Sexuality & relationships
LAST UPDATED: 19/04/13
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Learning about sex, sexuality and relationships is an important part of all our lives. Understanding emotions, boundaries, sexual health, personal hygiene and how to stay safe are vital for people with learning disabilities. This knowledge helps to develop useful life skills and a positive and healthy attitude towards sexuality and well being.
Relationships can bring pleasure and boost self-esteem and confidence, but they also involve risks such as being hurt, pregnancy, HIV and Aids. It can be difficult to strike a balance between protecting people with learning disabilities from risks and allowing them to explore and develop wider personal and social relationships.
Young people and adults with learning disabilities are much less likely to have access to this kind of information because of attitudes towards disability and sexuality, lack of resources and lack of professionals qualified to provide the right kind of information and appropriate support.
Access to good quality information and advice is very important. This info pack rounds up the best resources, services, information and advice that is available surrounding this sensitive subject.
We would like to say a big Netbuddy thank you to Nikki Cotter of
Warrington Mencap for all her help in putting this pack together.
Create a safe environment when explaining the facts about sex to people with learning disabilities. Make sure you are in a place where you won't be interrupted or disturbed. A 'Private' sign could be placed on the door if this makes the person you are talking to feel more comfortable and relaxed in discussing subjects they may find difficult.
Take it slowly
Be prepared to explain things bit by bit instead of bombarding people with a lot of information all at once. Conduct a needs assessment. If you are working with a group, is the group made up of people who will learn at a similar pace?
Use as much accessible information as possible. If you are working with a group, try role play, re-capping and asking direct questions, for eg at the start of a new session, ask each individual, "Can you tell me one thing we talked about last week?" This will help to understand if the people you are working with are retaining information, and if you are working at the right pace.
Discuss the difference between a public place and a private place, and talk about what kind of behaviour is appropriate in both. For eg, "Is it OK to kiss and hug your boyfriend during a lesson at college?"
Just say 'No!'
Make sure the person with learning disabilities understands they don't need to kiss, cuddle or have sex with someone if they don't feel ready. Remind them they are in control of their body and no one else has the right to kiss/touch them unless they agree to it. Talk about consent. Do they feel confident enough to say 'No' if they are not ready? Practice saying 'No!' using assertive body language and eye contact.
Talk about intimacy
If you feel the person you are supporting is ready, do they know about birth control? Do they know about where to get it and how to use it? Do they understand when/where it is appropriate to be intimate with their partner? (This can be particularly significant if living in a shared house). Again, talk about public vs private places, respect and consent.
It can be helpful for a person with learning disabilities to be accompanied by a friend or support worker in the early stages of a new relationship. Explain to the person with a learning disability that this doesn't mean they will sit in between them on a romantic date, but could sit in the same cafe reading a book whilst the date takes place, so still be close at hand for support when needed.
If a person with learning disabilities is going on a date with someone new, make sure they don't divulge lots of personal details, such as address, mobile number, bank or passport details. Talk about the importance of privacy.
Keep it fun & easy to talk
Try to make things fun and reduce embarrassment as much as possible. If you are talking about breast checking with a group, for eg, get them to give you as many words for their breasts as possible and write them on a flip chart. That gets all the 'Boobs' and 'Tits' and giggling out of the way and seems to relax people to talk more openly.
Services & advice
Provides a range of support services for people with learning disabilities including health advocacy and a nightclub called Wild Bunch. It publishes a range of illustrated, easy to understand materials about personal and sexual health such as ‘Your Private Parts'. It also produces information on healthy living. www.elfrida.com
Brook Advisory Centre
Confidential pregnancy advice for under-25s. www.brook.org.uk
Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood International
Advice and information about pregnancy and parenting. www.dppi.org.uk
Works with people with learning disabilities who have experienced violence or abuse. The organisation has an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor who works with people with learning disabilities who have experienced sexual violence. www.respond.org.uk
Sex Education Forum
Family Planning Organisation
Helpline open Monday-Friday 9am-6pm. 0845 310 1334. www.fpa.org.uk
Sex & Disability Helpline: 0707 499 3527.
Sexual Health & Disability Alliance
Information and reading list about various issues relating to sex and disability. www.shada.org.uk/?q=node/7
CHANGE has recently launched a new project, developing innovative ways of teaching about sexual health using toolkits, drama and the arts. For more information about the project please contact Philipa on 0113 388011 or Philipa@change-people.co.uk
The Aspie Girl's Guide to Being Safe with Men
Aspie girls and women are incredibly vulnerable to having bad sexual experiences with men, whether or not they are interested in pursuing dating and sexual relationships. Debi Brown writes from personal experience to help other Aspie girls and women avoid common pitfalls and potentially dangerous situations. Aspie Girl's Guide to Being Safe with Men
Learning Teaching Scotland
A really good resource for anyone involved in delivering sexual health / relationship education to people with ASD : Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Resource for Young People with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Family Planning Association
Comprehensive range of publications aimed at parents, people with learning disabilities and professionals. Subjects covered include pregnancy, contraception and relationships.
