Relationships, sex and disability

This week is Brook’s first Sexual Health Week and we’re proud to be working closely with Mencap to change the dialogue around relationships, sex and learning disability. We spoke to Ellen, the co-chair of Mencap’s sexuality and relationships steering group, about why her work is so important.

Ellen with Richard, Chair of Mencap’s Sexuality and Steering Group

Can you tell us a bit about the sexuality and relationships steering group, and the work you do at Mencap?

I am a project support assistant at Mencap, working on different friendships and relationships projects. I am also a spokesperson for Mencap, which means I give presentations at external meetings or conferences. When I do presentations, I talk about what I do for Mencap, which is admin work, posting, writing blogs, being on a learning disability panel at interviews and I am also co-chair of the sexuality and relationships steering group.

Friendships and relationships is a really important area of work at Mencap. That’s why my colleague Richard and I set up and chair a sexuality and relationships steering group for people with a learning disability.

I help our sexuality and relationships manager to plan the steering group meetings and what topics we are going to talk about. When I co-chair the meeting with my colleague, Richard, and I talk through a presentation and lead group discussions about lots of different topics.

In our meetings we talk about lots of things like: our rights, how to make relationships and sex education accessible, friendships, healthy and unhealthy relationships, LGBTQ+ equality and social media. We also make easy read information about sexuality and relationships like our vision statement to help people with a learning disability find out more about sex and relationships.

We listen to everyone’s opinions and ideas and put them into the work that Mencap is doing on sexuality and relationships. Mencap wants people to have their voices heard and to understand that people with a learning disability have the right to be in a relationship if they want to.

Recently, Lisa from Brook came to one of meetings and we talked about sexual health. Lisa talked to us about what Brook does and the importance of sexual health services and support. She asked our opinions about how to make services more accessible for people with a learning disability. This was a great opportunity to find out more about Brook and to share our advice to make healthcare and information more accessible.

What do you enjoy most about your role at Mencap?

I really enjoy blogging about getting people’s voices heard, about my experiences in acting and singing, and having friendships and a being in a long-term relationship. I really enjoy being a spokesperson because it gets people to be more aware of Mencap and the work it does. I have worked at Mencap for 9 years and I still like coming to work every week. I get on well with my colleagues and the people at Mencap are nice and friendly.

What was your experience of sexuality and relationships education growing up?

I learned about sex at school in sex education lessons. We were given question sheets and information to read. I do not remember ever watching any videos about sex and the body, I think videos would have been more helpful for me to learn. Lessons were part of PSHE classes which we had every day which is very good.

I know that some people with a learning disability do not get relationship and sex education that is good enough and some people have missed out completely which isn’t fair.

My mum used to talk to me quite a bit about sex and relationships and we would read stories together. I am happy to talk to my mum about things like this, although some people would not find it comfortable.

I talk to my best friends about relationships and boyfriends – they sometimes give me advice about things I am worried about.

Mencap has information and advice on sexuality, friendships and relationships on our website.

Why do you think Mencap’s work on sexuality and relationships is so important?

The work is important because Mencap can help people who do not understand these things. There are many people with a learning disability who do not realise they have the right to a relationship or to understand their own sexuality. Without friendships, people can be bored and stuck at home. You might feel down or lonely. Mencap wants people to have these opportunities so they can go out, have fun, and enjoy themselves. That’s why this means a lot to me, I want people with a learning disability to know about their rights, and be able to get good information and support if they need it.

You can hear more from people with a learning disability about what sexuality means to them and about their rights here.

Find out more about Mencap and Brook’s Sexual Health Week campaign and download their free resources for parents and professionals here. Or visit Mencap’s website.

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