Sex is all around us until disability is concerned, there it remains a taboo subject in society. It may come as a shock to some but disabled people do have sex. Access Sex is a photographic collaboration of a woman’s exploration after disability. Becoming disabled in 2000, 21 year old wheelchair user and co-owner of the Main Artery Gallery in Vancover, Kyla Harris bravely breaks the mould in a revealing expose Access Sex.
One of the first questions I’m asked when I meet a stranger is, so… can you have sex? When people meet me they are inquisitive. I am a relatively attractive young woman in a wheelchair. The reason why I’m asked this may be because of a lack in social graces, curiosity or plain ignorance. This and other catalysts, spurred me to work on a photography project with Sarah Murray called Access Sex, looking at disabilities and sexuality. The main reason why this issue needs to be addressed is because of misrepresentation (or lack of) of people with disabilities in the media. – Kyla Harris
A collection of thought provoking images that raise questions Access Sex is a collaborative work of photographs taken by Sarah Murray featuring wheelchair user Kyla Harris in a range of provocative poses. Art being primarily subjective these images connect with the many different audiences that view them. The project Access Sex aims to change predetermined ideas and prevent future misjudgments on sexuality with a disability.
Often wheelchair users and people with disabilities are seen as asexual and few examples in the media contradict that message. Similar to able-bodied people, not all people with disabilities are sexy, but that doesn’t mean people with disabilities can’t have sex or can’t enjoy it.
According to the World Health Organization, sexuality is a basic need and aspect of being human that cannot be separated from other aspects of life. However, the world being largely media driven all to often people with disabilities are not portrayed in a positive sexual light, as able-bodied people have set the sexual standard.
In popular culture Playboy is the leading pornographic men’s magazine and has been setting sexual standards therein since 1953. All of Playboys models over that time have been able-bodied with the exception of wheelchair user Ellen Stohl, a C8/T1 incomplete quadriplegic who became the first Playboy bunny to model in July of 1987 and Aimee Mullins, an amputee from the age of one.
Aimee Mullins modeled for Alexander McQueen on the cover of Dazed and Confused in August 1998 and starred in Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster Cycle” in 2002. Apart from quadriplegic wheelchair user Ellen Stohl and amputee Aimee Mullins, people with disabilities have largely been typecast as estranged victims, hospitalized seniors and on-set extras sitting in wheelchairs to provide an institutional atmosphere.
The project Access Sex is necessary to not only make people aware of the fact that people with disabilities are seen as asexual beings but to also highlight the origins of their thoughts on disabilities and sexuality. With a range of images the connection between disabilities and sexuality at times is merely a suggestion to ease people into something they may have never consciously thought about.
Ultimately the answer to the question is yes, I can have sex. Want to see some photos that might answer other questions? – Kyla Harris
After her accident in 2000 at 15 years of age coming to reach her sexual maturity and understanding, strangers often questioned Kyla about her sexuality and whether she could have sex. Kyla felt it necessary to contradict the stereotype of people with disabilities as asexual, a notion she herself questioned after her own spinal cord injury disability. Kyla began to identify with her sexuality and noticed how it was being denied.
In 2006, Kyla Harris approached fellow Canadian artist photographer Sarah Murray to produce the works for Access Sex. The theme evolved to present sexuality and physical disability together – encouraging a general audience to look beyond the confines of the human body. The splendid body of works in Access Sex have been showcased in Vancouver and Toronto at the Main Artery, the Joseph D Carrier Gallery and “Nuit Blanche” in October 2009.
Art and sexuality cannot be separated or extracted from life, Kyla recalls, it made sense to me to explain that notion in reference to my own experiences.
The project Access Sex to me has been successful on many levels. I’ve met an amazing friend, Sarah, whom I respect personally and professionally, my perception of myself has become more positive and made me more passionate about my art and opinions, and I believe the photographs have made a variety of people aware that people with disabilities are sexual beings. Now my hopes are to expand Access Sex and continue to challenge pre-conceptions and stereotypes. – Kyla Harris
- Abilities Arts Festival: http://www.abilitiesartsfestival.org
- Access Sex at About.com: http://sexuality.about.com/b/2007/10/26/access-sex.htm
- Main Artery Gallery: http://www.mainarterygallery.com
- Kyla Harris: http://kylaharris.net
- Sarah Murray: http://www.smurrayphoto.com/accesssex/