Unfortunately for many people with learning disabilities, this is just a dream. Although they may want to be in a relationship, they are often faced with barriers and challenges that prevent them finding what many take for granted. But specialised dating agencies can help to provide the support they need to meet new people and find romance. People with learning disabilities, like everyone else, have a need for affectionate and intimate relationships.
Not only do these beliefs hold people with learning disabilities back from relationships, they also infringe on their human right to privacy and a family life, as outlined in Article 8 of the Human Rights Act Love by Shutterstock My research explores the views and experiences of women with learning disabilities on sexual relationships and as part of my PhD I gave them a platform to talk openly about this taboo subject.
These women wanted to be in a relationship. As Monica told me: I want somebody to settle down and spend the rest of my life with. When Barbara was asked why she had joined up, she said: The social networks that many people take for granted are often restricted for people with learning disabilities and they find it hard to engage or access social activities where they can meet people and possibly form relationships.
The challenge, however, is getting the right support. As Georgia, one participant in a study , said: Protection from abuse People with learning disabilities — both men and women — are vulnerable to sexual abuse and need protection from this. Monica, for example, said: But there should be a balance between protecting people from abuse and enabling them to get into relationships, otherwise people are denied their right to do so.
To prevent abuse, people with learning disabilities should have access to sex and relationships education, and caregivers should be prepared to discuss issues on sex and relationships openly in a proactive, rather than reactive, way. This would equip people with the knowledge they need to enjoy relationships in a safe way. Not being open or only dealing with issues in a reactive way is more likely to leave people vulnerable to abuse.
Professionals and caregivers also inappropriately apply the Mental Capacity Act to some people with learning disabilities, especially those with severe learning disabilities. The act states that the capacity to consent to sexual relationships must be assumed unless proven otherwise and an unwise decision does not necessarily imply a lack of capacity. Research that reviewed cases on the capacity to consent to sexual activity highlighted failures in the implementation of the act and suggested a reframed capacity assessment informed by research into sexual decision making.
Dating agencies Special dating agencies can enable people with learning disabilities to find relationships and broaden their social networks. The decade has seen a growth of friendship and dating groups for people with learning disabilities, including HeartVenture , Luv2meetU and matesndates. They match people interested in forming relationships and support them on their first date.
Holding a candle for someone? Lonely by Shutterstock Stars in the Sky, one of the first to be set up, by two women with learning disabilities, is now unfortunately closing due to financial constraints. It also featured in The Undateables, and it is clearly evident from the series that support can enable people with learning disabilities to form relationships.
And success is not only measured by a successful date but by the confidence that individuals gain by going on a date, too. Samantha joined the dating agency because, she said: I was struggling to find anyone on my own. And I want, I guess what every girl, woman would like to have partner or companion to share things with.
I hate being on my own and being miserable. This also goes for people with learning disabilities, and for it to happen their sexuality must be acknowledged.
They need support to allow them the opportunity to form and develop relationships, and they should be empowered with the tools they need to consent to sexual relationships. Hopefully, if we get these things right, people with learning disabilities will be able to enjoy forming relationships in a safe environment, and fulfil their need to love and be loved.