'Pregnancy Support Pack ©'
Produced by NHS Fife using pictures produced by CHANGE to explain each stage of pregnancy in a clear and simple way. It is designed for use by professionals. The information is available free on a CD rom from Angela Howie. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01383 565210.
Contraceptive Display Kit
The contraceptive display kit is an ideal resource to encourage people to think and talk about contraception. The briefcase-style holder contains: condom demonstrator, user manual, three sets of FPA booklets on contraception, selected FPA fact sheets, laminated contraceptive pill cards, empty pill box, male and female condoms, contraceptive patch, emergency contraception, diaphragm/cap and spermicide, placebo implant (Implanon) an IUD and IUS. www.fpa.org.uk/professionals/publicationsandresources/healthprofessionals/contrapack
The whole picture: exploring disability and sexuality
A DVD training resource designed to support all professionals who care for young people with palliative care needs or disabled young people. The resource offers practical guidance and explores the need for training, understanding and empathy as well as developing appropriate policies and procedures within the workplace. The closing chapter provides the viewer with the legal context, as well as exploring safeguarding issues. http://tinyurl.com/3bmk7hj
Puberty & Sexuality for Children and Young People with a Learning Disability
Produced by NHS Leeds this Teaching Pack gives a session by session guide covering 12 sessions for teaching children and young people with Learning Disabilities about Puberty and Sexuality. It can also be easily adapted to use with adults. Training pack
FPA Training Courses
Aimed at professionals working with people with learning disabilities. Topics covered include legislation around sexual activity for people with learning disabilities. FPA has produced a CD Rom containing information about sex, sexuality and relationships for people with learning disabilities. New brochure containing information about training courses for 2011/2012. Information on training courses for professionals working with people with learning disabilities P36-40. http://www.fpa.org.uk/media/uploads/professionals/fpa-training-brochure-2011-12.pdf
Care services and personal relationships - a resource for staff and others
A small NHS affiliated working group in Hull has developed a web resource relating to personal and sexual relationships in care situations. It aims to provide practical guidance and information for families, professionals, managers and care staff in services. This resource may be particularly helpful when considering issues around vulnerability and capacity: http://www.newworkforceissues.net
National Autistic Society
Sex and relationships information sheet containing commonly asked questions with comprehensive answers. www.autism.org.uk
Brook: Living Your Life
Guide that helps teachers and youth workers to design and evaluate a programme of teaching and training resources. It deals with a range of issues, including the body at different ages, emotions, relationships and sexual experiences. www.brook.org.uk
Brook also produce a range of other guides for people with learning disabilities such as Let’s Plan It, Let’s Do It and The Confidence Factor. www.brook.org.uk
Sex Education Forum
Provides a comprehensive directory of resources about sex education for people with learning disabilities. www.ncb.org.uk
Produces a range of educational resources on sex and relationship education for people with learning disabilities including Periods: A Practical Guide and I Change My Pad. http://www.me-and-us.co.uk/
Exploring Sexual and Social Understanding
BILD illustrated resource pack that can be used to assess sexual knowledge and the capacity to consent, of people with learning disabilities. www.bildservices.org.uk
Anatomically correct 3-D male and female cloth models. Useful teaching materials for sex and relationship education for children and adults with learning disabilities and to train professionals working with them. Includes the teaching aid Wendy Female Genitalia and Reproductive Organs, a model which is made of latex and anatomically correct. www.bodysense.org.uk
Holding On, Letting Go, Sex, Sexuality and people with Learning Disabilities
Book for parents and carers offering strategies to deal with the sexuality of their offspring. Written by John Drury, Lynne Hutchinson and Jon Wright. www.srpublications.com/Special-needs
Start Talking Balls
Information and advice on testicular cancer. Leaflet in an easy to understand format produced by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. www.sexualhealthsheffield.nhs.uk
Training for professionals to provide advice and support about sexual relationships for people with various kinds of disabilities. www.i-said.co.uk
Making Choices, Keeping Safe
Booklet produced by NHS Lothian and others. Policy and practice guidelines on relationships and sexual wellbeing when working with people with learning disabilities. www.mcks.scot.nhs.uk
Leaflets produced by MENCAP and other organisations explaining issues relating to sex and bodies in easy to understand terms.
