The right to a relationship: Addressing the barriers that people with learning disabilities face in developing and sustaining sexual relationships

This small research project is led by the National Development Team for Inclusion (NTDi) in coproduction with My Life My Choice (MLMC). MLMC is a self-advocacy organisation for adults with learning difficulties. The organisation has 500 members and runs 11 self-advocacy groups across Oxfordshire.

People with learning difficulties have a right to develop sexual relationships. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) states that people with disabilities have a right not to be discriminated against in all matters relating to marriage, family, parenthood and relationships.

NTDi and MLMC, based on research evidence and the personal experiences of members, believe the rights of people with learning difficulties to have a sexual relationship are being breached frequently and systematically. Being denied the opportunity to form relationships can have a negative impact on health and wellbeing.

The project is exploring:

  • What barriers, intentional and unintended, do people with learning difficulties experience in developing and sustaining sexual relationships, that are the direct result of the way support services are commissioned and delivered?
  • How commonly are these barriers experienced among those with learning difficulties?
  • What commissioning and support practices support people with learning difficulties to develop and sustain sexual relationships?
  • What policy and practice changes are needed to address barriers and promote the good practice identified?
  • The Research in Practice for Adults (RiPfA) is keen to work with NTDi and MLMC in taking the research findings forward and developing a Charter for Change aimed at providers and commissioners. Further to that, and in line with the ethos of self-advocacy, MLMC will develop another Charter for Change for people with a learning difficulty to advocate for change in their own lives and circumstances around relationships.