Buried in time: Sexuality guides by Contact a Family

This is the sixth post about my interviews with organisations working with sexuality and disability in England. In this post I will report on my interview with a representative from Contact a Family, which supports families, parents and carers of children with different impairments, conditions, etcetera. The representative no longer works there but was involved in developing three booklets: the young person’s guide Growing up, sex and relationships, the parent guide with the same name and a guide for schools, which is no longer available online.

The representative said that they had decided to develop the guides because ‘there was a complete lack of information out there, a lack of support available for parents wanting to guide their children who have physical impairments’ in their becoming adults. There had been resources for issues around learning disabilities, but not for young people with physical impairments.

The process started with the organisation asking their members about their experiences in this area, both through a survey and in workshops. One theme that came up were parents’ views of their disabled children’s sexuality:

Do you know, I have never considered it, I have never considered that there would be these issues for my [disabled] son. He’s got an older brother, I know that he would be masturbating like anything in his bedroom during certain periods of time, but I didn’t actually consider that my younger son, who reached that same age, would actually have those same needs.

They put together a consortium of representatives from different voluntary organisations, people within the local authority, education, social services, health et cetera. They worked together for nearly two years and secured funding through the government’s the teenage pregnancy unit.

Because of the funding source, the focus had to be on sex education and ‘the practical issues around identity and being able to explore your sexuality as a child growing up’ – as opposed to if the focus had been on adults, where issues around ‘what should be available to facilitate physical relations for example’ could have been included. Sexual facilitation would have been too much of ‘a controversial issue’ to include: ‘I mean, sex education is already controversial in schools, so this [sexual facilitation] would be tipping the balance a little bit (laughs)’.

Throughout the booklets, quotations from young disabled people are visible. This was a deliberate choice: ‘those parents or teachers that might be reading it and might be a little bit resistant to the ideas, if they’re reading direct quotes from young people they’re perhaps more likely to be accepting of a different point of view’. One example can be seen below:





Image description: A quotation in blue font saying “If your partner is disabled too what will their needs will [sic] be? you can experiment to find positions which are comfortable for you both.”

Unfortunately, no other work has been done in Contact a Family within this area, since the booklets were published in 2005. Like other organisations I interviewed have argued, this can be due to lack of funding, cuts to benefits and support, which leads organisations to focus on such more fundamental issues rather than the ‘luxury’ of sexuality.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for future updates!

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