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Sexuality Support, Policy and Practice: Getting it Right

Helen Crowley, RUA St John of God Hospitaller Services


Since becoming part of the European Union, Ireland has witnessed a radical shift in cultural attitudes towards sexuality. This has been reflected in the separation of church and state and in the significant changes made in national legislation in the last two decades. However, laws in respect of people with intellectual disabilities and capacity remain inadequate and can actually deny rights in respect of sexuality which are taken for granted by the general population. Further, a history of institutional care for people with intellectual disabilities and a consequent avoidance of sexuality has meant that men and women with intellectual disability in Ireland remain largely unsupported in respect of sexuality education, opportunities to enjoy sexual relationships and access to community sexual health services.

Many questions have been posed by service providers in relation to the development of sound sexuality policy within service systems. How do we as service organisations promote a proactive approach to sexuality, yet protect vulnerable adults? How do we function in the inadequate legal context in which sexuality support is currently enacted in Ireland? How can we alleviate the anxieties of staff and ensure that people they support are not susceptible to the attitudes and values of others? And how can we develop collaborations with all stakeholders to promote healthy, positive and safe sexual lives?

This paper explores a practitioner's role in supporting organisational change at policy level. It will explore policy statements that are not only designed to protect an individual, but are also designed to promote intimate relationships. Currently, agency policies attempt to meet the different and conflicting needs of stake holders in an ever changing context. Yet they can also be an obstacle to enabling good practice, within the parameters of clear, practical support guidelines. The paper will explore how a human rights based approach to policy in the area of sexuality in Ireland can provide a workable framework that will guide best practice in the context of weak legislation. This approach can provide a solid foundation for staff as duty bearers of people's sexual rights in everyday practice. This paper provides the components of a policy on expression of one's sexuality that anybody would be happy to sign up to.

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