Sexuality & Disability Consultancy & Training
People with disabilities can be uniquely vulnerable to missing out on social learning regarding body changes, self-assertion, flirtation, courtship, dating and safety and so on. Development in this matters are usually supported by peer relationships, open communication and experimentation, that most others in the population take for granted.
Contributing factors include:
Isolation and over-protection can be such a feature of life, that some people with a disability can be caught in a space that does not provide any supported learning about sexuality. Some even miss out on healthy relationships and sexuality education in the school curriculum. There are people who sincerely believe that because the lives of some people with a disability are so limited, they do not need to know anything and that silence is best.
The result can be low self confidence, psychological complications, increased vulnerability, messy social and sexual experiences or problematic behaviours. This can be especially the case for people who have a disability that impacts on their learning.
Abuse and exploitation can thrive where there is an absence of open communication and permission to learn and deepen understanding. Both women and men with some disabilities are two or three times as likely to experience sexual abuse than their less-disabled peers. Most perpetrators are known to the individual and form part of their support network or peer group.
All people need the knowledge of who is NOT allowed to be sexual with them and the confidence to say NO and the power to remove themselves from the situation and tell someone.
Supported learning is therefore often necessary.
Learning about healthy relationships and sexuality is a life-long journey. It should start from early childhood and build in content over the life journey. It needs plenty of time, attention and permission to have conversations by supportive individuals who step into and out of the lives of people with a disability.
Every moment is potentially a learning moment, but there are wonderful opportunities to support learning before, as and when individuals encounter the world of sexual feelings, desire, relationships and intimacy; not just afterwards.
Whilst many experiences are positive, others can be confusing or downright traumatic. It is therefore vital that those who support the lives of people living with a learning-related disability are able to make themselves available to help turn these experiences into vehicles for learning. Everyone needs opportunity to learn in the in whatever way works best for them.
Conversations, learning exercises, illustrated social stories, Easy Read information sheets and slide sets, books, charts, 3D models, photographs, tasteful line drawings, video-modelling, basic rules about boundaries and touch, interactive CD-Roms, Online Apps, Task analysis and others are all great tools that can be used to support learning. It is useful if parents, teachers, support workers and disability professionals from all disciplines do what they can to build their knowledge of the tools that are at their disposal and use them as often as possible. The Resources Page of this website provides some links to possible education resources.
Sexuality is a multi-dimensional part of all human beings and is connected to matters of identity, attraction, desire, arousal, flirtation, self expression, health, intimacy, self assertion, sensuality, relationships, love and so on.
Sexual health is about knowledge, choice, decision-making, self control, pleasure, freedom and safety and being able to access supports and medical intervention when necessary.
Sex does not have to involve sexual intercourse, but can be about self pleasuring, sensual sharing, "foreplay" or what some people call "outercourse ". Sexual self expression may not even always be about genitals, but in its broadest sense, can involve sensual enjoyment of any part of the body.
The following (and more) are therefore all potential areas of learning that can contribute to healthy relationships and positive self esteem about sexuality:
attributable to: Olesia Bilkei, Ukraine, accessed 18/11/19
Joan Armatrading 1977