Positive public attitudes found in Irish survey to the expression of sexuality in people with learning disabilities


Supporting adults with learning disabilities to express their sexuality and form intimate relationships is an area that continues to challenge provider organisations. One of the factors that impacts on this is public attitudes.

This study reports on the findings of the attitudes of the general public in Ireland. The researchers looked at the data from the National Disability Authority survey that takes place every five years in the republic. The survey works with representative samples of over 1000 adults. The survey data was compared from 2001, 2006  and 2011.

What they found was that In 2011, half the people in the survey thought that people with a learning disability or autism had the right to sexual relationships and a third agreed that they should have children if they wished.

Interestingly, more people agreed with the statement that people with physical or sensory disabilities had the right to have sexual relationships and to have children compared with people with intellectual disability.

The survey data also enabled the researchers to cross reference the characteristics of people who held particular views and found that people were more likely to agree with the right to sexual relationships for people with learning disabilities if they:

  • lived outside of Dublin;
  • were single;
  • had more people in their own social networks;
  • were comfortable living near people with learning disability

The researchers conclude that there is still a need to understand better what people with learning disabilities hope for from relationships and to consider the range of supports that might need to be in place to help people with learning disabilities make choices about sexual relationships and to protect them against abuse.

Irish attitudes to sexual relationships and people with intellectual disability, McConkey, R. &Leavey, G  in British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 41: 181–188

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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