It’s easy for me to say that I can focus on what I have, not what I don’t have, or on what I can do, not on what I can’t do. But for a disabled person, it’s much more difficult to find the positives. Some I speak to admit that on the face of it, they give the impression of confidence, but in private, the story is very different. They suffer with poor body image, lack of self-esteem and self-worth, their attempts to have a satisfying sex life presents them with problems not only in regard to their physical ability, but also their physiological capabilities. As much as I encourage and want to help with enabling my clients to enjoy sex (either with me or with another), I cannot imagine how much anxiety and frustration they must endure.
I recently attended a SHADA conference (The Sexual Health and Disability Alliance). There must have been over 40 professionals there, all with the same ambition, and that’s to enable those with disabilities to express themselves sexually whenever they need to. That’s whether they’re in care or at home, and however bad their condition is. It was fantastic to be amongst so many who felt so passionate and who are willing to do all they can for the cause. Dr Tuppy Owens, the founder, is a shining example of someone who won’t give up. She’s been a serial campaigner for years and won’t rest when it comes to gaining support for those who can’t get it themselves.
Of course, there are many laws around enabling the disabled to have sex, or to call on sex workers, but we learned at the conference that the laws are simply breaching basic human rights. There are many myths surrounding them and in fact, many lawyers don’t even seem to know them clearly. If it’s consensual, adult and done in private, that’s a human right. A ‘right to fun’ is a human right, and so on. It was said that ‘criminal law’ has no place in the bedroom. I stress, if the act is consensual and pleasurable for all, then no, it does have no place in the bedroom (or whatever room you choose).
By law, people working within the disability sector must support human rights – by law! They must support the sexual expression of their client. It is a breach of Duty of Care not to enable sexual expression. It’s more of a breach than not supporting safeguarding! The trouble is that folk are concerned that they’re not supporting protective rights enough, and are therefore raising the bar further in order to supplement their efforts. Trouble is, this is breaching human rights even further. Although a well-meant act, it’s having the opposite effect.
A prime example of this was highlighted by another speaker. She is a highly qualified professional and a highly respected member amongst her peers. But officially speaking, because she’s 60% deaf, the Sexual Offences Act recognises that she is unable to consent to sex, and it is therefore seen as rape. Go figure. It’s a human rights violation!
One of the speakers was a lad in a wheelchair who very honestly explained that when he wanted to lose his virginity, he had to think for a long time about how he would go about it. He was living with his mum and couldn’t discuss it with her, of course. However, he eventually went ahead and he achieved exactly what he wanted, but it wasn’t easy for him. I’ve heard this from so many people of all ages. Sometimes the embarrassment factor is greater, the older the person gets. Another girl spoke of her experience when, a few years ago, she got some help in enabling her to have sex with a partner. It didn’t go according to plan and the person helping, instead of speaking to her, spoke to her social worker directly. This destroyed any trust she held around that person and made her very cautious for the future.
Needless to say, there’s a lot going on in the background to raise awareness and to support this sector in any way possible to make sure they get the help that’s so desperately needed. But in light of the fact that gays have pretty much now become mainstream, who knows, perhaps disabled people will be given resources galore to help them express themselves fully sexually. I hope this can happen quickly, I really do.
For more from Caroline Dempsey visit her website.