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The Right to Sexual Pleasure: Disability; Commercial Sex and Activism

Teela Sanders, School of Sociology & Social Policy, University of Leeds


This paper directly examines the current issues relating to commercial sex and people living with disabilities and uses a wider framework of the right to sexuality, sexual pleasure and expression as a point of understanding critical political issues. Including facilitated and assisted sex on the same continuum of commercial sex, I analyze these activities in an international context, examining the different legal frameworks which impact on disabled people's rights to a sex life. Some states recognize sex as part of a holistic quality of life whereas others exclude sexuality from the rights of disabled people. Second, focusing on the UK's political climate and fierce anti-commercial sex agenda since 2004, this paper looks at what criminalizing paying for sex would mean for many men who buy sexual services. Third, I explore the role of the organization 'The Outsiders' who are a political campaigning group of disabled people and activists as well as a self-help 'club' that assists people living with impairments to find sexual partners and romance. Here I analyze the relationship between sex work lobby groups and activists with the disabled rights movement and suggest why there needs to be more allegiance for successful outcomes for both sex worker labour rights and the rights of disabled people to purchase sex, express their sexuality and achieve sexual pleasure. This paper concludes that sexual consent and freedom for all should be protected in order that sexual diversity is disentangled from deviancy and criminality.

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