Actor Lauren 'Lolo' Spencer Talks Disability and Sex
Lauren "Lolo" Spencer, an actor and disability advocate, has heard some memorable (read: icky) pickup lines in her day. Chief among them: Some version of "It's always been on my bucket list to sleep with a girl in a wheelchair."
Spencer details these and other "weird things guys say" in a so-titled episode of "Sitting Pretty Lolo," her YouTube show where she debunks disability myths and shares dating tips.
"I wanted to create content that would answer that question and eventually dispel stereotypes about how disabled people live their lives," she told the New York Times in a December 2022 interview.
Spencer, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, is best known for her current role as Jocelyn in "The Sex Lives of College Girls," a series on HBO Max. The actor said she feels a kinship with Jocelyn, a funny, straight-shooting, sex-positive college freshman.
"Jocelyn was the college version of myself," she explained in the interview. "I was partying all the time, having sex—maybe not as often as Jocelyn is, though."
Disability representation on screen
Spencer's portrayal of Jocelyn has been celebrated for being "damn funny" as well as for being a "positive representation" in the media of disabled people, a group that has been historically underrepresented in TV and film.
Considering the estimated 1 in 4 adults in the United States who are physically or psychologically disabled, on-screen disability portrayals remain scarce, according to a 2022 report from Nielsen, a media research firm. The research, which studied movie and TV representations of characters with disabilities that premiered in the past century, found that of the 163,000-plus titles, only 4.2 percent—or 6,895 titles—were found to have noteworthy disability content.
"Even though the number of disabled characters on screen continues to increase in recent seasons, an estimated 95 percent of available roles are portrayed by talent without a disability," said Lauren Appelbaum, vice president of communications and entertainment and news media at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigma about disabilities, in a statement from 2021. "When disability is a part of a character's story, too often content can position disabled people as someone to pity or someone to cure. It is crucial we have disabled talent both in front of and behind the camera to develop genuine multidimensional characters."
Disability and sexuality on screen
In addition to portraying characters with disabilities as victims, major film studios have a tendency to desexualize them. People with disabilities are seldom cast as love interests and rarely portrayed in romantic or intimate settings.
However, the tide is turning. Recently, actors such as Spencer and George Robinson, a wheelchair user who plays Isaac in the Netflix series "Sex Education," are working to bring more authentic disability representation to the screen. To genuinely reflect the disabled experience, the actors pull from their own experiences to inform their characters.
As Spencer explained in an interview with Essence Magazine, "This role of Jocelyn on 'Sex Lives' is definitely going to be one of the first examples, if not the first example, of being joyful with a disability and doing it in a way that's authentic."
Spencer said she knows the portrayal is realistic "because I'm the one who's lived the experience: Being joyful, being happy, being sexual, being funny without being the butt of the joke and having an attitude being off the chain, partying, all of that."