CALGARY – Online dating is usually a challenge for anyone, but Andrew Gurza has more hurdles than most.
Gurza, who identifies as queer, has cerebral palsy, a developmental disability that affects movement, posture, and co-ordination.
“That’s a complete other layer of stuff there,” says a laughing Gurza, who gets around with a powered wheelchair.
Gurza, 38, hosts a podcast called Disability After Dark in Toronto and devotes much of his show to talking about sex and disability.
He has tried various dating apps and met potential partners who’re disabled and non-disabled. Dating those and not using a disability was “a trash fire,” he says.
“People online say things like, ‘Oh no. What happened to you? It should be so hard to be disabled.’
“The common one that lives on the earth doesn’t have quite a lot of experience with disabled people. So in the case of seeing them as sexual beings or partners, that’s just not of their wheelhouse,” Gurza says. “They’re afraid they’re going to harm their disabled partner. They’re afraid that their disabled partner goes to want care … and that scares them.”
Gurza says he’s given up on dating for now and if he wants a sexual encounter, will go to a sex employee as he has before for what he calls a secure, fun and relaxed experience.
A recent research lab on the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine is working to reply questions that many individuals with developmental and mental disabilities have about sex.
Gurza says he hopes it is going to shine a light-weight on the myths of disabled sexuality and begin a recent conversation.
The Disability and Sexuality Research Lab is the brainchild of Alan Martino, an assistant professor within the Department of Community Health Sciences.
Martino has a brother with a disability and has seen a few of his struggles in forming intimate relationships. He says the virtual lab conducts research and offers advice on every thing from discussion topics for dates to the sexual meaning of the eggplant emoji.
“The eggplant — it’s fascinating. In my communications with members of the (disabled) community, they begin receiving these emojis they usually don’t know what they mean,” he says.
“(The research) may be very sex-positive.”
Martino says many individuals with disabilities are excluded from sex education in class and their parents are sometimes uncomfortable in having “the talk.”
Also they are 4 times more prone to be abused, he says.
“Research shows it’s because we’re not talking about (sex). Silence has real consequences,” Martino says.
“Talking about sexuality empowers people. People need to have a romantic life, need to be loved.”
The lab has two studies underway how members of the family support disabled relationships and the attitudes of health skilled students in the case of disabled sexuality.
The Centre for Sexuality in Calgary has been providing advice and support in areas of sexuality, relationships, human rights, gender identity, sexual orientations and consent for the past 50 years.
Roseline Carter, the centre’s director of programs, says the group has discussed the University of Calgary lab with Martino and agrees there’s an ideal need for it.
“There’s a ton of shame and stigma around disabilities and sexuality. We frequently take into consideration individuals with disabilities as not being sexual beings and actually, we all know that they’re,” she says.
“I feel, greater than anything, we just see that individuals with disabilities wish to discuss it, wish to have relationships and are desperate for information.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2023.