national down syndrome day – sex & disability

today is national down syndrome day. as an ally of the disability community, i’d like to take this opportunity to address a topic i rarely see publicly addressed (and suspect/have reason to believe it is rarely privately addressed either): sexuality & cognitive disability.

i have a dear one in my life with down syndrome. i also have worked in the personal care and group home sector. across the board it has been my experience that adults with cognitive disabilities tend to be treated as children by even the most well-intended. since america still is in rampant denial of children/minors being sexual beings, it stands to reason that we would be equally unwilling to grant sexuality to adults with cognitive disabilities.

but the fact is, we are all sexual beings, and people with cognitive disabilities have sexual desires, just like people without cognitive disabilities.

josh (name has been changed), an adult with whom i once worked, had a cognitive disability. he was dating a woman who lived in a neighboring group home. through the time they dated, josh explicitly requested sex ed information on 3+ occasions, and was kindly and patronizingly denied each time. similar to our “abstinence only” myth, we believe that if we ignore something hard enough, it will disappear, that our children’s sexual urges will just disintegrate via repression. unfortunately, that has never been an effective method to keeping us safe, healthy, and informed. i have heard many stories over the years similar to josh’s. why is it that an adult can come forward respectfully asking for information on his sexuality, and we would refuse him?

we need a sea change around disability, almost as badly as we need it around sexuality. consensual sexual expression that does not inflict harm on others should be a fundamental human right, one of the immensely complex and beautiful potentialities of the human experience. if nothing else in this life, we should own our bodies, and have the right to expose them to the experiences we want.

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