Not all sexual activity that takes place in residential settings is sexual assault. All people, including people with disability and older people, are sexual beings with the right to sexual expression. Service providers have a responsibility to challenge the myths about people with disability and older people and to support them to express their sexuality.
What is sexuality?
Sexuality is how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. It can be explained in three parts: orientation (who we are attracted to), behaviour (what we do sexually) and identity (how we see and present ourselves to others).
Sexual trichotomy model. From Catching on: teaching and learning activities. (2000) Department of Education, Employment and Training (Victoria)
Challenging the myths
Some common myths about people with disability and older people are:
- People with disability are asexual and do not need or seek intimacy.
- People with disability are oversexed, cannot control their sexual drives or have deviant ways of sexual expression. As such, they should be supervised and controlled.
- Older people are asexual and have no sexual needs; sexuality is only experienced in youth.
- Older people ought to suppress any sexual needs they may have.
Service providers can challenge these myths by recognising the sexual rights of residents (see below) and using these rights as a basis for building policies about relationships and sexuality.
Every adult has the right:
- to be treated as an adult, not be seen as sexless and be treated with the dignity and respect accorded to adults
- to know about the body, sex, sexuality, sexual health and to access this knowledge in ways they can understand
- to be sexual and to make and break relationships
- not to be judged by support workers with differing attitudes to sex and sexuality
- not to be sexually abused
- to have safe space for privacy, personal control and choice.
Adapted from Craft, A. Practice issues in sexuality and learning disabilities. (1994) RoutledgeReturn to top