What is sex?
Most people think of sex as penetrative sex, which is when something (like a penis or a sex toy) goes inside someone else's mouth, vagina or anus, but there are lots of ways to have sex. Different types of sex include:
- vaginal sex (a penis inside a vagina)
- oral sex (mouth on a penis or vagina)
- anal sex (a penis in a bottom)
- fingering or hand jobs (fingers in a vagina or on a penis)
- masturbation (touching your own genitals for pleasure)
- using sex toys, like vibrators for pleasure.
People use many different words for having sex. The most common are ‘making love’ or ‘having sex'.
People with disability have a right to have sex and feel good about it. There are also lots of other ways to be intimate in a relationship without having sex. For example, holding hands, cuddling and kissing.
Remember! Sex is a very private thing that you can do with a partner only when you both agree you want to. This is called consent. It is not OK to have sex with someone without consent.
Limitations for people with disability
Despite common views that people with disability are asexual or do not have sex, having a disability does not change your sexuality and your sexual desires.
Fact: Many people with disability can and do have sex. One of the biggest barriers to expressing your sexuality can often be what other people think.
Some people with disability may be concerned about having sex due to physical limitations, fatigue or pain. But this does not mean they cannot have sex. You may just have to do it differently. Some things that can help include:
- sex toys
- a support worker to provide assistance
- sex therapy.
What is consent?
Sexual consent is when two people agree to have sex. Consent can be verbal – like someone saying ‘yes,’ or it can be non-verbal – like someone nodding their head or giving a thumbs up in response to a clear question about whether they want to have sex.
Having sex with someone without consent is a form of sexual violence and is never OK. It is also called sexual assault or rape.
You can learn more about what sexual violence is on the What is Violence? page.
Everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and to have these respected. For example, some people may not like to be kissed on the cheek by someone they have just met. Everyone is different, which is why it is important to always ask for consent.
Sex and the law
Each state in Australia has laws that say you must be over a certain age before you can consent to having sex. This is called the “age of consent”.
In Tasmania and South Australia, the age of consent is 17 years. In every other state and territory, the age of consent is 16 years.
It is against the law for someone to have sex with you if:
- you are under the age of consent
- they are a close family member, like a parent or sibling
- they are a support person or staff member, like a carer, therapist, doctor or teacher.
You also cannot give consent if:
- you are being pressured or forced to have sex
- you are asleep or unconscious
- you have had too much alcohol or drugs
- you do not understand what you are saying yes to.
Sex Therapists and Sex Workers
If you need support to have sex you can talk to a sex therapist or pay for services from a sex worker.
Sex therapists - talk to individuals and couples to help solve any problems that are impacting on their sex lives. This may include anxiety and stress, as well as physical difficulties, such as having a low sex drive.
Tip: You can find a sex therapist online or in your state on the Society of Australian Sexologists website (external link).
Sex workers – are workers who offer sex and sexual experiences to people in exchange for money or other things of value.
People with disability have the same rights to access sex work services as everyone else. For many people with disability, accessing a sex worker can be therapeutic and beneficial for their health.
Note: Sex work is illegal in some states in Australia. You can find out more about the laws in your state or territory on the Scarlett Alliance website (external link).
Did you know?
Touching Base is an organisation that links people with disability with trained disability sex workers in Australia. Learn more on the Touching Base website (external link).
The NDIS and sex
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) currently only supports access to sex therapy, but not sex work. If you are an NDIS participant, and you want to access supports to help you have sex, you should talk directly to the NDIS about this.
Tip: You can learn more about what the NDIS covers on the National Disability Insurance Scheme website (external link).