A recent story in The Journal (Martinsburg, WV) about the debate over whether people with disabilities should legally be able to use sex surrogates touches on a very real yet often ignored issue within the disability community: rights regarding sexuality. People with disabilities are often seen as asexual and not supported to fully enjoy and express their sexuality at the same level as those without disabilities.
Here in the U.S., we struggle with fully understanding and accepting sexuality, especially if we are talking about our own children. And this is true whether or not our children have disabilities, but can complicate the situation much more for parents of children (including adult children) with disabilities. This international debate draws attention to a very real problem – sexuality typically is not considered a valid need that demands focused attention. And yet, who can measure the actual effects this inattention has on the disability community at large? For example, who knows what “behavioral issues” and other problems could be averted if sexual needs of people with disabilities were, at the very least, being acknowledged? What if their God-given relational and sexual needs were actually supported and even celebrated?
All moral arguments aside, have we considered every possible option to this dilemma and actively supported people with disabilities to pursue their own sexual fulfillment? Consider this: How likely is it that people with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities, have access to consistent, effective education on ways to understand their own sexual feelings and act on those in safe and healthy ways? Are they being taught how to build safe and healthy relationships and then given opportunities to do so? Do they have enough opportunities to meet that special someone who could become a future spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend? Another consideration is the disproportionate amount of sexual trauma that people with disabilities face on any given day. The rate of sexual violence is twice that experienced by people without disabilities, and those with cognitive disabilities face the greatest risk of all. Is adequate counseling provided to victims so they are able to move forward confidently and securely in their own sexuality? What is the true effect of so much sexual violence within the minds, hearts and bodies of people with I/DDs?
Whether parent or professional, we all have an important role to play in supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to achieve their own relationship bliss (or at least try to as this can be elusive for many of us with or without disabilities), and that may or may not include sexual activity. By providing equal access to this basic human right, and refusing to treat people with fully functioning hearts and sex drives as if they were still children, or in some way asexual, a door is open to explore the full range of what it means to be human, including within the realm of sexuality.
For ideas and resources on how to support this cause, visit the Autism NOW’s website.