I have chosen International Day of Persons with Disabilities to highlight the sex and relationships therapy offered to those living with physical, learning and neuro diverse needs. Sexual health, gender and sexual identity are our human rights. We all have the autonomy to make our own choices which is underpinned by the Human Rights Act 1998.
I have worked in the sexual health arena for twenty years. As someone that lives who lives with two disabilities those being chronic pain and long-term chronic illness. I know from my own experience that no one ever asked me how my pain impacts me having a good sex life and the choices I made around it. I get cross when I sit at meetings or hear other therapists or health practitioners make leaping assumptions about the choices that their clients make who happen to live with physical, learning and neuro diverse needs. The Mental Health Act clearly lets us know that if someone is seen to have the mental and developmental capacity, and even if one does not, practical support should be offered to help someone living with any disability make an informed decision about the choices they make in life, this includes their sex life.
In the support I offer clients a space to learn, develop and trust their body, gender, sexuality and sexual identity. They can have their Human Right to hopefully sustain good quality relationships and friendships, and exercise their rights around boundaries, lifestyle choices and consent. I do this in a way that respects the client’s dignity and use creative methods that I aim to make compatible with their needs.
Depending on the age and consent from client, often parents of those living with support needs have understandable anxiety around their loved one developing their understanding of their body, gender and sexual identity. I do offer support to parents in a three-way process with the client’s consent, empowering and supporting the client to have a communication about what their needs are around their sexual health, gender and sexual identity.
Parents having a good understanding of sex and relationships will support their loved one have a good quality of life and by doing so prevent them from being socially excluded in the future. This also keeps the door open in your relationship if someone has worried them, hurt them in some way or they are anxious about something, keeping an open door with communication and supporting them to make healthy lifestyle choices for themselves breaks down barriers for everyone in the relationship. As we know some are more susceptible to abuse. This also allows your loved one the opportunity to speak to someone they trust who is qualified and experienced, so they don’t have to suffer in silence.
After all we all deserve to be seen, heard and loved for who we are, not necessarily always what their parent or carer may want them to be. We need to challenge the myths around every person living with physical, learning and neuro diverse needs being a safeguarding risk and we need to support them to feel more socially included in our community and wider society.