Disability, intimacy, pleasure and sexuality: Seminar overview and podcasts

Disability, intimacy, pleasure and sexuality: towards cultures of respect

 An afternoon seminar held at The Chancellery, University of New South Wales
November 2014 – co-sponsored by
Touching Base Inc, People with Disability Aust Inc & Family Planning NSW

by Associate Professor Helen Meekosha

School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

The experience of sexuality, intimacy and touch remains a central, yet often overlooked, issue for people with disabilities. Many of us can spend a lifetime without any opportunity for intimacy and sexual experiences. On the other hand, for women with disabilities in particular, sexual experiences may only be experienced as violent and abusive. Paradoxically fear of such abuse may result in excessive protection of disabled women by parents, family and service providers. In this scenario, opportunities for sexual and intimate experiences are denied.

While access to respectful and experienced sex workers such as those associated with the advocacy group Touching Base is a choice all disabled people should be able to exercise, other avenues of sexual participation also need to be recognized, advocated for and funded. Disabled people need to take their place in society as full sexual beings and deemed worthy of meaningful intimate relationships.

This seminar is a milestone in understanding and coming to grips with these complex issues. This is the first time that sex workers, disability activists, older activists, feminists, service providers and academics have come together in a university setting to debate and look for solutions. It is extremely exciting that we also have with us my very good friend and colleague, Dr. Tom Shakespeare from the Norwich medical school, University of East Anglia, UK whose pioneering work The sexual politics of disability: Untold desires (1996) written with Kath Gillespie-Sells and Dominic Davies broke through the barriers in this field of practice and research.

Podcasts of Speakers

Dr Tom Shakespeare, International Guest Speaker
Don’t touch? People with disabilities getting to grips with bodies and inhibitions.

In this talk Tom explores how alienated disabled people can be from their bodies as a result of complicated feelings about impairment, exposure to the medical gaze, and wider social prejudices.

Rosalie Power
Moving beyond the sticky myths

Rosalie Power from Family Planning NSW outlines how prevailing myths impact the provision of comprehensive sexuality education and support for people with intellectual disability. Rosie explores how do we move beyond these myths to uphold the sexual rights of people with intellectual disability?

Janna Taylor
Let’s not forget to talk about sex

In this clip Janna Taylor, from Inner Gold Healing, talks about reinterpreting sexual behaviour in people with dementia and how we can assist a person with dementia live life to the fullest.

Matthew Bowden
Protectionism vs Liberty

Matthew Bowden from People With Disability Australia Inc, discusses how governments and service providers seem committed to a complex balancing act of protecting people with disability against sexual violence, and enabling and supporting the development of positive experiences of sexuality – the current framework brings with it many pitfalls.

Denise Beckwith
It really doesn’t need to be hard

Denise has been the referral list operator for Touching Base for the best part of a decade. In this talk Denise provides an overview of Touching Base Inc. focusing on the operation of an ever-expanding Referral List of disability friendly sex workers and brothels, and the nature of some of the enquiries received.

Getting involved with future roundtable seminars

If you would like to be a part of or contribute to future seminars, please email us at info@touchingbase.org and include in your email:
• Name
• Organisational or institution affiliations
• Specific areas of interest


Many thanks to the University of NSW Faculty of Arts & Science for providing the venue and thanks to the people who made this event possible, including: Associate Professor Helen Meekosha (host), Richard Capuano (camera person and podcast editor), and Saul Isbister & Laura Wright & Carla Stevens (admin), and Touching Base’s co-sponsors People With Disability Australia and Family Planning NSW. Many thanks also to all the participants who made this event so special and insightful.

Touching Base endorses The Uluru Statement from the Heart and acknowledges First Nations as the traditional custodians of country throughout Australia, their diversity, histories and knowledge, and their continuing connections to land and community. As Australians all, we respect our nation’s First Peoples, their cultures, and Elders of past, present and future generations.