Young People with Learning Disabilities Denied Sex Education Due to Societal Stigma

Ellen Lees
By Ellen Lees,
updated on Sep 16, 2019

Young People with Learning Disabilities Denied Sex Education Due to Societal Stigma

Young people with learning disabilities are being denied sex-positive relationships and sex education due to societal stigma, with 36% of professionals saying that sex education is not prioritised in their school

This Sexual Health Week, young people’s sexual health and wellbeing charity, Brook, is working with the learning disability charity, Mencap, to shout louder about the needs of young people with disabilities and support professionals delivering relationships and sex education (RSE).

The charity surveyed the professionals delivering RSE to young people with disabilities. Of those surveyed, 80% said they struggled to find accessible resources that meet the needs of young people with learning disabilities. A further 80% said it is difficult to find images that reflect the sexual experiences of young people with learning disabilities.

Despite RSE becoming mandatory in 2020, inclusivity remains a taboo subject. 54% of those delivering RSE said they cannot access training to help with sex education, while 36% say that sex education is not a priority in their school.

Richard Lawrence, Project Support Assistant and Co-Chair of the Sexuality and Relationship Steering Group at Mencap, said: “Some people are quick to judge people with a learning disability, like me, when it comes to sex and relationships. People with a learning disability have a right to choose if they would like to be in a relationship, have sex or get married.

“People have judged me for wanting to be in a relationship and have told me that because I have a learning disability, I don’t understand what a healthy relationship, consent or safe sex is.”

Helen Marshall, Chief Executive at Brook, said: “The reality is that lots of sexual health messages received by young people who have a learning disability are negative and focus primarily on risks and inappropriate behaviours.

“These are important aspects, but there needs to be a balance. If RSE is accessible, positive and inclusive, it can empower young people to become more independent, explore and develop healthy relationships and help to protect against abuse.”

Brook is using Sexual Health Week 2019 as an opportunity to start important conversations about sex and disability, challenging misconceptions and providing support to professionals delivering RSE.

The charity have created a hub of free, downloadable resources on a range of topics including; masturbation, same-sex relationships and pornography. Each topic is supported with further resources for young people to take away and continue reinforcing their learning.

A roundtable discussion about disability and sex, with Brook Ambassador, Hannah Witton 

Sex, relationships and disability

People with learning disabilities face multiple barriers when developing intimate or sexual relationships - including a lack of adequate RSE. Without this education, young people are being denied the skills and knowledge they need to not only have healthy, fulfilling relationships, but to understand and explore their own sexuality.

Teachers and those delivering RSE also face barriers when supporting young people with disabilities. As revealed in a previous survey by the Sex Education Forum, only 29% said they had received training in sex education, and a staggering 99% wanted practical advice on meeting the needs of pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND).

“Back when I was in school, I only got taught the basics, like here is a man and here is a woman. I didn’t learn anything about consent, safe sex or LGBT,” said Lawrence. “It’s a lot harder for people with a learning disability to find out about sex and relationships because accessible information is hidden away.

“That’s why Mencap is proud to be collaborating with Brook to make a positive difference to the next generation of people with a learning disability.”

If you have a learning disability, or know someone who does, Mencap offers information and support about sexuality and relationships. Enhance The UK is a charity run by disabled people, working to change the way people view disability and for disabled people to be active and equal members of society.

Alongside their #UndressingDisability campaign, they have produced a number of resources and Q&As to ensure disabled people have access to the same support as their peers.  

Brook and Mencap want to use this Sexual Health Week and beyond to normalise the conversations around sex and disability, and support RSE professionals to better equip the young people they work with.

Sex and disability needs to be talked about more. For support, information and resources, visit Brook, Mencap and Enhance the UK.

Join the conversation on social media using #SHW19.

Join 100,000+ subscribers

Stay in the loop with everything Happiful

We care about your data, read our privacy policy
Our Vision

We’re on a mission to create a healthier, happier, more sustainable society.