The University of Calgary has launched its Disability & Sexuality Lab – the first of its kind! 

The Disability & Sexuality Lab aims to promote social change by addressing needs related to disability and sexuality. Born from a demonstrated need to support people with developmental and intellectual disabilities in navigating healthy relationships and dating, researchers in the lab are working with several community partners to co-create research projects that answer questions and concerns that are applicable in the real world, right now.

Research shows that “people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are four times more likely to be sexually abused. And it’s partly because no one is talking about it,” says says Dr. Alan Martino, head of the new lab. No parent relishes the dreaded “sex talk” with their kids, but parents of disabled kids are often looking for more information and support to discuss sexuality with their children. “Silence has real consequences,” he adds.

Naomi Eastman, a Bachelor of Community Rehabilitation student, helped launch the lab and its Twitter account. (You can follow them HERE!)

“People really appreciate the positive lens we have on our posts. Instead of only negativity around sexuality and intimacy,” says Eastman, a research assistant. “Organizations are already sharing our infographics in the disabled community.”

The lab is in a virtual space, for now, with plans to do more outreach and events in the community. The wider community is already taking notice. Scholars in countries such as Malta, Brazil, Ireland, U.K., and the United States are asking about the current projects, as well as disability service providers across Canada.

“There is clearly an interest in this type of work, which is extremely encouraging to us. There is a recognition that sexual education for disabled people over-emphasizes abuse, vulnerability, and abstinence. Of course, those topics are crucial,” says Martino. “But we also need to make space for conversations about more positive aspects of sexuality with people with disability. This includes, for example, “Netflix and chill,” navigating online dating, knowing where to meet people and being comfortable expressing sexual identity outside dominant heteronormative/able-bodied discussions.”

Call for study participants

Martino has two studies underway that require additional participants. One is recruiting parent(s) and sibling(s) in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge who have family members labeled with disabilities. Researchers want to learn how family members are supporting their loved ones’ intimate life.

The second is seeking input from graduate students. The team wants to explore the attitudes of health-professional students in Canada toward the sexuality of disabled people. Prior studies suggest that post-secondary students in health professions may lack knowledge and understanding about the intersection of disability and sexuality.

*This article has been condensed from the original, published in UCalgary News (February 24, 2023)


Disability & Sexualtiy lab, Ucalgary, launch

Questions? Contact Us!

Can't find what you're looking for? Contact Us