SWAD – Sex with a Difference

Image: The SWAD logo, letters in yellow against purple background. Beneath is a yellow strip with purple text: Where disability and sex come together.

This is the fifth update on my interviews with organisations working with disability and sexuality issues in England (see previous posts here).

SWAD – Sex With A Difference grew from a lack of available support for people with mobility impairments wanting to explore ways to engage in sexual activity. SWAD offers training to disabled people, their carers/allies and staff in different kinds of disability services or social/health care. Furthermore, SWAD gives lectures in education programs such as occupational therapy, as well as advocates for accessible sexual health services, sex toys and other sex and disability awareness raising.

The ideas behind SWAD’s range of services and activities come from disabled people’s own experiences, which SWAD has explored through discussion groups. A common experience has been the lack of attention to sexuality issues by personnel that disabled people are reliant on when planning their care. But there was also fear of what would happen if they raised the issue themselves, which the representative that I interviewed explained in the following way:

They are concerned that if they do bring up the subject then that might have a negative impact on the service or care that is provided, sort of in the bigger picture.  Because, you know, if as a disabled person you’re relying on a care package from your local council to help with your daily living needs, you ask a question about sex or ask for support in that area, and you are then sort of blacklisted or kicked off because you’re labelled as some sort of pervert or something, what are you then going to do? Because you’re there, potentially housebound, or bedbound and then you would have no care. So there’s a lot of anxiety around what is acceptable and not acceptable.

Some disabled people had turned to their local Independent Living Centre for advice, but there was not any available competence around the sexual domain, even though they ’covered so many different aspects of life’. However, the IL centre was positive towards the initiative and hosted several of SWAD’s events, such as a session on practical positioning where participants could ask questions and explore ways to have sex depending on bodily differences.

Regarding advocacy, one of the planned campaigns is about getting sex and intimacy put on the DWP forms for activities of daily living, because for many disabled people ’care planning is the nucleus from which everything comes out’.

In other words, SWAD works very focused both practically and towards policy change with issues around sexual facilitation.