Should disabled people experience sex surrogates?

'The important thing is to recognise that everyone has sexual needs,' says Ms Povey, director for the Centre of Autism

Katie Price reveals she has considered hiring a prostitute for her disabled son

The debate surrounding whether disabled people should be able to hire sex surrogates is a divisive issue. Concerns surrounding sexual consent, equal human rights and barriers to sexual expression for disabled people can cause people to take diametric views on what should be done.

The controversial topic has again made the headlines after former model Katie Price said on talk show Loose Women that she would consider hiring a sex worker for her autistic son Harvey when he turns 18. The issue has also come to the fore with recent announcement that the Netherlands are subsidising sex for the disabled.

Katie, 39, made the admission on the show, saying she has discussed the issue with her husband Kieran Hayler.

Harvey, 15, suffers from a number of medical conditions and Katie said she fears he may never be able to form a normal relationship with a woman.

But where do the experts stand on the contentious topic?

Carol Povey, the director of the Centre for Autism at the National Autistic Society tells The Independent that difficulties with social communications are one of the main issues she encounters in the charity’s work.

“In the younger years autistic people can often struggle to understand the nuances of relationships,” Ms Povey said.

“The important thing is to recognise that everyone has sexual needs.

“We need to remove the stigma and support people by getting really good sexual education in schools and enabling people to have healthy relationships."

However, Ms Povey explains that while feelings of isolation and difficulties with relationships are often spoken of, requests for sexual services are rarely encountered by the charity.

“Whilst it is an area of difficulty, there are still many autistic people who have good and healthy relationships.”

However, human rights lawyer and chair of the Sexual Health and Disability Alliance, Claire De Than says the organisation frequently see people whose needs are not being met.

“We have seen examples of people injuring themselves because they have not even been given basic sex education or have been prevented from expressing themselves sexually”, Professor Claire De Than tells The Independent.

In Prof De Than’s view, decriminalising brothels run as cooperatives of sex workers and legitimising sexual surrogacy in the UK, would be “major improvements” for both the safety of sex workers and for people whose disabilities inhibit sexual expression.

"If everyone involved in an act of sexual expression is adult, truly consents, can communicate about consent in some form, and it occurs in private, then it is a human right and nothing should be done to prevent it,” she adds.

Dr Tuppy Owens, sex therapist and founder of the TLC Trust, UK organisation that seeks to connect people with disabilities to sex workers agreed with Ms De Than.

“The disabled men and women I know mostly need encouragement and sometimes guidance,” Dr Owens said.

The website’s 100 sex workers can typically see eight disabled clients per month, according to Dr Owens.

“I supported a woman with cerebral palsy to see a lovely male sex worker who helped her relax and enjoy sex for the very first time,” Dr Owens adds.

The gender imbalance involved is frequently overlooked. In a survey of disabled people's attitudes to prostitution in 2005, just 19% of women said they would see trained sex workers, compared with 63% of men, according to Disability Now magazine.

Prof De Than explains that the “right for a person to have fun in their preferred ways, with others or alone, as long as they are not hurting others,” is a requirement of the sexual autonomy and expression rights detailed by the European Court of Human Rights.

When it comes to issues surrounding consent, the disability convention states that even when a person lacks mental capacity under the definitions used in the UK, they still have the “same rights as everyone else, and are entitled to support to make decisions about their lives,” says Prof De Than.

“Too often assumptions are made about people lacking capacity to consent when in fact they simply express their consent differently from the person assessing it," Prof De Than adds.

“The criminal law on sex work is a mess and requires a radical overhaul,” in Prof De Than’s opinion.

“Go to any town centre on a Saturday night and you will see examples of people without disabilities making unwise decisions or showing poor reasoning; everyone has the right to make bad decisions, as long as they have freely chosen to do so,” she adds.

“It’s all about respecting individuals and disabled people,” says Ms Povey.

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