Sexuality and Relationships

Learning about sex, sexuality and relationships is an important part of all our lives. Understanding emotions, boundaries, sexual health, personal hygiene and how to stay safe are vital for people with learning disabilities. This knowledge helps to develop useful life skills and a positive and healthy attitude towards sexuality and well being.

Relationships can bring pleasure and boost self-esteem and confidence, but they also involve risks such as being hurt, pregnancy, HIV and Aids. It can be difficult to strike a balance between protecting people with learning disabilities from risks and allowing them to explore and develop wider personal and social relationships.

Young people and adults with learning disabilities are much less likely to have access to this kind of information because of attitudes towards disability and sexuality, lack of resources and lack of professionals qualified to provide the right kind of information and appropriate support.

Access to good quality information and advice is very important. This info pack rounds up the best resources, services, information and advice that is available surrounding this sensitive subject.


Safe environment
Create a safe environment when explaining the facts about sex to people with learning disabilities. Make sure you are in a place where you won't be interrupted or disturbed. A 'Private' sign could be placed on the door if this makes the person you are talking to feel more comfortable and relaxed in discussing subjects they may find difficult.

Take it slowly
Be prepared to explain things bit by bit instead of bombarding people with a lot of information all at once. Conduct a needs assessment. If you are working with a group, is the group made up of people who will learn at a similar pace?

Reinforcing information
Use as much accessible information as possible. If you are working with a group, try role play, re-capping and asking direct questions, for eg at the start of a new session, ask each individual, "Can you tell me one thing we talked about last week?" This will help to understand if the people you are working with are retaining information, and if you are working at the right pace.

Appropriate behaviour
Discuss the difference between a public place and a private place, and talk about what kind of behaviour is appropriate in both. For eg, "Is it OK to kiss and hug your boyfriend during a lesson at college?"

Just say 'No!'
Make sure the person with learning disabilities understands they don't need to kiss, cuddle or have sex with someone if they don't feel ready. Remind them they are in control of their body and no one else has the right to kiss/touch them unless they agree to it. Talk about consent. Do they feel confident enough to say 'No' if they are not ready? Practice saying 'No!' using assertive body language and eye contact.

Talk about intimacy
If you feel the person you are supporting is ready, do they know about birth control? Do they know about where to get it and how to use it? Do they understand when/where it is appropriate to be intimate with their partner? (This can be particularly significant if living in a shared house). Again, talk about public vs private places, respect and consent.

Three's company
It can be helpful for a person with learning disabilities to be accompanied by a friend or support worker in the early stages of a new relationship. Explain to the person with a learning disability that this doesn't mean they will sit in between them on a romantic date, but could sit in the same cafe reading a book whilst the date takes place, so still be close at hand for support when needed.

That's private
If a person with learning disabilities is going on a date with someone new, make sure they don't divulge lots of personal details, such as address, mobile number, bank or passport details. Talk about the importance of privacy.

Keep it fun & easy to talk
Try to make things fun and reduce embarrassment as much as possible. If you are talking about breast checking with a group, for eg, get them to give you as many words for their breasts as possible and write them on a flip chart. That gets all the 'Boobs' and 'Tits' and giggling out of the way and seems to relax people to talk more openly.


Services & advice

Provides a range of support services for people with learning disabilities including health advocacy and a nightclub called Wild Bunch. It publishes a range of illustrated, easy to understand materials about personal and sexual health such as 'Your Private Parts'. It also produces information on healthy living. Visit Website

Brook Advisory Centre
Confidential pregnancy advice for under-25s. Visit Website

Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood International
Advice and information about pregnancy and parenting. Visit Website

Works with people with learning disabilities who have experienced violence or abuse. The organisation has an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor who works with people with learning disabilities who have experienced sexual violence. Visit Website

Sex Education Forum 
Visit Website

Family Planning Organisation
Helpline open Monday-Friday 9am-6pm. 0845 310 1334. Visit Website

Sex & Disability Helpline: 0707 499 3527

Sexual Health & Disability Alliance
Information and reading list about various issues relating to sex and disability. Visit Website

The Aspie Girl's Guide to Being Safe with Men
Aspie girls and women are incredibly vulnerable to having bad sexual experiences with men, whether or not they are interested in pursuing dating and sexual relationships. Debi Brown writes from personal experience to help other Aspie girls and women avoid common pitfalls and potentially dangerous situations. Read the Guide

Useful resources

Talking together about sex and relationshipsRead the Guide

Learning Teaching Scotland
A really good resource for anyone involved in delivering sexual health / relationship education to people with ASD : Read the Guide

Family Planning Association
Comprehensive range of publications aimed at parents, people with learning disabilities and professionals. Subjects covered include pregnancy, contraception and relationships.
 Read the Guide

Contraceptive Display Kit
The contraceptive display kit is an ideal resource to encourage people to think and talk about contraception. The briefcase-style holder contains: condom demonstrator, user manual, three sets of FPA booklets on contraception, selected FPA fact sheets, laminated contraceptive pill cards, empty pill box, male and female condoms, contraceptive patch, emergency contraception, diaphragm/cap and spermicide, placebo implant (Implanon) an IUD and IUS. Find out More

