Sexual health, if you are living with a disability, is not a level playing field

We’ve come so far in reducing the stigma and misinformation around sexual health, but, if you’re living with a disability, we’re still banging on doors for equal access

As the conversation around sexual health slowly becomes more honest and more mainstream – rather than festering as the Catholic-guilt-ridden, shameful affair that it once was – there’s still a level of privacy and ease that people want when they’re going into a clinic for an appointment.

With free walk-in services in different clinics and hospitals across the country, it’s never been easier to keep a check on your own personal sexual health, but this still isn’t the case for people living with physical disabilities.

When we visit sexual health clinics, the eternal battle against protected buildings rages on, as a large number of the clinics are located in old Georgian buildings, with steps and stairs providing an immediate obstacle.

While some of the newer clinics, or hospital-based ones, can boast glamorous things like lifts – ooh! – and automatic doors – aah!, the examination tables that are often used for smear tests and STI screenings cannot be lowered to assist those with restricted mobility. If you are sexually active, you are encouraged to be tested for STIs and HIV annually, but if you are sexually active and disabled, the lack of information online regarding the access facilities in different clinics may delay your visit. This exclusion not only affects our health but psychologically, it can make a big impact us.


As consenting adults, should we not be as sexually active as our non-disabled peers?

The lack of access information online for these clinics is limited, and phoning around can be quite frustrating, especially if you are feeling anxious. As an aptly scheduled Valentine's Special for my own access blog Legless in Dublin, I rounded up information on various sexual health services available in Dublin that have access facilities and services for disabled people.

Unsurprisingly, it's not a long list. The fully accessible locations just so happen to include Dublin's largest sexual health clinics and they are located in Beaumont Hospital, The GUIDE Clinic in St. James' Hospital and Mater Misericordiae Hospital. These three clinics offer free STI and HIV testing. Himerus Health is a private sexual health and STI testing clinic in Dublin 8 and it is also fully accessible.

When it comes to locations that are less accessible, there are ways to still use their services, while retaining an element of privacy. The three Well Woman Centres in Dublin offer appointments for STI testing, smear testing, family planning, crisis pregnancies, menopause consultation, counselling and many other essential services. While their Liffey Street clinic is not wheelchair accessible, their clinic in Northside Shopping Centre is. Their Pembroke Road location has three steps down to the front door, but they say that they can assist their clients however they need.

The Gay Men's Health Service Clinic on Baggot Streetis a great example of a place that has fully considered the privacy and access needs for their disabled clients. For their free walk-in appointments on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, wheelchair access is available from the Haddington Road entrance and they suggest that you text them on 087 941 0934 to arrange this. They also offer ISL Interpreters, but you must text them at least one day in advance to book an interpreter.

Using a more casual approach, KnowNow conduct free rapid HIV tests in non-clinical settings around Ireland like bars, saunas and clubs. One of their Dublin locations is the ground level of The George, which is completely wheelchair accessible. Testing also takes place in the basement of Pantibar for privacy, but if a person with limited mobility wants to use this service and they are comfortable getting tested on the ground level, that can be arranged.

When it comes to sex and disability, there’s a space in the media that narrows in on the more personal side of things, bordering on voyeurism and fetishisation, instead of looking at how a lack of access, privacy and anonymity can actually affect the sexual health and confidence of disabled people.

Basic healthcare should be an easy thing to achieve in 2018.

We’ve come so far in reducing the stigma and misinformation around sexual health, but, if you’re living with a disability, we’re still banging on doors for equal access.

Platform Series - Louise Bruton
1) Sexual health
2) Day I started using a wheelchair
3) 'Wheelchair-friendly' rooms
4) Please don't ask me
5) 'Inspiration'
6) Asking for help
7) Things you learn in a wheelchair
8) Sex and disability in the spotlight
9) I spend much of my time waiting
10) People with disabilities need allies