Sexual aids for people with disabilities
(posted by Susan Iwanek)
Melani Halacre of social enterprise Spokz People, who knows Remap through her husband having been helped by a Remap panel to take part in the sport of shooting, has raised the possibility of Remap panels assisting with this area of work. She has written the following article to explain the background, and would be grateful to hear from any member who thinks they might be able to offer practical help in this difficult area for disabled people.
Sex – the forgotten Activity of Daily Living
Many people consider sex and relationships to be an important part of their daily lives, yet in the area of disability, sex is rarely talked about. With the current focus on physical needs, access and daily living aids, it is easy to forget that living with an illness or disability can bring emotional and intimate challenges as well.
2 organisations are trying to make a difference in this area, keeping couples together and helping single people reduce their sexual frustrations. Spokz is a retail company selling not only wheelchairs and accessories, but also sexual aids for people with physical disabilities. Spokz was set up in 2008 by Steve Dent, who is a full-time wheelchair user due to a spinal cord injury acquired when he fell on a knitting needle at the age of 10.
Their sister organisation Spokz People c.i.c. is a non-profit social enterprise run by Steve Dent’s wife Mèlani Halacre. They provide counselling, support groups and sex and relationship advice to people with physical disabilities, their partners, parents and carers. Both organisations work closely to support disabled people around the issues of sex and relationships.
Steve and Mèl’s determination to improve relationships where one or both partners have a disability stems from their own frustrations at the lack of available aids when they got married, as well as little support in this area from occupational therapists or social workers.
As time went on, through their professional work, they discovered that many people with disabilities have difficulties with sex and relationships.
Research shows that many relationships fail when one partner becomes ill or has an accident and acquires a disability. Couple and individual counselling and support groups help, but providing support and sexual aids to help a couple regain that intimate part of their relationship can be an important factor in keeping couples together.
Another issue that has come to light is regarding care homes and individuals and couples living in residential accommodation. Some care homes have difficulty with resident behaviour, such as sexually explicit language or inappropriate sexual behaviour with staff. Spokz People’s experience tells us that this is often because of sexual frustration and lack of privacy. They are keen to work with care homes to address this issue but how to involve personal assistants in masturbation or sex is a very difficult area to address. If, through the use of a sexual aid, someone can be enabled to masturbate or have sex with little or no input from a PA, that may solve this difficult issue.
Intimate relationships are an important part of finding satisfaction and happiness in life for everyone. All of this is increased by the messages around us that we are a burden, not wanted, less productive than able bodied people and should be grateful of any assistance we get.
We are all sexual beings, whether we have a disability, are in a relationship or are single. Yet there are many myths and assumptions around sex and disability, for example that disabled people are asexual (not interested in sex) or are not capable of sex. These assumptions make it difficult for disabled people to talk about sexual feelings or find solutions. Disabled people face many barriers in society so finding or maintaining an intimate relationship can make a huge difference to their lives and provide them with more emotional support to cope.
Spokz and Spokz People c.i.c. have contacted Remap because they are interested in working with Remap volunteers to develop or adapt existing devices to enable individuals and couples to have a sex life. They have come up with some ideas about what devices could be adapted and are willing to discuss these plans and ideas with the volunteers to make it easier to develop some aids.
Talking about sex isn’t easy for many of us and, should any Remap volunteers be interested in this work, Spokz People are happy to liaise between the client and the engineer as much or as little as needed. If you would like to find out more, please contact Mèl Halacre, Managing Director of Spokz People c.i.c. on 0845 25 77 496 or email her at email@example.com or visit their websites www.spokzpeople.org.uk and www.spokz.co.uk
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