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Exploring the barriers to sex and relationships for people with learning difficulties
Ruth Garbutt, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
Before the introduction of Community Care policies in the 1990s, a large
number of people with learning difficulties lived in institutions, and
were often segregated. They were not encouraged to have relationships,
and the opportunities for any kind of sexual experiences were very limited.
Added to this, people with learning difficulties tended to be seen as
'eternal children', for whom sexuality was irrelevant because
of their level of cognitive and communication impairments. Worries about
vulnerability and risk of abuse headed the debates and were used as reasons
to discourage relationships. Nowadays, many people with learning difficulties
are living, working and taking their leisure with everyone else in the
community and the potential for having relationships becomes more likely.
This paper considers some of the issues around sex and relationships for
people with learning disabilities, drawing on some of the preliminary
findings of an innovative three year emancipatory research project looking
at the issue. The research project has been using drama as a research
tool to find out about the views and experiences of young people with
learning difficulties. It has also undertaken a national survey of special
schools, interviews with parents, and focus groups with teachers and governors.
The paper will show how the findings of the project have specifically
highlighted some of the barriers that people with learning difficulties
face in this area and there will be some discussion around the wider issues
of social exclusion. It will also explore how some of the findings have
implications for professional practice and policy.
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