Cover Image
close this bookWhere Women Have No Doctor - A Health Guide for Women (Hesperian Foundation, 1997, 600 p.)
close this folderChapter 9: Women with Disabilities
close this folderSexuality and Sexual Health
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentFamily planning
View the documentPregnancy and disability


Many people believe that women with disabilities cannot have, or should not have, sexual feelings. They are not expected to want to have close, loving relationships or to become parents. But women with disabilities do have a desire for closeness and sexual relations just like anyone else.

¨ Be careful not to let other people take advantage of you. It can be difficult to protect yourself against violence and abuse.

If you were born with a disability, or it happened when you were very young, you may have a hard time believing you are sexually attractive. Talking with other women who have disabilities about their own fears, and how they overcame them, is often the best way to learn to feel differently about yourself. But remember to have patience. It takes time to change beliefs you have held for a long time.


If you are a woman with a new disability, you may already be used to thinking of yourself as a sexual person. But you may not realize that you can continue to enjoy sex. You may think you are not sexually attractive any more and feel sad that sex may be different now.

All women with disabilities can be helped by reading the same information about sexuality that women who are not disabled read. Try to talk about sexuality with them and with trusted teachers, health care workers, and other women with disabilities.


You and your partner will both need to experiment with how to please each other. For example, if you have no feeling in your hands or genitals, during sex you can find other body parts that will create sexual feeling, such as an ear, or breast, or neck. This can also help if a disability has made sex in the vagina uncomfortable. You can also try different positions, like lying on your side, or sitting on the edge of a chair If you and your partner can talk together honestly, a satisfying sexual relationship can happen. But remember that you do not have to settle for less than you would like. You do not have to have sex with someone who does not care about you.


Family planning

Many girls with disabilities grow up with no information about sex or family planning. Yet most women with disabilities can become pregnant - even those with no feeling in the lower body. So if you plan to have sex and do not want to become pregnant, you will need to use a family planning method.


Here are some guidelines for deciding which family planning method might be best for you:

If you have had a stroke, or cannot walk and you must sit or lie down all the time, do not use hormonal methods, such as birth control pills, injections, or implants. They can cause problems with blood clots.

If you have no feeling or only a little feeling in your belly, do not use an intra-uterine device (IUD). If it is not put in correctly, or if there is a possibility you might get a sexually transmitted disease, it can cause an infection. Without feeling you may not be able to tell that you are infected.

If you cannot use your hands well, it may be difficult for you to use barrier methods, such as the diaphragm, the female condom, or foam. If you feel comfortable asking your partner, he may be able to put them in for you.

If your disability changes over time, you may need to change your family planning method as your disability progresses.

¨ Condoms will help prevent both pregnancy and STDs, including HIV/AIDS.


Pregnancy and disability


A woman with a disability can become pregnant and have a healthy baby. Here are some things to consider, especially if you cannot move your body very much, or if you use a walking aid:

· As your belly gets larger, your balance changes. Some women can use a stick or crutch to prevent falls. Some women may want to use a wheelchair while pregnant.

· Since many pregnant women have trouble with hard stools (constipation), you may need to do your ‘bowel program’ to remove the stool more often.

· During labor, you may not be able to feel the birth pains (contractions). Instead, watch for the shape of your belly to change, and use this to count the time between contractions.

· To prevent stiff joints (contractures) and to keep your muscles strong, exercise as much as you can.

· For more general information on pregnancy and birth, see Pregnancy and Childbirth.