We need to talk to people with learning disabilities about sexuality
By Shaun Webster
People with learning disabilities are not being allowed to explore or express our sexuality and a lack of information is getting in the way of us leading a full life. We are often supported by people who find it hard to talk about sex in general, and who find it very difficult to support us to explore our sexuality in particular.
We are not learning about sex and sexuality at school and this leads to confusion, mental health problems and vulnerability.
If you don’t know who you are and about your sexuality it could lead to depression, self-harm and perhaps, abuse. It is also a violation of human rights to prevent someone being fully themselves; we need information so that we can understand who we are.
When I came out as bisexual it was at the age of 38 and followed years of confusion; I didn’t understand why I had feelings for both men and women - I didn’t know bisexuality existed. I had no one to talk to and was scared to talk to my family.
I eventually talked to one of my best friends; I told her that I was getting crushes on men as well as women, she said that I wasn’t mad but that I might be bisexual!
Most people think that people with learning disabilities don’t have sex and they certainly don’t talk to us about being bisexual. Unwillingness to allow us to explore our sexuality can lead to situations where emotional and psychological abuse can take place.
Parents and support workers need to understand that their role is a supportive one - they can’t impose their will on our lives, they need to let us be our authentic selves.
One of the problems we face is people imposing their religious beliefs and attitudes on us. We should be allowed to be whoever we want to be. My friend once told his support worker that he was gay and she replied that this wasn’t the case - we’re not sure how she knew him better than he knew himself!
I am a married man and as part of getting to know my wife who is a Roman Catholic, I had to tell her that I was bisexual. I was worried about this conversation as I really loved her, but I had seen how well her open attitude to sexuality reflected in her children; their friends were diverse and relationships unstrained.
I often wonder if parents, support workers and agencies really want people with learning disabilities to be independent. There is still a problem of people wrapping us up in cotton wool. I believe that like everyone else, people should be able to:
• Be parents
• Be employed
• Have a voice
• Explore and express their sexuality
• Live independently
Hopefully times of full equality are not far away!
Shaun Webster is a KeyRing Member in Rotherham.