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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 April, 2005, 02:23 GMT 03:23 UK
Disabled feel 'sexually excluded'
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News website disability affairs correspondent

Image of two wheelchair users embracing.  From an exhibition by Caroline Cardus called the Way Ahead, sign designed by Simon Mansfield.
The survey shows high levels of sexual exclusion
Society is failing to address the sexual and emotional needs of disabled people, a survey of readers of a leading disability magazine suggests.

More than 1,000 returned questionnaires asking them to be honest about their sex lives to Disability Now magazine.

Only half of those who responded said they had had sex in the past year.

Disability Now is calling on politicians, charities, the media and health and social workers to take the issue more seriously.

And it says the results demonstrate that society is refusing to address the sexual and emotional needs of disabled people.

Three-quarters of those who completed questionnaires thought the law should be changed to legalise prostitution.

The survey indicates disabled men are more than twice as likely to use the services of a sex worker than the general male population.

And 63% said they would use legalised sexual services if they were available.

Levels of sexual self esteem were shown to be very low, and most people felt that the government should fund specialist counselling services.

Disabled actress Julie Fernandez, who helped to launch the survey, says the media should be showing a more rounded picture of the daily lives of disabled people.

"Until we have more disabled news presenters, broadcasters and musicians telling the stories from our point of view, and until able bodied people experience us as colleagues, they will not know us as normal people," she said.

Ignorance and isolation

The report's author, disabled psychologist Simon Parritt, thinks the problem is made far worse by a collective refusal to acknowledge its existence.

"Many disabled people's lives are less happy, and emotionally and sexually isolated, because we have ignored the issue," he said.

"But just because there are so few activists fighting for change in this area, it does not excuse those in government or charities failing to take a lead."

Disability Now's acting editor, Sarah Hobson, says the publication will be putting a range of recommendations to government and the voluntary sector to address the matter.

Photo of a woman dressed in underwear, transferring from her wheelchair to a bed where her male partner awaits.  Photo by Chris Rich
Many people report problems finding a partner

"Disabled people are still largely considered to be asexual," said one of the survey's respondents.

And another describes her fears of sexual activity, saying: "I haven't had the courage to attempt intercourse with my husband... [I'm] too ashamed to show my body to him."

Less than half of those surveyed said that they had received any form of sex education - and many say professionals are indifferent to their needs.

"Social workers, GPs, consultants and specialists seem to be completely uninterested in disabled people's sexual needs," writes another respondent.

The situation in the UK contrasts with the Netherlands where disabled people can avail themselves of a nationwide service run by the Foundation for Alternative Relation Mediation.

The foundation employs a small team of female and male sex workers.

Although most people pay the full price for the service, some Dutch local authorities make a contribution towards the cost.

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