“Have you seen this article? Is this a real story!” – BBC News has just published a piece entitled: “The ‘Hand Angels’ helping disabled people with sex”, about a charity in Taiwan where volunteers provide sexual assistance for a small number of disabled people. Reading the headline alone, I can understand why people are skeptical – it’s a funny idea, a charity providing sex… it sounds like some sort of volunteer prostitution service; and it’s kind of amusing to imagine someone needs help with sex.
Except, when you actually think about it, it’s really not.
Sexual desire is the same in disabled people and those with learning disabilities, as it is with any other person. Foundations and charities exist to help people live as independently as possible, finding work, getting them moving around on their own; but how about that most basic of human needs? It’s a very real, very physical requirement, and has proven links with emotional and psychological wellbeing. So what about those people who can’t manage sexual relations by themselves, due to either a physical disability, or an obstacle of some sort that makes it difficult (or impossible) to meet compatible partners?
Whilst working for an organisation that provided free signposting to health and social care services, our top anonymous queries were always related to sexual health… and this included people looking for assistance with this particular issue. And it is an issue, a very real one for those affected by it. Perhaps they are unable to meet compatible sexual partners due to a learning disability; or perhaps it is someone who has limited use of part/s of their body, so require a hoist to assist them in finding a suitable position for relations with their partner. Where does one turn to for help, when it comes to such an embarrassing subject, one which seems to still be something of a taboo topic even in our most modern society?
Dr Tuppy Owens is a campaigner for disabled people to be accepted as sexual partners; she is also the author of The Safer Sex Maniac’s Diary which provided the first visual instructions to the public on how to put on a condom securely. Dr Owens founded Outsiders a social, peer support and dating club, run by and for socially and physically disabled people; and created the TLC website for disabled people to easily find safe sexual services; she is a keen advocate and campaigner for disabled people to be accepted as sexual partners.
Alongside this good work, other charities and organisations have set up in response to this need – and it is something that should be fully supported, as much as any other service available to assist those with disabilities. Awareness and open debate helps remove the perceived stigma and ‘humour’ from these services, as does open and frank discussion about something by which many of us are incredibly lucky not to be affected.
So the next time you see a headline about an organisation offering to help people have sex, I recommend reading the article / clicking the link and finding out a bit more about the struggles some of our brothers and sisters face, that we take so easily for granted.