Relationships & Sex

Sex On Wheels: what did you think?

Did you watch the new Channel 4 documentary Sex on Wheels? Laura Chapman, a freelance writer and wheelchair user, gives her views on the new TV show.

You can’t help wondering just what is in store for you when you settle down to watch Sex on Wheels… a documentary focusing on the sexual lives of disabled people. It is undoubtedly an extremely emotive subject for anyone who is disabled. But this ground-breaking insight into this (often lonely or frustrated) world expands your horizons and brings with it a new understanding of ourselves and of others around us.

In my view, this should be mandatory viewing, not just for disabled people so that we can see that we really are not so alone in our efforts to lead a normal life, but for our family and friends who might then understand us better.

Let’s face it, many able-bodied people who have never had to deal with disability simply do not understand, or perhaps choose not to examine, the emotions and needs that we have. Our world is one that is hidden from view to a lesser or greater extent.

Thinking about someone disabled having, or even feeling, a need for sex is akin to a teenager thinking about their parents having had sex. Well, we’ve got news for you, disabled people do have normal sexual needs and desires and we do, whenever possible, express and fulfill those needs.

Spending some time glimpsing into the lives of Leah, John, Karl and Pete on Sex on Wheels (whose courage in sharing with the rest of the world their frustrations, dreams and desires) is, at once, both heartwarming and insightful; a candid exploration of the world of disabled sex.

24-year-old Leah has brittle bone disease and stopped counting the number of bones she has broken when the tally reached something like 400. She approaches life with a very pragmatic yet warm attitude and her open mind and humorous acceptance of her situation is a real example of how we can lead a sexually active and fulfilling life.

Through the show we get to know a little about her hopes and dreams for a stable and long-term relationship. I can only admire her ability to enjoy what life brings her, even if it isn’t all that she wants. You get a real sense that Leah has managed to find a measure of joy and pleasure in her interactions with others – her friends and her sexual partners – and this is really uplifting.

Karl has a different experience to tell altogether. At the time of filming, it had only been 10 months since a road traffic accident left him paralysed from the waist down. Sexually active prior to his disability and with a strong sex drive, Karl shares with the cameras and with us his frustration at his inability to gain an erection or to return to even a shadow of his previous sexual identity.

His story is not merely one of being able to express his sexuality, but also his psychological battle to come to terms with his loss of who he was. The emotional turmoil he feels is quite evident, as is his need to regain his manhood. The programme takes him on a journey to explore alternative methods of receiving sexual pleasure and we can see very clearly that although he has not relinquished his compulsion to enjoy a full erection, he has found some measure of release and satisfaction in his experiences.

John has learning difficulties and, at 26, is still a virgin. He has watched his sibling grow up, been privy to their personal sexual awakening and felt left on the sidelines of life. The documentary shows us the extraordinary love and courage of his mother who, after agonising internally, decides that she will arrange for John to lose his virginity with the assistance of an escort.

John is a lovely young man with a wonderful sense of confidence, which comes, in part, from the supportive family background he has been lucky enough to enjoy. The cameras follow the prelude to his first sexual encounter with respect and a delicacy that is rarely seen in the media today. The transformation which John undergoes is seen in his face and demeanor and we are left in no doubt that his experience has been both liberating and fulfilling. There is a real sense of hope that he will go on to develop relationships with others around him on a level that will bring him real joy and satisfaction.

There can be only one word to describe Pete and that word is irrepressible. His confidence and drive to express his sexuality, his lack of inhibition, all serve to convince us that if anyone can reach their goals, he is the one. He quite frankly shares his views on sex with the audience and leaves no doubt as to his ability to fully engage in sexual activity. We can only admire his positive attitude and determination and feel warmth towards him for his ambition to become a disabled porn star – if only to dispose of the huge bills he faces for escort services. Pete has a ‘never say die’ attitude, which is really inspiring.

Such an unexpected, but infinitely moving, insight into the support and care shown to disabled adults by escorts must surely initiate a change in our established, societal view of sex workers. This can only lead to a more balanced and open consideration and appreciation for the role that these often maligned or misunderstood people fulfill in the lives of at least some of the 10 million disabled living in this country. Their work in assisting so many to enjoy a natural function (that is generally taken for granted by the able bodied) is commendable.

The documentary not only takes us on a very intimate journey through the lives of the participants in the programme, but leaves us with much food for thought. While Leah’s mother was shocked by her daughter’s admission, at the age of 19, that she was sexually active, John’s mother showed an insight into his situation that perhaps few could hope to match.

This prompts a re-examination of beliefs and values that can only enhance our relationships with others around us and goes some way towards removing the barriers to enjoyment of a sexually active lifestyle. The programme does not touch upon the delicate subject of sexually transmitted diseases; how disabled people view the risks (or deal with their occurrence) and what facilities there are available for disabled people, other than their GP or local sexual health clinic.

While some disabled people may have no qualms about openly accessing sexual health services, some may find this quite daunting and prefer getting tested for STIs using online services to check out any sexual health concerns they might have. Hopefully this subject will be dealt with in one of the other programmes in the series still to be screened.

Sex on Wheels has been so evocative and uplifting. A first class and superbly made documentary which treats a difficult subject with the dignity it deserves.

By Laura Chapman

Check out…

Becky Adams: disability and sex at Para-doxies.
Is it OK for disabled people to visit an escort?
Night of the Senses: accessibility and sexual expression.

We’d love to know what you think about Sex on Wheels, so get in touch by emailing us at, messaging us on Facebook, tweeting us @DHorizons or leaving your comments below. And don’t forget to visit our Relationships & Sex section for more articles on sex and disability.

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