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Let's talk about sex

11 December 2017
Nayyara Tabassum and Carla Barrett

Sexuality is a human right. Yet, all too often, the sexual needs of people with a learning disability are not acknowledged.

We've compiled some frequently asked questions regarding the sexuality of people with a learning disability.

  • Do people with a learning disability have sexual needs?

Of course! People with a learning disability may be straight, LGBTQ or asexual. But regardless of their sexuality, everyone has the right to express their sexual needs and sexuality in a safe and legal way.

  • Why are personal and sexual relationships important to people with a learning disability?

They're important because they provide people with fulfilment, improve their self-esteem and help reduce loneliness. They can also reduce health risks, such as depression, high blood pressure and higher mortality risk.

  • What sexual rights do people with a learning disability have?

Just like everybody else, people with a learning disability have sexual rights, which need to be affirmed, defended and respected (WHO 2006). These rights were enshrined in UK law by the Human Rights Act (HM Government 1998). The UNCRPD explicitly enshrines the rights of disabled people to a family and the Mental Capacity Act (2005) supports the rights of people with a learning disability to engage in consensual sex.

  • What barriers do people with a learning disability face in their personal and sexual relationships?

Sex Education: Many people with a learning disability may not have been taught about sexual health, contraception, LGBTQ relationships, masturbation and legal and emotional aspects of sex. They often do not receive accessible sex education information.

Poor knowledge of sex and relationships can lead to people engaging in unsafe sexual practices, and lack of awareness to report sexual abuse.

Socio-Cultural Barriers: People with a learning disability often are not given the privacy to pursue personal and sexual relationships.

LGBTQ people with a learning disability may experience bullying or harassment and may not be welcomed at LGBTQ spaces.

Furthermore, sex education resources and campaigns for people with a learning disability may not be designed with the specific needs of lesbian, gay or bisexual people in mind, and instead treat everybody as heterosexual.

  • What are the best practices to help people with a learning disability in their personal and sexual relationships?

Understanding sexuality as a human right: Sexuality rights of people with a learning disability can be supported through good sex education, respect and privacy.

Positive Attitudes: Non-judgemental attitudes would let people with a learning disability express their feelings around their sexuality and their sexual needs.

Guidance and Training: Training materials should be provided in accessible or Easy Read formats and include explanatory pictures and videos.

Social Support Opportunities: Besides relying on family and support workers, social opportunities should be provided through peer-to-peer volunteering schemes such as Gig Buddies, or social support clubs and groups.

Please contact the Research team for further questions. We're happy to help answer your questions or signpost you to places that can provide the right information and support.

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