Undressing Disability

The Undressing Disability Camapaign

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Undressing Disability is a campaign aiming to raise standards in sexual health and sexual awareness for disabled people.

Having a disability can be a very isolating experience. As well as physical barriers, there is still a huge amount of prejudice towards disability amongst the general public.

People often hold the misguided notion that disabled people can’t, don’t or won’t have sex. There is a stigma that unfortunately is often internalised by disabled people who often suffer with self esteem problems as a result.

Issues around sexuality and sexual frustration are frequently raised by disabled people who feel that they have less opportunity and ability to explore their sexuality than others.

Through a lack of understanding, education and a general lack of services, disabled people frequently cannot access the support that would make it possible for them to make the sorts of choices about their lifestyles that most of us take for granted.

Zoe sitting seductively on cahir in sexy underware

What’s your position?

Our campaign focuses on raising standards in key areas:

  1. Inclusive sex and relationship education
  2. Meeting the sexual needs of people with disabilities in Residential Care
  3. Professionals working with disabled people to consider sexual needs as part of their practice
Enhance the UK is not able to make these changes alone. Please do support us with this important work and get involved.

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Removing the taboo of sex and disability

This campaign seeks to challenge public perceptions.

Disabled people are sexual beings – just as everyone else is. We want to be recognised as such and challenge the notion that we can’t, won’t or don’t have sex. We want the right to be sexy, to feel sexy and be seen as sexy. We believe that by breaking down all the misconstrued ideas of disability, we can ensure fairer access to sexual health and education.

Supporting disabled people to be recognised as sexual beings by their carers and by the general public will be hugely beneficial to many disabled people and will help improve confidence when it comes to seeking support or relationships.

Enhance the UK will run a public awareness campaign challenging attitudes and educating people about the sexual needs of disabled people. This will challenge the desexualisation of disabled people and establish them as sexual beings with healthy sex drives.

In partnership with Spokz People, Enhance the UK will provide practical support to disabled people to develop a positive self identity and body image.

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Inclusive sex and relationship education

A major concern of this campaign is that sex and relationship education specifically tailored to disabled young people is not compulsory in schools and is often completely ignored

Young disabled people who attend mainstream education, we have previously interviewed, expressed the need for specialised information. Most currently available sex and relationship resources either exclude disabled young people or are focused on young people with learning disabilities.

They do not cater for those who have a physical disability. Having a physical disability creates a different set of difficulties including whether they can physically engage in penetrative sex and masturbation for example. There are also issues of privacy, confidence, self image and self esteem which are more prevalent with young people who have disabilities.

Research shows that disabled women are twice as likely as able bodied women to experience domestic and sexual violence from their partners.

It is therefore essential that physically disabled young people have access to in depth information regarding sex and relationships including personal boundaries and consent to ensure that they are fully aware of the dangers and know how to access support, should they need to.

Appropriate resources and information as well as signposting to support, would enable disabled young people to look after their sexual health and promote emotional wellbeing.

Sign petition

Improving sexual health awareness and provision

Due to a lack of understanding and education, sexual health is an area that has been severely neglected for disabled people

At a basic level, lack of appropriate sex education means that awareness within the disabled community is disturbingly low. But other factors, such as accessibility, have compounded the problem.

Many doctors surgeries do not have accessible facilities – such as hoists – which can mean that disabled clients are not given regular screening. More concerning is the fact that many doctors make the rash assumption that disabled clients are not sexually active and therefore do not offer screening.

Disabled women have limited access to breast screening and cervical smear testing – an absolutely unacceptable situation. But at the very root of this issue is the fact that the current Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England, 2013 only considers learning disabilities.

We are concerned that physical and sensory disabilities are not included. Many people feel that focusing on and providing information for those with learning disabilities will be acceptable for those with physical and sensory impairments. We do not agree and want to see more focus on providing targeted support and information for people with physical and sensory impairments.

This lack of focus upon the sexual health needs of people with physical and sensory disabilities has resulted in there being extremely limited research into disability and sexual health. This has led to the conclusion that disability is not an area of concern and no specific action has been taken to ensure sexual health is extended to the disabled community above and beyond what is targeted at the general population.

Enhance the UK feel this is absolutely unacceptable and will investigate access to sexual health clinics for disabled people to ensure that they have the same access to support and information as every other member of society.

