About the Undressing Disability Campaign

Learn About Our Campaign in BSL

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.

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Lack of support

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.

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

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Key focuses of the campaign

Removing the taboo of sex and disability

This campaign seeks to challenge public perceptions.

Even in these times of technological advances and individual liberation, disabled people are still seen as less desirable, attractive and sexy, and as people who don’t, won’t and can’t have sex. On all levels, this is simply not true.

Changing these perceptions takes time, but is hugely important, not only so disabled people can rightfully feel attractive, but so that they can access the sexual health and education they deserve, and be recognised as sexual beings by their loved ones, support workers and the wider general public. Our Undressing Disability campaign has the desire to remove this taboo at its very roots.

Inclusive relationships and sex education

We want specifically tailored resources that will inform our young people, and keep them safe.

Disabled young people often say that relationships and sex education is not inclusive to their needs. Videos show non-disabled bodies, resources do not mention the different ways they may have to masturbate or have intercourse, and penetrative sex is always seen as the end result. Penetration may not be possible for everyone, but the ability to be sensual and sexual is. Disabled women are also three times as likely to experience domestic and sexual violence than their non-disabled peers, so content discussing consent and boundaries, and signposting to accessible resources and information, is also vital.

We are working with sex education providers to ensure their workshop content is inclusive to all – and not only when a disabled person is in the room. If disabled people are to be viewed as attractive, desirable and, dare we say it, ‘normal’, it is vital for young non-disabled people to engage in inclusive sex education lessons, too.

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 and inclusive sex education has resulted in a lack of awareness surrounding sexual health within the disabled community, with other factors, such as a lack of accessibility, only maximising the problem. Many doctors’ surgeries do not have accessible facilities and equipment – such as hoists – leading to disabled people not being regularly screened. More concerning is the fact that many doctors make the rash assumption that disabled people are not sexually active and therefore do not offer the tests they would to others.

In light of this, we are currently creating training resources and information for medical professionals themselves to ensure this presumption around sexual health and disability is halted

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 don’t feel comfortable discussing sex with the people they support, and those that do are often unsure what is appropriate in terms of assistance. Is it appropriate, for example, 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 navigate themselves.

To support carers through this grey area, whilst ensuring that disabled people are able to have appropriate access to the sexual expression they deserve, we are working with care homes across the UK to produce and provide good practice guidelines and training on sexual awareness to support care staff to deliver the best possible service to disabled clients with physical and sensory impairments.

People supporting disabled people to consider sexual needs as part of their practice

For individuals being cared for by family members – particularly parents – sex and pleasure are rarely discussed.

Many of us cringe at the thought of discussing our sex lives with our parents, never mind having to ask them to support us in buying a sex toy, or positioning us for masturbation. For a lot of disabled people who require the care of their parents, a relative or a professional, this is their only outlet to sexual expression. Whilst embarrassing and unexpected for many parents and carers (not least because they have often infantilised their disabled child and are unable to view them as a sexual being due to fear for their safety, for example) this can also lead to disabled people having to justify themselves as sexual beings. 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. 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, and these sexual needs should form part of assessment processes. Unfortunately, all too frequently this is not happening and the issues are being brushed under the carpet.

Our Love Lounge is open for disabled people, their parents and support network to contact us regarding communication around sexual needs (and anything else, for that matter!) Our sexperts use their lived experience and training to tailor personal responses to everyone, and confidentiality and comfort are hugely important to us. We are also working with parents and professionals to create guides for disabled people and their family members to encourage open and honest conversations around sex and relationships, and provide all parties with the resources and support they need.

Learn About Our Campaign in BSL