Sexuality is a natural part of every person’s life. It is no different for people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities. Sexuality is a natural part of their life, too.
Often however, because of the very nature and impact of mental retardation and other disabilities, many people are quite vulnerable in the area of relationships and sexuality. Some people have a lack of social skills, social awareness or understanding of sexuality. Some do not have the ability to physically protect themselves. This vulnerability can leave a person with mental retardation or other disabilities at risk of emotional and/or physical harm.
Historically and even today, because of the risks, people have often been denied opportunities to have relationships or express their sexuality. People have also been denied opportunities because of some common myths and misconceptions about disabilities and sexuality.
Sexuality in the lives of people with mental retardation or other disabilities is an issue that requires respect, understanding, caution and an awareness of the wide array of human rights. What is important to always remember is that people with mental retardation and other disabilities are people with sexual feelings, needs and identities. Sexuality should always be seen in the total context of human relationships. Sexuality includes gender identity, friendships, self esteem, body image and awareness, emotional development and social behavior, as well as involvement in physical expressions of love, affection, and desires.
It’s also important to remember that there needs to be guidelines that a person, his or her family, advocates and caregivers can follow. These are guidelines that can be created by a person with the assistance of people in his or her life–guidelines designed to help a person freely exercise his or her rights in the area of sexuality and relationships, while being as safe as possible from harm.
People with mental retardation and other disabilities have a lot of rights when it comes to sexuality and relationships. Each person has the right
- to have privacy;
- to love and be loved;
- to develop friendships and emotional relationships and to choose friends;
- each person also has the right to learn about sex, sexual problems, sexual abuse, safe sex, and other issues regarding sexuality;
- every person should have the opportunity to exercise their rights and responsibilities in regard to privacy, sexual expression, and the pursuit of happiness; and
- every person has the right to marry and have children.
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