The whole picture: exploring disability and sexuality
A DVD training resource designed to support all professionals who care for young people with palliative care needs or disabled young people. The resource offers practical guidance and explores the need for training, understanding and empathy as well as developing appropriate policies and procedures within the workplace. The closing chapter provides the viewer with the legal context, as well as exploring safeguarding issues. Find out More

Supporting young people to explore sexuality & relationships
A free guide is now available for professionals to support young people with uncertain life-expectancy who want to experience intimacy, sex and relationships. Read the Guide

FPA Training Courses
Aimed at professionals working with people with learning disabilities. Our most popular courses, offered on pre-set dates at specific locations and open to all. An FPA open training course is the perfect place to enhance your skills, network and share ideas with other sexual health professionals. Find out More

National Autistic Society
Expert top tips on sex and relationships. Read More

Brook: Living Your Life
Guide that helps teachers and youth workers to design and evaluate a programme of teaching and training resources. It deals with a range of issues, including the body at different ages, emotions, relationships and sexual experiences. Read the Guide

Sex Education Forum
Provides a comprehensive directory of resources about sex education for people with learning disabilities. Read More

Exploring Sexual and Social Understanding
BILD illustrated resource pack that can be used to assess sexual knowledge and the capacity to consent, of people with learning disabilities. Read More

Anatomically correct 3-D male and female cloth models. Useful teaching materials for sex and relationship education for children and adults with learning disabilities and to train professionals working with them. Includes the teaching aid Wendy Female Genitalia and Reproductive Organs, a model which is made of latex and anatomically correct. Visit Website

Making Choices, Keeping Safe
Booklet produced by NHS Lothian and others. Policy and practice guidelines on relationships and sexual wellbeing when working with people with learning disabilities. Read the Guide

Easy Heath
Leaflets produced by MENCAP and other organisations explaining issues relating to sex and bodies in easy to understand terms.
Sexual Health for Men
Sexual Health for Women
Sex and Relationships
The Menopause

My Boobs & Me: How Are My Boobs Today
University of Ulster and Compass Advocacy Network. An easy to understand booklet about breast health and how to spot breast abnormalities. Download the Booklet

Janet's Got Her Period
DVD providing simple to understand information about coping with periods. Aimed at girls and women with learning disabilities. Read More

NHS Cancer Screening Programme: An Easy Guide to Cervical Screening
Easy to understand NHS guide to what happens when a woman has a smear test. Download Leaflet

NHS Cancer Screening Programme: An Easy Guide To Breast Screening
Easy to understand guide to what happens when a woman undergoes breast screening. Read the Guide

Twisting Ducks Theatre Company video, Silly Girl
Video about sex and relationships made by members of Twisting Duck Theatre Company which is run by eight adults with a learning disability who produce drama about issues that are important to them and others with learning disabilities. Watch the Video

Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities
This organisation hosts the Choice Forum which promotes discussion about a wide range of issues. Visit Forums

Life Support Productions
Offer a range of DVDs about sex and relationships for people with learning disabilities including 'You, Your Body & Sex', 'Jason's Private World', 'Kylie's Private World'. The DVDs are aimed at young people with learning disabilities and cover a range of topics including the ways bodies change in the transition from childhood to adulthood, sex, relationships, contraception, consent and emotions linked to sex and relationships. View the Range

Books Beyond Words Publications
A series of books produced by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The books use pictures and use mime and body language to communicate simple, explicit messages about sex and relationships. One of their latest books is called Falling In Love. Visit Website

Image In Action
Sex and relationships education for people with learning disabilities. They work with young people and adults with learning disabilities, train staff and develop resources. Visit Website

Chance To Choose
A resource for educators covering communication, body awareness, self-esteem, relationships, being sexual, sexual health, birth and parenting. Visit Website

Aims to raise awareness of the social needs and lessen the isolation of disabled lesbians and bisexual women of all ages via a national friendship network of disabled and non-disabled women, including an e-mail group and taping circle. The organisation publishes a quarterly newsletter with friendship lists (print, tape and Braille) and provides information. Email: BM Box 5700 London WC1N 3XX (no website)



Stars In the Sky
Dating service for people over 18 with learning disabilities in the London area. They also run a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with learning disabilities called Skittles. Visit Website

Online dating service for people with all kinds of disabilities including learning disabilities. Visit Website

Friendship and dating agency for people over 18 with a learning disability. Visit Website

Outsiders is a social, peer support and dating club, run by and for socially and physically disabled people. Members have a wide range of impairments, including visual and hearing impairment. Visit Website

Happily Dating
Happily Dating is a Central London agency providing a safe environment for you to make new friends and start relationships. To become a member of happily you have to have a learning disability or autism and be over the age of 18. Visit Website

My Favourite Hello
My Favourite Hello is a dating site designed for peoplw with aspergers, autism and learning disabilities. Visit Website

We would like to say a big JWeb thank you to Nikki Cotter of Warrington Mencap for all her help in putting this pack together.

Jweb is not responsible for the information provided in these info packs or any of the activities suggested.


Written by: The JWeb Team