Dating and Intimacy With SMA

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2021

Having spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) does not mean it is impossible to date or have sex. Adults with SMA still have happy and intimate relationships. However, certain stereotypes about disabilities can make dating more difficult. These stigmas can be even worse for LGBTQ+ people with SMA.

Because of these stereotypes, people with SMA often receive less education about sex. They also may have low self-confidence when it comes to dating.

Talk to your doctor or a therapist openly about your concerns related to dating and sex. They can help discuss ways to date while staying physically and emotionally safe.

How does SMA affect dating and relationships?

Adults with SMA can date and have fulfilling relationships with their partners. People with SMA have the same emotional desires for companionship and romantic relationships as everyone else.1,2

Unfortunately, stigma and misconceptions about SMA can affect dating. For example, there are stereotypes that people with disabilities are less romantic or “date-able.” These beliefs are incorrect, but adults with SMA often hear that romantic relationships will not be possible for them.1

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These incorrect beliefs are hurtful and can lead to difficulty finding partners. It can also cause low self-esteem in terms of dating and relationships. But remember that SMA does not make you any less worthy of partnership. Consider talking to support groups or therapists about relationship concerns.3

Online dating has helped people connect more easily than in the past. However, meeting people online can make telling potential partners about SMA difficult. When and how to tell partners about SMA is a complicated and personal decision.1

Arranging transportation to meet in person can also be difficult. Finally, safety is an additional concern.

Research has shown that people with disabilities are more vulnerable to sexual assault and physical abuse. Talk to loved ones or a therapist about how to stay safe while dating.4

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How does SMA affect sexuality?

People with SMA have the same desire for physical intimacy as other adults. Adults with SMA can still have children and start families with their partners. Talk to a genetic counselor about the risk of future children having or carrying SMA. They can help you prepare for all possible situations.1,2

Unfortunately, there are stereotypes that people with disabilities are less sexual or cannot have sex. People often express these stigmas in subtle ways to people with SMA and their partners. For example, people may express to an abled partner that they are a “hero” or “inspiring” for dating someone with SMA.1,5

These misconceptions can cause adults with SMA to have low self-confidence related to sex and intimacy. People with SMA also tend to receive less education about sex.

Many adults with disabilities report that they do not have enough information about how their disability affects sex. Women with disabilities often receive worse feminine care from gynecologists.1,6

Symptoms of SMA can affect how you have sex. But remember that there are many ways to be physically intimate with partners.

All couples are different in how they express their love. Having SMA does not prevent you from achieving this.1,7

SMA and sexual orientation

LGBTQ+ people with SMA have another set of obstacles when it comes to sexuality and relationships.

Unfortunately, the LGBTQ+ community does not have much disability representation and tends to be ability-focused. This means many LGBTQ+ people with disabilities often feel like they are “double minorities” and not fully part of either group.1,8

In most cases, sex education materials and medical care focus on heterosexual needs. This leads to LGBTQ+ people with disabilities having more anxiety and experiences of discrimination.1,8