Meeting the sexual needs of people with disabilities in Residential Care

For those living in residential care, or dependent upon full time care, sex can be a particularly difficult subject to raise

Many carers simply do not feel comfortable discussing sex with their clients, and those that do are often unsure what is appropriate in terms of assistance.

Is it appropriate, for instance, for staff to position a couple in bed for sex? Should staff agree to purchase pornography or sex aids for a client? If they do, are they expected to help the individual use these items by, say, putting pornography on the television or turning on a sex toy?

Legally, this is a grey area as it usually left to individuals or organisations to work out the good practice guidelines. Many staff simply do not know what is expected of them, nor what acceptable behaviour is. Through a simple lack of training and awareness they often cannot advise on issues such as consensual sex or masturbation, and they may not be able to even offer advice on sexual health.

This problem is often compounded by personal issues for the carer. Despite all guidance suggesting that the beliefs and feelings of care staff should not interfere with the care they provide, sexuality is one area where it is particularly difficult to avoid this. Apart from the natural embarrassment that people often feel when sex is being discussed, there may be occasions where the personal religious beliefs of the carer can interfere with the advice they offer.

We are aware of situations where faith has led carers to admonish clients for masturbation or sex outside of marriage.

Enhance the UK will lobby for the adoption of a formal training requirement that explicitly deals with sexuality to ensure that all care staff are fully prepared to deal with questions and issues regarding sexuality. Enhance the UK will produce a good practice guide on sexual awareness to support care staff to deliver the best possible service to disabled clients.

Over the last decade, great leaps have been made around the issue of sexuality in the learning disability arena. At Enhance the UK we believe that learning disabilities and physical and sensory impairments should not be put together under the same banner – they have vastly different implications and the individuals have vastly different needs.

Professionals working with disabled people to consider sexual needs as part of their practice

For individuals being cared for by family members – particularly mothers and fathers – it can be especially difficult to raise the matter of sex and / or masturbation

How would you feel asking your mum to buy you pornography? Or having to ask your father to hand you a vibrator?

Many parents experience embarrassment discussing sex with their children. When the child requires physical assistance, this can be even more excruciating. Desexualisation / infantilisation – it is an uncomfortable truth that many of us tend to treat disabled people differently. When someone requires assistance it is natural for us to think of them as helpless – or rather, in need of help – and perhaps even as incapable.

This can often translate to people treating disabled individuals in a patronising way, or making assumptions as to what they are or are not capable of.

For parents of disabled children, it is often hard to imagine how their child will ever cope without assistance and the natural impulse is to continue providing high levels of care well past the point people need it. This is bad for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it can be extremely annoying. But it can also mean that disabled teenagers do not go through adolescence in quite the same way. It also means that people often hold the misguided notion that disabled people can’t, don’t or won’t have sex – perhaps because of their disability, perhaps because they are not capable of it. Or perhaps just because people often think of disabled people as they do children, sex does not even enter the thought process.

Desexualising disabled people does not stop them from having sexual needs. In fact, by denying these needs we often see sexual frustration expressing itself through inappropriate and destructive behaviour patterns.

For those people who have become disabled later in life due to illness or accident, adjusting to a new life of being disabled can also mean suddenly finding themselves celibate – often through no choice of their own. There are a number of conditions which naturally decrease libido. But it would be wrong to assume that this is the case for everyone – or even to assume that people are happy about this.

Finding yourself disabled can be traumatic. Your body no longer looks, feels or behaves the way it once did. And people suddenly look at you differently and treat you differently. Many people report finding their partners treating them as completely a-sexual. Or at the other end of the scale, partners being frustrated that they can no longer fulfil sexual needs. This is obviously hard for both sides.

But perhaps the hardest aspect is finding one aspect of your life denied to you. Not feeling able to be sexy any more, or to fulfil sexual appetite. Imagine a life where your only physical contact is being put into bed, being taken to the toilet or being bathed. How would you feel about yourself? Your body?

Professionals working alongside disabled people should ensure that appropriate support is in place and have a duty to raise and address issues relating to sexual needs. Sexual needs form part of assessment processes. Unfortunately all too frequently this is not happening and the issues are being brushed under the carpet.


GET IN TOUCH

Make an enquiry through the form below or email: info@enhancetheuk.org