Toronto

Sex-positive party kick-starts discussion of sex and disability

Many people with severe disabilities are unable to date or explore their sexuality in ways that they would like, says the co-organizer of a sex-positive party for people living with disabilities.

Organizers say sex and disability still not a conversation many people want to have

Stella Palikarova, left, and Andrew Morrison-Gurza are throwing a party meant to give people with disabilities a chance to explore and express their sexuality. (Chris Young/ The Canadian Press)

Many people with severe disabilities are unable to date or explore their sexuality in ways that they would like, says the co-organizer of a sex-positive party for people living with disabilities, who hopes the event begins a conversation that helps break down those barriers.

About 100 people are expected to attend the sold-out Deliciously Disabled party Friday at 8 p.m. at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. The event includes as space for wheelchairs or other mobility devices, as well as personal support workers, and will feature burlesque performances and flirtation workshops.

Partygoers can also engage with each other sexually if they wish, says co-organizer Stella Palikarova. But, despite the event's portrayal in some media reports, "This party is definitely not an orgy," Palikarova told CBC's Ontario Today on Thursday.

Palikarova lives with spinal muscular atrophy, a congenital neuromuscular disability that affects muscle strength.

When she was an undergraduate student, Palikarova wrote a psychology paper on dating perceptions and experiences of adolescent girls with congenital mobility disabilities. She wanted to know what other young women like her were experiencing.

"It was pretty dour research to do because I found that a lot of women were not dating early on in their teens, were experiencing a lot of peer rejection in the area of dating, or simply didn't think that they would be desirable partners," she says.

A lot of the women that she encountered in her research had not been in a serious romantic relationship or had not had their first sexual experience until they were well into adulthood.

Not only do young women with disabilities face discrimination, Palikarova says. They also deal with over-protective parents who fear that their daughters will be taken advantage of in a relationship, as well as concern from the parents of a prospective partner, who fear their child will become a caregiver.

"All of these perceptions affect women with disabilities," she says.

Event co-organizer Andrew Morrison-Gurza, who lives with cerebral palsy, started Deliciously Disabled Consulting six months ago because the issue of sex and disability is "just not a conversation that we're having enough."

"We don't have a language to discuss disability that is sexy and funny and honest," Morrison-Gurza told Ontario Today.

Morrison-Gurza also came out when he was 15, and found that, "I had no representation" in popular culture. "I got tired of not seeing myself."

He also got frustrated when romantic partners would show a lack of sensitivity to or knowledge about negotiating and discussing sexual activity in the bedroom.

"I realized very quickly that I had to create a narrative to make myself feel important and strong in this environment, but give the community the chance to have this discussion," he says.

Palikarova anticipates that Friday's party will be the first of many.

"I've always been interested and curious about attending this kind of event myself," Palikarova says.

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