Let’s talk about sex baby – and let’s talk about improving sex education for disabled people. We need to end the idea that people with a disability are not sexual beings who don’t deserve to have the right knowledge, advice and support.
A little dose of truth coming your way – every single person in the world feels self-conscious. Even the most confident person will have moments where they are unhappy with the way they look. Society does an amazing job of forcing beauty ‘ideals’ upon us. Another thing society does well is enforcing the idea that disabled people are not sexual. This is wrong. Everyone is beautiful in their own unique way, and we all deserve the right to experience love – be it emotional or physical, friendships or the love of family, being in a relationship or experimenting to figure out what works for you.
Understanding safe sex, relationships, love and everything in between is important for everyone to know, regardless of ability. Knowledge of intimate relationships is important, even if someone will never be physically intimate – it’s a matter of personal safety.
Journalist and disabled activist with Enhance the UK, Mik Scarlet says: “You have to raise your disabled child to be sexual too; you have to give them all the skills you would have given them if they weren’t disabled. That doubly applies to children with learning disabilities. The physically disabled community campaigns about our own right to sexuality – to be considered worthy of love – but we have to support the learning disabled community because they are still perceived as childlike. The problem with that is that all disabled people are perceived as somewhat childlike, which is an out-dated and untrue, negative way of viewing it.”
Proper education in safe sex, relationships and contraception is important as disabled people are at a high risk of abuse. A BBC investigation revealed that there were 4,748 reports of sexual abuse against disabled adults across 106 councils in England during 2013 to 2015. People with a learning disability were at a greater risk, as 63% who reported abuse had a learning disability – this highlights the need for inclusive sex education, and understanding what’s acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to sex and relationships.
From knowing basic bodily functions to understanding consent or what goes where is a right we all have. “The important thing for young people with learning disabilities is that they should be taught at their ability level, not by age. The information they receive needs to be accessible, non-judgmental and transferable to the different situations young people might find themselves in,” explains Claire Lightley, head of training at the sexual health charity FPA.
Relationships and sexual health are a struggle at times for non-disabled people. The main difference? There is more information available for able bodied people, because they are seen as sexual. There is still a taboo that someone with a disability can be sexual, and this can lead to issues.
“For people with severe disabilities they need information to help them understand what parts of the body are private, how sexual activity is different from personal care, and what to do if something happens that they’re not happy about,” adds Claire. “They should also be taught positively about sensuality and what feels good, regardless of whether they’ll be able to have a sexual relationship with somebody else.”
Understanding and being confident in your body is the first step to increased knowledge on safe sex. It is for this reason Enhance the UK host The Love Lounge. Mik, alongside his colleague Emily Yates, answer questions that disabled people might have about friendships, love, intimacy and the basics of how to have sex with a disability.
Mik explains: “The letters I get, if you took out the words disabled and left in ‘I like this, is this normal?’ it would be totally what you would expect of any agony aunt or uncle. Any agony page would get the same sorts of questions, the only difference is ours have ‘disabled’ in it. There are specific issues, for example spasming, but I wouldn’t know if sex education could cover that in the broadest sense. That’s why things like The Love Lounge exist because we can help and if we don’t know something, we know who to put you in touch with.”
Having a safe place to discuss your wants, desires or simply to get more information on your body is important for everyone. At present, disabled people are less likely to be tested for sexually transmitted infections, receive the relevant information on various forms of contraception and there is a lack of mammogram or smear testing in women. This is a dangerous attitude to have and excludes people on the basis of their disability.
Ensuring sex education is inclusive for all is essential for people to enjoy and thrive in healthy relationships, and know when something is not right. “By overly protecting people because you think they won’t need to know that – well, they might. It is better to know it and not need it than not know it and really, really need it,” says Mik.
From friendships to romance and intimacy, providing people of all abilities with relevant information and understanding when it comes to sex is critical, in schools and beyond. Levels of abuse are still prominent and this could be reduced if better sex education was available. It is time to stop treating someone with a disability like a child – who says they can’t have a successful sex life
Get honest advice about contraception, sex, relationships and sexual health by visiting FPA, the sexual health charity.
Have a question you need answered? Head over to The Love Lounge for hints, tips and real life experiences.