Sex workers back on the care home agenda, say activists

Campaigners are calling for more awareness of disabled people’s right to a sex life, after newspaper reports suggested that staff at care homes across Sussex were “facilitating” the visits of sex workers.

The claims were originally made as part of an investigation by The Argus, a local paper in Brighton, and were later picked up by national newspapers.

Alex Cowan, a consultant on disability and sexuality, welcomed those organisations that were “facilitating and enabling” disabled people’s right to a sex life through the use of sex workers, as long as it was “consensual and respectful”.

Cowan, who also works with The Outsiders, which supports disabled people to enjoy sexual expression, added: “Sex and sexuality is a very important part of being a human being and disabled people have a right to a consensual, fulfilling, respectful and enjoyable sex life.”

She said the area of sex and sexuality was frequently “completely ignored” by local authorities and care homes.

She said: “We need better training and better attitudes and a realisation that disabled people and older people have a right to a sex life, just like non-disabled people. Sex is fun but is also very beneficial to a person’s health and well-being.

“I’d like to see a set of guidelines for health professionals, social care professionals and care workers that are about respecting, considering, and discussing sex and sexuality with their clients, which may include enabling them to have a sex life and looking at the support and assistance that might require.”

Cowan said she was increasingly being asked to speak at conferences and run workshops on sex and disability, relationships and body image.

Dr Tuppy Owens, the founder of The Outsiders and the TLC Trust, which brings together sex workers and disabled people through its website, said she had been working with a care provider that was trying to put in place a policy that would allow residents to be visited by sex workers.

She said there had been “enormous progress” in the last year. “What is widespread is the desire to do it, but [service-providers] are terribly afraid of scandals which might lead to them losing their funding.”

But she added: “There are a lot of conversations going on and a lot of determination and a lot of healthcare professionals ringing me up and going to TLC and finding sex workers. It’s wonderful.”

Two years ago, a survey of councils by The Outsiders and the TLC Trust, found only three per cent of local authorities had a policy on the use of sex workers by disabled service-users, with the same number happy for sex workers to be paid using money from a disabled person’s personal budget or other council funding.

The issue has also been prominent in the media because of the release of the award-winning and Oscar-nominated US film, The Sessions, which tells the story of a disabled man who uses a “sex surrogate”.

The Argus investigation focused on a care home in east Sussex – its claims that staff had “facilitated” the visits of sex workers to residents were fiercely denied by the organisation that runs the institution – but reporters also spoke to researchers, campaigners, senior care workers and service-providers, who all suggested the use of sex workers by disabled residents of care homes was common practice in Sussex.

A spokesman for East Sussex County Council said the claims would be “examined” by its adult social care department, with “advice and input from other agencies, including Sussex police and the Care Quality Commission”.

31 January 2013

News provided by John Pring at


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