGBTI people and relationships that are 'outside the box' generally. It does include "G is for Gay", however the young man in the article is actually bisexual not gay. Putting him under the "gay" label actually erases his bisexual identity, an erasure which he talks about in the piece and which often happens to bisexual people.

The campaign has reached O for Orgasm and it's far from an educational climax. In fact, it's a bit troubling. The woman in the clip describes having an epileptic fit during intercourse. The person she was having sex, she explains, mistook the fit for an orgasm and continued for some time. "Not fun happy times," she says. Yes, not fun and definitely not practicing active consent, but there is no discussion of this. In fact, it is reduced to a funny anecdote.

The end of each clip concludes with "Just 5 per cent of non-disabled people have ever asked out or been on a date with a disabled person, so Scope is celebrating sex and disability". Why are we celebrating this fact? I get that #EndTheAwkward is trying to make the sex lives of people with a disability accessible and alluring to the average person, to make sex with someone who has a non-normative body an option for that Friday night romp or as something more long-term, but we need to talk seriously about why society views disability as awkward or something to be afraid of. Yes we need to sex up disability, but we need to celebrate pride in our bodies and our differences.

Don't get me wrong, I like that disability and sex are being talked about, and if it leads to nuanced and sexually empowered representations of disability then that is something I'd love to get behind. I just don't feel this current campaign has the kind of thrust required to create real social change.