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Ignoring the sexual needs of people with disabilities

April 28th, 2005

Dr Petra

A new survey conducted on readers of the magazine Disability Now reveals shocking findings showing how the sexual and emotional needs of disabled people are consistently being ignored.

Many respondents reported low self-esteem and requested more counselling services. They also requested access to sex surrogates who could enable them to enjoy sex, as well as higher profile media coverage featuring disabled people.

Respondents also felt health care professionals were unable or unwilling to discuss their sexual needs. This follows a recent discussion within the British Medical Journal, where many practitioners supported the idea of sex surrogates for disabled people. Disability Now’s survey went one step further, showing that many readers were in favour of legalising prostitution.

The survey indicated how less than half the respondents had been given any formal sex education. These figures are even lower in groups of people who’ve experience of mental distress.

In the UK, we currently ignore issues of sex relating to disability or mental health. Many people with disabilities feel guilty for having sexual desires, uncertain where to ask for help, and often are criticised or ignored by health professionals for discussing sex-related issues.

Sexual rights are human rights, so it’s unclear why those who are disabled are denied access to sexual pleasure or information. I’ve heard countless stories from people who need sex advice and feel completely isolated.

Like the young blind guy who wanted an aural guide on how to put on a condom (he also drew my attention to the lack of erotic material available for the visually impaired). Or the older couple where the wife had recently had a stroke. They had no idea how to get their sex life back on track, and their GP had suggested there was ‘no need to try’. Or a wheelchair user who wanted to join a dating agency but didn’t know if he could, or should, mention his disability.

We need to support health care providers to feel less embarrassed about discussing sex. But sex isn’t really a medical issue, any more than disability is. We need comprehensive sex education aimed at everyone, erotic material accessible in diverse formats, and sex surrogates available for those who want their services.

Those with disabilities or mental health issues can get support from The Outsider’s Trust who offer advice and information, as well as social activities for people to meet, have fun, and form relationships.

The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability is also a fantastic resource

Later this year the Sex and Disability Alliance will give professionals and disabled people the chance to start working together to improve sex resources.

And we can continue to pressure health providers, educators and the media to celebrate sexual diversity.

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