Sex and Disability: Intellectual Disabilities and the Right to Sexuality

sex-and-disability.png

In many countries, including the United States, persons with intellectual disabilities are deemed unable to provide sexual consent. The argument behind this is usually that these individuals cannot understand the potential risks of sex and, therefore, they cannot offer informed consent. So does this mean that everyone with an intellectual deficit must necessarily remain celibate lifelong?

This is a complex and controversial area of both psychology and the law. Part of the complexity is due to the fact that not all intellectual deficits are the same, and so creating a one-size-fits-all rule doesn’t seem to be the right approach. It is possible for someone with an intellectual disability to comprehend the risks of sex, such as in the case of Paul and Hava, as depicted in the video below.

Paul and Hava both have mental disabilities, but they have received sex education (something that few people with such disabilities ever get) and they understand the risks. They are also married and they want to live together; however, they have dealt with persistent discrimination from group homes, which typically don’t permit persons with such disabilities to have any kind of sexual relationship.

Check out the video below to learn more about Paul and Hava’s story. As you watch it, think about these questions and weigh in with your comments below:

  • Do persons with intellectual disabilities have a right to express their sexuality and establish sexual relationships?

  • What should the law be with respect to consent and intellectual disabilities?

  • What policies should group homes have in place regarding residents and sexual activity?

  • This video focuses on cognitive capacity and sexual consent in the context of permanent intellectual deficits. What about when people temporarily experience diminished capacity due to substance or alcohol use? Do people lose the ability to consent to sex when they consume alcohol or other substances and, if so, at what point do they lose that ability—and who determines that? How are these issues similar or different?

Watch more videos on the science of sex here.

Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology ? Click here for previous articles or follow the blog on Facebook (facebook.com/psychologyofsex), Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit (reddit.com/r/psychologyofsex) to receive updates. You can also follow Dr. Lehmiller on YouTube and Instagram.

Image Source: Image created by Justin Lehmiller; Background photo from Alexandra_Koch on Unsplash

You Might Also Like: