Intimacy and Disability: It's Not as Complicated as They Think

Christinne Rudd and her son

The word "intimacy" conjures up ideas that may or may not be accurate.  In the realm of dating, more often than not, people with disabilities aren't seen as potential partners by those who aren't disabled.  There are even many misconceptions by potential partners and even our parents, about this inevitable part of our lives. That doesn't mean that the person themselves hasn't thought about having a boyfriend or girlfriend, by the time they hit puberty. It makes me think about the "Law and Order: SVU" episode where there's a girl with Down Syndrome, who ends up pregnant and wants to take care of her baby. When thinking about becoming a mother, her disability doesn't even cross her mind.

When we're younger, and it's time for "The Talk", a lot of parents avoid it all together. I often wonder, how many parents realize that if they have a child who is or becomes disabled, they could still have the potential to lead a full life, complete with successful relationships and a happy family? Probably not too many. Some parents feel like if they don't talk about it with us, it just won't happen.  I don't think there's any malice in this line of thinking. It seems more like a way to protect us from the world, outside the safety of our homes. The downfall to that is if we don't get accurate information from our parents, we'll learn from our friends, and they might not be the best source of information.

Everyone needs education on this subject, no matter how uncomfortable the thought of talking about it. It's an integral part of our overall health so we know how to protect ourselves. This is also part of our social development where we can learn about boundaries between men and women.  The more accurate information we receive from our loved ones, and the more the lines of communication are open with them, we have a better chance of not being victimized in a social or dating situation.  Additionally, if proper precautions aren't taken and we aren't taught what they are from the beginning, sexually transmitted diseases can have a devastating impact on our lives, not to mention unplanned pregnancies that may result.

The dating phase of our teenage years, gives us socialization skills that are difficult to acquire in any other setting.  It's a bit ironic to me that the older I got, the more people seem to think I wasn't interested in being in a relationship or having a family. Some people, sadly to say, even medical professionals, didn't feel like this was physically possible because my legs and hand do not work like everyone else's. Despite their many years of education, somewhere along the line it looks like these professionals forget that we're still human beings. That sounds kind of rude but, it seems that even to them, that part of our lives should be non-existent. I've seen looks of shock on the faces of healthcare workers when they find out that I, a person with a disability, got pregnant in the traditional way. Add into the mix that I take care of my son, and they're simply blown away.  Considering my Cerebral Palsy limits my mobility and I have limited use of my left arm, people might even wonder how I do something as basic as change his diaper.

I'm not trying to sound like Dr. Ruth, the famous sex therapist, but, intimacy is more than just sex. Once we can get our potential partners to see past our limitations, they might give themselves the opportunity to meet us, the people. One of the main ways we can do that is to show them that we have interests and other factors in our lives that don't revolve around our disability. Maybe we enjoy watching sports together, going on a picnic or taking in the newest traveling play that's come to town. These are all things that can increase intimacy with the other person. An open mind about anything in this world gives us the chance to learn about things we never thought were possible. If you have some limitations that don't make it so easy for you to venture out often, it isn't so difficult to be part of today's dating scene. There are even some websites that specifically cater to people with disabilities dating someone who also has a disability such as Dating Disabled and Dating 4 Disabled.

Communication is the key to any relationship. That concept also applies to being in a relationship with someone who has a disability. It's also the best way to finding out about a person and what their abilities are on all levels. The more the lines of communication are open, the easier it will be to talk about what seem to be the most difficult subjects. This is also a part that is missed, that leads to the ultimate intimacy in the most successful relationships. It's not downhill if someone who isn't disabled, dates someone who has a disability. As with everything else, probably the scariest part of even approaching the idea of starting a relationship with that other person, is not really knowing about their disability. It also may seem like an uncomfortable conversation to have with your partner but, in the long run, you'll probably both be glad and maybe even relieved while discovering things you didn't know about each other. Amazingly, the more time you spend together, the other person might see that you're just a person who happens to have a disability. Wouldn't that just be wild?

Sometimes I've heard people say they have times where they feel overwhelmed by being in a relationship with someone who has a disability. Feelings of being overwhelmed can arise in any relationship, especially if you've been together for a long time. Coming together as a couple, gives you a better chance to find solutions to any obstacle that might arise.  Plus, just think of how much fun you can have discovering the solution. Conquering the unknown, or even tackling something you or your partner thought would be impossible, can also increase the intimacy you share tenfold. Either way, the possibilities can be both endless and invigorating.

Everyone should have the opportunity to experience life to the fullest.  Our disabilities don't make us less of a person because we have limitations.  This also includes being in a relationship, and even having a family, if that's what we choose to do with our lives. As a result, we can experience a greater sense of empowerment because we have steered our life in the direction that makes us happiest.


Christinne Rudd is a disability advocate, speaker, author, and consultant.  Mrs. Rudd holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies and a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice both from the University of Central Florida.  Her interests include Parenting with a Disability, Disabled Victims of Crime, IEP issues and the ADA. She authors a disability-related blog at You can also "like" her Facebook page at She is originally from Brooklyn, New York and moved to Orlando in 1996. You can reach her at



  1. I have a spinal cord injury, T12-L1 from birth, incomplete. I used crutches and braces for all of my childhood. I decided to use the wheelchair full time when I was diagnosed with early stages of nerve damage in my wrists (I was 20 at the time), I would have eventually ended up in the chair full time but without the use of my hands.

    My husband and I have been together for 26 years now. We, also, have a 26 year old son.

    I think one of my favorite, or the worse one, is when my husband and I were at a church function and I had an older gentleman ask me about my disability. When I explained that I had always been disabled he looked at me with this incredulous expression and said "And he married you anyway???"
    When my husband found out he wanted to talk some sense into the guy.

    The other time was some family members of a friend of mine. Her cousin and sister were amazed that my husband and I had a child! Then they asked "How?" She replied that they were lucky that my husband wasn't there.

    We got pregnant the "fun" way.


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