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When a person’s wellbeing is affected by an intellectual disability, issues concerning their sexual health and wellness can cause confusion and even fear. With Malta receiving their first local report of a woman with intellectual disability becoming a mother, perhaps it’s time to address the misconception that people with intellectual disability are often perceived as asexual by society.
More and more, the stigma of asexuality has been challenged. Developed countries are working on strategies that empower people with disability to live an equally fulfilling life in which they have the same opportunities as anybody else, including a healthy sex life and the chance to become a parent. For example, the 2003 European Manifesto on Basic Standards of Health Care for People with Intellectual Disabilities notes, ‘people with intellectual disabilities have the same human rights as other citizens’, while rule nine of the United Nations Economic and Social Council states that ‘persons with disabilities must not be denied the opportunity to experience their sexuality, have sexual relationships and experience parenthood’. Article eight of the Human Rights Act also declares the ‘right to respect for private and family life’ for people with disability.
So we have established that people with intellectual disability have a human right to a sexual identity, to procreate and to have a family. Let’s look at what needs to happen so that we can protect and empower this minority group. Firstly, initial support is needed to verify if the person with intellectual disability is in a position to consent to having a sexual relationship. This support should come in the form of sex education, helping a person’s ability to make informed choices. Here in the UK, we’ve had matters of capacity to consent ingrained in our law for decades, but Malta is only just starting to cover the issue.
There also needs to be social support given to people with intellectual disability at different stages of their adult life, not letting the families of those affected shoulder the responsibility. Sadly, there have been circumstances where women with disability, and not necessarily intellectual disability, have been denied their right to motherhood, and their child has been put in the care of a foster family. This is because they did not have social or family support and could not raise a child on their own, and this is something that needs to stop.