We greatly support the new guidelines that have been released by the Care Quality Commission on Relationships and Sexuality in adult social care services. This is a brilliant step in ensuring that both service users and care staff are receiving the support, help and advice needed in managing sexual needs and desires.
This guidance has been released to support all disabled people who require care services. When an impairment is acquired, through ageing or injury, sex and relationships are the focus of many questions that a newly disabled person may have. It is often vastly important to them that they feel able to maintain existing sexual relationships, or confident and comfortable enough to find new ones. The conversation around sex and relationships can often be even more difficult for those who have always been disabled; some have never been regarded as sexual beings and have instead been communicated with in a child-like manner, with their sexual needs and desires being overlooked or completely dismissed. A different body that works in a less conventional way can still be sensual and sexual, and intimate desires are still very much a part of disabled peoples’ lives.
Talking about these things and supporting service users with their sexual needs can understandably be seen as a daunting and scary prospect for many care managers and members of staff, with several ‘grey’ areas surrounding this issue in terms of consent and assisting pleasure. It is vital that staff have a way of checking that what they are advocating is correct, and have clear boundaries to adhere to in order to ensure the safety and comfort of both parties in question. Providing disability and sexuality training that is easily accessed, with knowledgeable and approachable trainers with lived experience, should be an obligatory step in this process.
Through the Undressing Disability campaign, Enhance the UK has been petitioning for inclusive sex education and delivering frank, open and honest talks and workshops on disability and sex to organisations and educational establishments all over the country. The Care Quality Commission’s acknowledgement of the need for everyone to be able to express themselves sexually, regardless of impairment, is a much-needed step in the right direction in this arena, and the start of a conversation that desperately needs to continue and progress.