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Love, sex, relationships, and learning disabilities

Brandon Hand heartBeing in a loving relationship is something that enriches many of our lives. However, research shows that only 3% of people with a learning disability live as a couple, compared to 70% of the general adult population*.

Lots of people with learning disabilities want to date, they want to have sex, they want to be in a relationship – but they need support to do so. At the moment, the numbers just aren't good enough.

There are many reasons why people with learning disabilities have fewer sexual and romantic relationships.
These include:

  • Needing support to access their community and to meet new people.
  • People feeling uncomfortable with the idea of people with learning disabilities displaying sexual behaviour.
  • The fear that people with learning disabilities lack the understanding to properly consent to sexual activity.
  • A lack of sex education that is accessible for people with learning disabilities.

People we support have been telling us for a long time that they want more support to explore relationships, sex, and sexuality.

A lack of good guidance for support staff can be a major barrier to enabling people to live lives that are free, loving, and fulfilling.

For this reason, we brought together managers, support staff, people we support and their families, to create a new policy, guidance, and training around relationships, sex, and sexuality.

Our policy says people we support who require support with relationships, sex and sexuality, should have it. The guidance and training give lots of practical information about what staff can and can't do, including information around mental capacity and consent, the law, and staying safe and healthy.

Above all, we want people we support to live fulfilled lives whether or not they find love, or choose to be in a sexual relationship.

We'll be giving you more updates on what we're doing over the coming months. In the meantime, please take a look at the easy-read Relationships, sex, and sexuality policy (pdf, 800KB).

*Emerson, E., Malam, S., Davies, I. and Spencer, K. (2005) Adults with Learning Disabilities in England 2003/4