Brothels for disabled people: Guess what? We like sex too

It doesn't have to be just about sexual activity, sometimes building confidence is just as important

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In 2008, an Observer survey found that 70% of people would not consider having a sexual relationship with someone with a physical disability.

In 2009, Lucy Baxter, mother of Otto Baxter, who has Down’s Syndrome, said that she would have no problem if her son “went to a brothel in Amsterdam” to have a sexual experience.

In 2012, FHM magazine revealed its three sexiest female Paralympians. In the same year, married Paralympian Sarah Storey revealed her first  pregnancy, and Channel 4 screened its first series of a dating show for disabled people with a title that could use serious improvement. The second series ends tomorrow, and the show has done its job- proved that we are very dateable, thank you very much.

At the beginning of 2013, Hollywood movie The Sessions, which tells the story of a man paralysed by polio who visits a sex therapist, was nominated for two Golden Globes. Sadly, it didn’t win any.

Then, just last week, former madam Becky Adams revealed to the media that she wants to open an accessible brothel for disabled clients in England in 2014. She has already created a free service which connects disabled people with female prostitutes.

I’m a woman and I have been disabled since birth. I thanked FHM when they recognised something I have always known - that disabled women can be beautiful, too. I was thrilled to hear that Sarah Storey is pregnant. I’ve seen every episode of The Undateables and I look forward to watching The Sessions.

However, back in 2009, I smiled a very embarrassed smile when I heard of what Lucy Baxter wanted her son to do. He’s around my age, and if my mother wanted to have that level of involvement in my love life, I would not have been impressed. But at the time, when I thought about the results of the Observer survey, it was easy to understand why the Baxters felt they had no other choice but to go to Amsterdam.

When I was growing up in the 1990s, there was absolutely no recognition that disabled people had romantic or sexual feelings. But, guess what, world? We do.

So I can see that Becky Adams, by her planned actions, wants to show the world that she realises and recognises this very important fact. I thank her for this.

In 2009, when Otto Baxter hit the headlines, the Observer survey was much more recent. Today, its five years old, and based on all the progress that has been made in this area since it was released, a little outdated, in my opinion.

I would like to hope that a similar survey today would have very different results that would be more favourable towards disabled people.

For one thing, Becky Adams told BBC Radio 2′s Jeremy Vine that she had received as many emails from people seeking to work with her as people looking to use the service.  So, non-disabled women today don’t seem to be against the idea of having a sexual experience with a disabled man.

I’m pleased to see that Becky Adams is concerned about making her service accessible to people with physical disabilities. She plans to furnish it with ramps, hoists and other helpful equipment.  She told BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan that physically disabled people want access to sexual services as much as anyone else, but they can face physical barriers.

"Working ladies often set up in a flat above a chip shop which is difficult to access," she says, "so it is about setting up somewhere that is totally accessible."

Brothels are illegal in the United Kingdom. But Adams has an answer ready for this. She believes that her project has a higher positive purpose, maintaining that: "If you are educating or training people with disabilities with their sexual functions, it is not a brothel." She has invested £62,000 in the project.

She says clients for her current service, called Para-Doxies and running in Milton Keynes, can be men, women or couples, and come from a range of backgrounds.

"We see service men who've been wounded. They are going through traumatic times and so choose not to try and form a relationship. They like to boost their confidence by seeing a lady and maybe having a massage."

The women, who she refers to as body workers, sometimes show men with autism how to chat up girls. Sex, Adams explains, is often not on the cards.

"A lot of our clients have no ability to perform a sexual experience," she says, "it could be just about holding somebody naked skin to naked skin for an hour."

The not for profit company has been running since last year and Adams says she already receives around 12 enquiries a week. The service aims to help disabled people to find workers and there are experts available to give advice to disabled people, parents and carers, on any legal questions arising.

Adams also told Nolan that she recognises that disabled people can and do form sexual relationships in their own right. This is something I would personally agree with. I feel strongly that disabled people should be allowed to form romantic and sexual relationships for themselves, just like anyone else, whether these are with other disabled people or not. I am pleased to see this is recognised.

Adams has been criticised for putting two vulnerable groups - disabled people and sex workers - together through her services.

Defending her service, and the people involved in it, Adams says: "We have a very small number of ladies, most of whom have come from the nursing profession or caring profession. They see themselves as holistic body workers, rather than prostitutes," and apparently most work on a voluntary basis.

Does the service cheapen the idea of sex? Adams doesn't think so:

"From the comments we get from clients, they have a much better human experience afterwards, because many of them were in residential care all their lives and have no human experience.

"After his first session with a body worker, one client said that he hadn't realised women have warm skin."

All that is left for me to say as a disabled woman and a feminist is - although I don’t think I’d use it myself - I hope Adams’ planned centre will be open to disabled women as well as men.

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