The development of sexuality and emergence of our sexual selves is something that happens to everybody. Some people wrongly regard disabled people as not developing sexually in the same way as non-disabled people.
It is true that Puberty may begin a little later, or that some disabilities can affect sexual performance, but disability does not prevent sexual maturity, or remove sexual feelings, desires or curiosity.
Even if a disability does cause a loss of sexual function, we remain in tune with our sexuality. The physical and emotional aspects of sexuality, despite the physical loss of function, continue to be as important for disabled people as for non-disabled people. Education and the freedom to learn about our bodies and how they work is a fundamental part of growing as complete individuals. It is important to be aware of the changes that our bodies go through in order to understand what is happening and be able to make choices in the future.
Discovering what is pleasurable, learning appropriate behaviour in public, and being able to communicate our sexual needs within a relationship are just some of the issues that face everyone. If information is held back from disabled people (perhaps through a misguided perception that disabled people are non-sexual or through some imposed moral objection) it causes unnecessary Anxiety and alienation. It can be frightening and confusing for anyone discovering their sexuality; everyone has sexual needs and should be supported through this process. Lack of understanding can leave disabled people very vulnerable to abuse or exploitation, or exposed to the risks of Sexually Transmitted Infections.
Full, open and appropriate Sexual Health and Relationships Education (SHRE) can help create the confidence that promotes positive sexual health. Information should be readily accessible and in a form that suits the individual. It needs to acknowledge developing sexuality and value the person for who they are.
Young disabled people need to prepare for adulthood and parents of young disabled people need to be ready to accept the upcoming adulthood of their child. The sexual and social development process should not be denied or inhibited, and where necessary, specialist information should be available for specific physical conditions.
Opportunities for sexual exploration among disabled people, particularly the young, are very limited. Times of privacy might be rare, and disabled young people are much more likely to receive a negative reaction from adults if they are discovered. The need for privacy needs to be acknowledged and addressed, even if care needs make this inconvenient.
For learning disabled people, society frequently takes the view that they have no rights at all to pursue social and sexual relationships, and are therefore often denied SHRE completely. They may need more help to recognise appropriate sexual behaviour and distinguish between public and private behaviours. Growing up in situations that differ from the norm (for example a specialist evironment) can contribute to difficulties in appropriate social interaction.
It is important for educators involved in programmes with disabled people or disability workers to understand community attitudes towards disability and sexuality and the impact of these views upon disabled people themselves.