My Boobs & Me: How Are My Boobs Today
University of Ulster and Compass Advocacy Network. An easy to understand booklet about breast health and how to spot breast abnormalities. www.science.ulster.ac.uk
Janet’s Got Her Period
DVD providing simple to understand information about coping with periods. Aimed at girls and women with learning disabilities www.boultonhawker.co.uk/cat/product_details.php?p=466
NHS Cancer Screening Programme: An Easy Guide to Cervical Screening
Easy to understand NHS guide to what happens when a woman has a smear test. www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk
NHS Cancer Screening Programme: An Easy Guide To Breast Screening
Easy to understand guide to what happens when a woman undergoes breast screening. www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk
Twisting Ducks Theatre Company video, Silly Girl
Video about sex and relationships made by members of Twisting Duck Theatre Company which is run by eight adults with a learning disability who produce drama about issues that are important to them and others with learning disabilities. www.thetwistingducks.co.uk
Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities
This organisation hosts the Choice Forum which promotes discussion about a wide range of issues. http://www.learningdisabilities.org.uk/help-information/forums/?view=Standard
Life Support Productions
Offer a range of DVDs about sex and relationships for people with learning disabilities including 'You, Your Body & Sex', 'Jason’s Private World', 'Kylie’s Private World'. The DVDs are aimed at young people with learning disabilities and cover a range of topics including the ways bodies change in the transition from childhood to adulthood, sex, relationships, contraception, consent and emotions linked to sex and relationships. http://www.lifesupportproductions.co.uk/ys.php
Books Beyond Words Publications
A series of books produced by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The books use pictures and use mime and body language to communicate simple, explicit messages about sex and relationships. One of their latest books is called Falling In Love. http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/publications/booksbeyondwords/aboutbbw.aspx
Human rights organisation led by people with learning disabilities. They have published five accessible books about sex and relationships – Sex & Masturbation, Safe Sex and Contraception, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans, Friendships & Relationships, Sexual Abuse.
They have also recently launched a Sexual Health & Relationships resource containing over 100 photos and 500 illustrations to help support people with learning disabilities talk about sexual health issues. And they have published My Pregnancy, My Choice, a simple to understand guide to pregnancy for people with learning disabilities. www.changepeople.co.uk/showPage.php?id=9
Image In Action
Sex and relationships education for people with learning disabilities. They work with young people and adults with learning disabilities, train staff and develop resources. www.imageinaction.org
Chance To Choose
A resource for educators covering communication, body awareness, self-esteem, relationships, being sexual, sexual health, birth and parenting. www.sexualhealthsheffield.nhs.uk
Innovative and interactive learning resource for women with learning disabilities to explore a range of health and sexual health issues in a confidential and supportive way. new.thebiggive.org.uk
Aims to raise awareness of the social needs and lessen the isolation of disabled lesbians and bisexual women of all ages via a national friendship network of disabled and non-disabled women, including an e-mail group and taping circle. The organisation publishes a quarterly newsletter with friendship lists (print, tape and Braille) and provides information. Email: email@example.com BM Box 5700 London WC1N 3XX (no website)
Loving Each Other Safely - by Helen Bailey and Jason Upton
This book explains what you need to do to stay healthy and safe in a loving sexual relationship. Advice is given about starting a relationship and knowing when you are ready for sex. There is also information on consent, masturbation, contraception, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and what to expect at a sexual health clinic. Buy online at: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/publications/booksbeyondwords/bbw/9781908020291.aspx
Policies on sex & sexuality
Dorset Services for People with Learning Disabilities
Best practice examples for supporting positive outcomes when working with people with learning disabilities. www.drh-uk.org/drh_docs/resources/70.pdf
Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole
Protection for adults with learning disabilities, policies and procedureswww.dorsetforyou.com/media.jsp?mediaid=139957&filetype=pdf
Sexual Heath Needs Assessment
British Journal of Learning Disabilities
Examination of policies around sex and sexuality for people with learning disabilities. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-3156.1992.tb00661.x/abstract
Highland Learning Disability and Relationship Group
Relationships and Sex: a booklet containing a set of rules agreed by public agencies in Highland for staff working with people with learning disabilities.http://easyhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/love_is.pdf
Stars In the Sky
Dating service for people over 18 with learning disabilities in the London area. They also run a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with learning disabilities called Skittles. www.starsinthesky.co.uk
Online dating service for people with all kinds of disabilities including learning disabilities www.enablelove.com
Online dating service for people with a range of disabilities including learning disabilities www.enabledalready.com
Friendship and dating agency for people over 18 with a learning disability. www.luv2meetu.com
Disabled Dating and Friendship Club
A dating agency for people over 18 with a range of disabilities including learning disabilities. disabled.diydating.com/index.php
Dates ‘n’ Mates
Dating and friendship agency run by and for people with learning disabilities www.ubisanmanagement.co.uk/blog/new-website-for-dates-n-mates/
Advice about dating for people with disabilities. www.thesite.org
Social networking and dating website for adults with disabilities. www.freemyability.com/#
More Than friends
Dating service for adults with learning disabilities in north east London.morethanfriends.org.uk
Netbuddy is not responsible for the information provided in these info packs or any of the activities suggested.