I went to a meeting of SHADA (The Sexual Health and Disability Alliance) last week. It was such an eye-opener. I met many health professionals and sexual advocates, one who himself was an amputee. He teaches drama and dance to the disabled in Canada and has been in the UK for four weeks on a grant, bringing his wonderful work to London. The discussions that came up were passionate. One lady was a teacher in a school for the disabled with special needs. Helen Dunman, teacher at Chailey Heritage Foundation, where she has responsibility for Personal Social and Health Education and developing Sex Education. To hear how hard she works completely humbled me. She is absolutely 100% dedicated to her pupils, with ages ranging from the very young up to 19. Some, she explained, were very difficult to communicate with, even with all her experience. She works tirelessly for her pupils and I had so much admiration for her.
Sex and the young is something that’s brushed further under the radar than sex among disabled adults. I was appalled to hear how in denial the authorities are. As if it’s not difficult enough for young severely disabled with learning difficulties to communicate their needs, the powers that be would rather ignore an opportunity to improve the well being of our youth than make a bit of an effort and step up and do the right thing. People like Helen are spending endless hours writing policy to enable “good practice in terms of staff ensuring that clients’ sexual needs are recognised and met”. Of course, how policy is interpreted presents another challenge. So it’s up to Helen and those like her to try to put clear guidelines in place and hope that eventually, these become policy for bodies such as the CQC. What a hero.
The old cherry about carers and PAs came up frequently, in that it’s extremely difficult for a lot of them to know how to deal with the sexual feelings (and involuntary responses to touch) of their clients. It’s not their fault; they’re just not trained. So what happens is a whole lot of embarrassment, feelings of rejection, loss of intimacy and a lack of affection. It’s the saddest thing imaginable. My modest wish is to come into contact with as many as possible, to connect with and to share intimacy, to enhance sexual well being, and as a consequence improve general well being, healing, to demonstrate that being intimate and affectionate is achievable, can be maintained, and thus, can be shared with others. This may not even involve sex – it may just be enjoying closeness. As I’ve said before, it’s nothing to do with performance, experience, knowledge of anatomy or how many partners there have been. Honouring oneself and others is all that matters. Intimacy should be enjoyed and celebrated!
There was one very interesting guy at the meeting from Copenhagen. His job back home is to assist his disabled clients with masturbation. He gave a fascinating talk and described how, with different toys and implements, he could help folk to do it themselves. He doesn’t masturbate them; they are able to stimulate themselves, with his help. What a wonderful thing to do for people! He had my total respect and admiration. He’s kept very busy, too, which is a good sign for the folks over there.
I wish things were different, so that anyone who was unable to pick up the phone themselves, could tell their carer or PA that they’d like a sex worker to visit them, without fear of embarrassment (on either side) or loss of dignity. In fact, the term ‘sex worker’ makes people like me sound harsh, unsympathetic. This is not the case at all. I love any chance I can possibly get to brighten up someone’s day, fulfilling their needs as much as is within my power to do.
There’s a site called www.sexualrespect.com, from Tuppy Owens. Although predominantly designed for health care professionals, there is some very interesting reading.