For a long-time sexuality education was not common or deemed necessary for people with disabilities. Damaging stereotypes and misinformation about people with disabilities often fuelled decisions that made sexuality education and information largely inaccessible for people with disability. While there has been a big shift in this thinking and advocates in the field have done a lot of work to shift this, people with disabilities are still denied access to information and services that the general population take for granted.
Disability rights are now entrenched in law around Australia but fear and misinformation around sexuality and disability can still inform the ways in which many people respond to the needs and desires of people with disabilities.
The reality is people with disabilities of all kinds including intellectual disability and/or autism, have the right to lead full and well-rounded lives and society has the responsibility to provide them with comprehensive sexual health education and information that gives them the tools they need to make good decisions and have healthy relationships.
Here are some common myths and stereotypes that exist toward the sexuality of people with intellectual, developmental and neurological disability. And below are the facts.
People with disabilities don’t have sexual feelings
Wrong – People with disability are often considered asexual. This is a myth. People with disability have similar desires and needs for intimacy as others. Sex is for everyone!
People with disabilities should not have children
Wrong – People with disability may need additional supports when they become parents. This does not mean they are incapable of parenting. Parenting is a learned behaviour and a skill that can be supported. Other factors such as mental health, housing and low income are of course all considerations. People with disability have the same sexual and reproductive rights as others.
People with Autism don’t want to be in relationships.
Wrong – Relationships between people with autism may look different than other relationships but this does not mean they are less valuable. Despite the myths people with Autism do want and need human connection and intimacy and relationships.
Young people with disability don’t need information about contraception.
Wrong – All people need adequate and accurate information about contraception so they can make informed decisions about their reproductive health.
People with disability are confused when they think they are gay, bi or trans. They are most likely copying someone else.
Wrong – Diversity in sexuality and gender exists amongst all populations as it does within groups of people with disability. In fact, research shows there is greater gender diversity within the autistic community than in the general population.
It is the responsibility of the parent or carers to make decisions for their child or client when it comes to relationships and babies.
Wrong – If people are over the age of 16 and have capacity to consent, then they have the right to make their own decisions. The role of the carer or parent is to support decision making regarding their sexual and reproductive choices.
Unfortunately, individuals with disabilities can be vulnerable members of our community and can be taken advantage of in relationships. They are also much more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the general population. It is the responsibility of all of us to address this. Comprehensive sexuality education is known to reduce one’s likelihood of being a victim of sexual assault as well as increasing positive sexual experiences.
To access our one-to-one counselling for people with disability, see shq.org.au/disability/counselling/. For professionals looking for education and training please visit shq.org.au/disability/training/.