Why don’t we take disabled people seriously when it comes to sex and relationships?

Guest blog from Jennie Williams, founder of disability charity Enhance the UK. Its current campaign, the Love Lounge, focuses on improving disabled people’s access to high-quality sex and relationships education.

About five years ago, I took my friend Andy, who has cerebral palsy, on a trip to Amsterdam to visit a sex worker. He was 32, funny, open-minded and a football coach with a university degree, but he was yet to have a sexual experience.

After the trip he told me that he didn’t think it had gone well, and I realised that while Andy is intelligent, sociable and knowledgeable in many other areas, when it came to sex he didn’t know the basics.

When I returned from Amsterdam I began researching what sex education was available for disabled people. I found very little, and that really scared me.

Stopping the stigma

The truth is that disabled people have sex and disabled people like sex, but they don’t have access to the same advice and support as their peers.

Currently, there is no UK government policy recognising that physically disabled young people require specialised sex education. In a survey we conducted last year, not a single disabled person had had their disability addressed in sex education lessons.

In particular, physically disabled people who rely on carers to wash, dress and feed them run the risk of becoming desexualised. Many find those around them view them in a childlike way, when they have as much right to a healthy sex life as anyone else.

We need to stop the stigma and address those awkward questions – everyone has them, but disabled people often have no one to ask.

Through my own disability, degenerative hearing loss, I am acutely aware of the issues the deaf community faces in terms of sex and relationships education. The charity Deafax found that two-thirds of deaf people received inaccessible sex education, often simply because they could not understand teachers. “There was never anyone to ask who could explain properly to me in sign language,” one girl said.

Your questions answered

Enhance the UK has just launched The Love Lounge, a safe space on our website where users can ask a panel of disabled people questions related to sex, relationships and disability.

We encourage queries not only from our disabled users, but their partners and parents too. We want to encourage discussion on seemingly ‘taboo’ topics and create a caring sense of community.

Our two ‘non-expert sexperts’, writer Emily Yates and activist and media personality Mik Scarlet, will be hosting a special session on Scope’s online community all this week, and would love to answer your questions.

Mik Scarlet and Emily Yates
Mik Scarlet and Emily Yates

Both also work for Enhance the UK as disability awareness trainers, so are used to addressing all kinds of issues – nothing is off-limits!

To give you some ideas, here are a few we’ve had on the Love Lounge so far…

Join Mik and Emily on Scope’s online community all this week, and post your burning questions!