What professionals think

When we polled professionals for our 2008 survey on sex and relationships work for people with learning disabilities, we asked if they would like to share any opinions with us.

Here are just a sample of the many thoughtful comments we received back.

Day centre officer

"It worries me that some of our clients are at risk because of their lack of knowledge about sex, relationships and appropriate behaviour. I also meet so many who are lonely."

Freelance trainer and consultant

"Education and information about sex and relationships, in accessible formats, are essential in helping people with learning disabilities to make informed choices and to understand the consequences of their decisions. Rather than making people more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation (as many people still believe), education and awareness-raising are essential in helping people with learning disabilities to remain safe and, ultimately, happy.

"Often, if this area of someone’s life is ignored they will remain unhappy, regardless of the amount of professional input in other areas of life. This is because relationships create a sense of value and belonging that can’t be substituted by other activities."

Independent training consultant (Wales)

"I’ve worked in this field for 30 years. We are now in the 21st century – it’s time services for people with learning disabilities woke up to the fact that those using their services are adults with the full range of feelings, desires and needs as anyone else.

"The difference is that, because of their disability, people with learning disabilities have not been given the education or support they need to ensure that satisfying these feelings, desires and needs is healthy, safe, fun and fulfilling."

Community learning disability nurse

"I feel in general the topic of sexuality and learning disabilities is still a taboo subject. This is hardly surprising since society is only just becoming open about sexuality in general, and openness about minority groups always tends to follow a little later.

"I believe in most cases service providers do recognise the rights of people with learning disabilities to have consensual loving/sexual relationships, however in reality there appears to be little done to promote this. This may be due to a fear of litigation regarding the potential for people with learning disabilities being given information on sexuality and relationships without gaining full understanding or it, and then ending up being party to non-consensual/abusive relationships as a result."

Operations director of a charity

"Personal relationships and sexuality for people with a learning disability are becoming more widely discussed, which is good. Unfortunately the scope that young people and adults with a learning disability have to explore their sexuality still rests heavily with parents, family members, carers and professionals. Thankfully, I didn’t need the expressed approval of any of these to pursue my own love life!

"There are some examples of good practice within schools, although often (particularly in mainstream schools), we find that behavioural problems in pupils with a learning disability that emerge during Key Stages 2 and 3 are often related to unresolved issues around sexuality and socially appropriate behaviour. This is often due to a lack of understanding of the changes in the body, public and private behaviour, personal space, differences between friendship and love."

Member of self-advocacy group

"We get very little help to go out and meet new people, make new friends, have relationships, we need support to do this."

Person centred planning co-ordinator

"This is an area of life that needs to be seriously dealt with to ensure that people have all the necessary information and can make healthy decisions about their lives and enjoy loving relationships."

Senior manager responsible for commissioning

"The majority of parents and family carers combined with the attitude of the majority of the community make it extremely difficult for adults with a learning disability, particularly women, to have consensual sexual relationships. Service providers are expected to provide supervision to ‘keep people safe’."

Team lead specialist nurse for schools community team

"Schools, on occasion, choose not to see that their behaviours may stem from unclear boundaries and the need for timely and appropriate support and information to be given and regularly re-enforced within their education, and their home lives if appropriate."

Community nurse

"My priorities for my work would be for the people I support to live as fulfilling a life as possible, in a manner which they would choose, whilst remaining protected from exploitation."