A psychologist on ‘making disability sexy’

Dr. Danielle Sheypuk is attempting to derail the stigma around sex and people with physical disabilities. Born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, Sheypuk knows what it’s like to have a disability -- and a sex life. But she worries that popular culture tends to show only able-bodied individuals having sex in traditional ways. This is her Brief but Spectacular take on how “anything can be sexy.”

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    And now to another in our Brief but Spectacular series.

    Tonight, Danielle Sheypuk on stigmas and disabilities. A former Ms. Wheelchair New York, she is also a psychologist who specializes in relationships and sexuality among those with disabilities.

  • And a warning:

    The subject matter is for a mature audience.

  • DR. DANIELLE SHEYPUK, Clinical Psychologist:

    I am a clinical psychologist and a runway model.

    I have spinal muscular atrophy type 2. I was born this way. I'm sure we could cut to pictures of me right now as a kid looking cute. But we're going to cut back to me.

    Let's focus on sex, intimacy, relationships,and disability. Can you handle it?

    I joke a lot that I'm Ms. Wheelchair New York by night and clinical psychologist by day. I'm on Tinder. I'm out there dating. It really supplements what I do as a clinician, because I know exactly what my patients with disabilities encounter.

    People have asked me many times online dating, can you function sexually? And I always answer back, yes. Can you?

    I remember, when I first moved to New York and started dating, I was just, you know, being rejected, having inappropriate questions asked about me, like, oh, hi, what's your name? Oh, can you have sex?

    You know, you really don't start out conversations like that.

    The problem lies in the fact that we don't see a lot of people with disability in the media.

    One night, I got a call from my friend who said: Hey, I found this pageant online, the Ms. Wheelchair New York Pageant.

    And I thought to myself, let me do that pageant, and let me try and win it. If I could wear high heels, then they can. If I can dress sexy or do my hair, then they can do it, too.

    There are numerous stereotypes that are still associated with disability, being asexual, being unable to have sex, we don't make good romantic partners.

    So the notion of sex in society that we see on TV, it often shows these physically fit people having traditional forms of sex. You don't have to be able to do the standard throw-down notions of sex. Anything can be sexy. It could be a fluttering eyelash on a cheek.

    When you don't see yourself in those magazines or part of those models, then you internalize that image and think that, OK, I guess I'm not sexy.

    People with disabilities have the same sexual needs and desires and appetite for romance and intimacy that everyone else has. It's part of being human.

    My name is Dr. Danielle Sheypuk, and this is my Brief but Spectacular take on making disability sexy.


    Watch more from our Brief But Spectacular series on our Web site, pbs.org/newshour/brief/.

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