Let’s take a look at the realities many disabled people face around sexual expression and intimate relationships.
This article is written by Zoe Lloyd, a counsellor and disabled woman who has live-in PA’s. It is intended to provide insight for:
- care home workers
- carers and personal assistants
- occupational therapists and physiotherapists
- those working and supporting disabled people to enjoy every aspect of a fulfilling adult life.
To give an insight, let’s start with a few questions to help set the scene.
- What do you do to prepare for a date or a naughty weekend away?
- Do you need help with intimate personal grooming such as hair removal or applying body lotion to make you feel and look your best?
- Who do you tell when you’re planning to have sex?
- Who helps you to open the packaging on your new sexy lingerie or sex toy?
We’re guessing many of you get ready for a hot date in private and don’t have to tell anyone else what you’re up to. Some of us will not have that freedom of privacy and will rely on a carer/PA to help us get ready for some intimate fun.
This could be requiring help to shave ‘down there’ or packing sexy underwear and sex toys into a case…. someone knows what your plans are!
Many disabled people live their lives in this way, without the privilege of privacy.
Embarrassment and Anxiety
All of these scenarios where someone is left feeling quite exposed by their lack of privacy, can lead to a constant underlying hum of embarrassment and anxiety.
No matter how much you may laugh it off or pretend you’re confident, having no privacy affects you.
Other people don’t need to have someone involved in these processes unless they choose to share. That’s the key – our lack of choice. If we need to pack a case for a sexy weekend, and can’t physically do it ourselves, then someone else will always know what you’re taking and what you’re planning. Therefore, we either deal with that, or we would have to deny the sexual part of ourselves forever. All just to save some embarrassment. Disabled sexuality should not be a taboo topic, whether that be in residential care homes, in PA/client relationships, or wider society.
Disclosure to a PA/Carer
Another point to consider is which carer/PA would you feel comfortable involving in this intimate side of your life? Disabled people can have several carers all of whom come with their own personal set of beliefs and embarrassment levels which can cause more barriers.
Imagine planning your sex life around the days a specific carer –the most approachable one– is working? This is a perfect example of the lack of spontaneity many disabled people face. It’s great when you’ve created a relationship with your carer where you feel happy to disclose these details. However many people don’t get that luxury.
Plus there’s having the confidence in yourself to ‘own’ your sexuality and not be concerned about someone else knowing your private life. Finding this secure place within yourself can be a lengthy process. Yes, you’ll see Instagram influencers who appear very comfortable with their sexuality, naturally that’s why they’re in the public eye! They provide a voice for those without the confidence. Unfortunately many people feel trapped, still too ashamed to share their sexual desires with their carer. Resulting in their carer not knowing how to help facilitate access to their wishes.
Starting the Conversation
How can carers and care giving professionals improve this situation?
- Tell your client know you are open to having this kind of conversation. Take the awkwardness away before it gets to that point. For example you could say, ‘I’m here to support you in whatever way I can. I’m happy to talk or help you with anything – even if it’s sex stuff! I know it can be embarrassing, so I’m letting you know you don’t have to feel embarrassed with me’.
- If it feels appropriate, share a story of your own, so they don’t feel there’s such an imbalance of having privacy exposed.
- Depending on your work environment, have literature or symbols (say Pride colours for example) visible. This way the client knows that the PA/Carer or organisation is a safe setting of acceptance. These items can be used as a prompt for a conversation starter.
- Judging each situation differently. You may be able to suggest, in a light-hearted manner, ‘oh are you going to take some sexy underwear?’, or ‘bet you’re going to get all spruced up – want me to help?’ This breaks the barrier for them and the client can then say yes or no more easily.
Sexual Expression Training
Enhance The UK runs two fantastic training courses on sexual expression, the first of their kind in the UK. The courses are designed to support residential care home workers and those working in the field to better understand disability sexuality and an individual’s right to sexual expression. Learn more via the links below or get in touch to enquire about available dates.
Disability and Sexual Expression Training
Sexuality, Sexual Expression and Relationships Training for Care Providers