10 things to keep in mind

Healthy intimate relationships for people with developmental disabilities

1. Just like everyone else, people with developmental disabilities are sexual beings

2. Not all people with or without developmental disabilities express themselves sexually. Some do. Some do not.

3. Sometimes simply having “someone special” in one’s life is enough. Relationships may or may not be sexual in nature.

4. It is not all about being sexual with others. People with and without developmental disabilities sometimes seek to explore their own bodies.

5. When it comes to romance, people with and without developmental disabilities are capable of making good or poor choices.

6. It is too often assumed that people with developmental disabilities cannot parent well, due to their disability. Some have trouble parenting, even with support. Others make excellent parents.

7. The service system has ways of denying people with disabilities their sexuality. Many service providers unnecessarily impose rules on people to curb their sexuality or reduce opportunity for them to develop meaningful, even intimate, romantic relationships.

8. People with developmental disabilities are vulnerable to sexual abuse and too often fall victim to such abuse. Sometimes people do not report abuse because they are afraid that the privileges they have will be taken away “for their own safety.”

9. People with developmental disabilities can be sexually abusive of themselves or others. Some may act inappropriately simply because they do not know how to act.

10. Parents, staff, and other disability advocates often feel awkward talking about sex and intimacy. So they often shy away from providing the mentoring and supports people with developmental disabilities need to grow into strong men and women capable of having healthy intimate relationships.

John M. Agosta, Ph. D. is a vice president at the Human Services Research Institute www.hsri.org. He helped found The Riot!, a national e-newsletter for self-advocates www.theriotrocks.org, and is involved with several pro-jects to explore application issues related to self-directed supports. Reprinted with permission from Oregon Perspectives, Winter 2008, Issue 3.