Richard Lawrence Mencap

Learning disabilities and long-term relationships

19th September 2019

In our last blog for Sexual Health Week, we hear from Richard Lawrence, Project Support Assistant and Co-chair of the Relationship and Sex Steering Group at the learning disability charity Mencap. He tells My Family, Our Needs about the importance of inclusive RSE and how parents can support their child with a learning disability to have meaningful relationships.

A bit about me

I have a learning disability and I am in a long-term relationship. People with a learning disability can and do fall in love. I am proof that you can have a learning disability and find love.

It is important to talk about love, sex, relationships and learning disabilities because lots of people are quick to judge. People with a learning disability have a right to choose if they would like to be in a relationship, have sex or get married. I can be in love with whoever I want to be with and no one has a right to make that decision for me.

People have judged me for wanting to be in a relationship and have told me that because I have a learning disability I don’t understand what a healthy relationship, consent or safe sex is. But I’ve known my partner for 13 years. She has been a really good friend to me.

Finding the right person

It wasn’t until last year that I finally built up the courage to ask her to be my girlfriend. I’d liked her for ages. At first, I was nervous and thought she would turn me down. But I eventually asked her, ‘Would you like to be boyfriend and girlfriend?’ And she said yes!
I’ve been in relationships before and ended up getting hurt. I thought I didn’t want to be in a relationship again, but I’m glad I found the right person for me.

My girlfriend also has a learning disability. We understand and support each other. It’s nice having someone who you can talk to. I love being in a relationship, it makes me feel really happy. I am the luckiest man alive.

How parents can support their child

I know that parents freak out when it comes to their children having a relationship. Not all parents, but some parents do interfere in their children’s relationships, especially if their child has a learning disability. But parents should let their children grow up; if you try to control your child’s love life, it will only get ruined.

Parents should be supportive. When children are growing up, they need to learn things about consent, sexual health and what a good relationship is. If they don’t learn this when they are young, they might find out the hard way.

If people with a learning disability cannot get accessible relationship and sex education or information, they will grow up confused. Back when I was in school, I only got taught the basics, like here is a man and here is a woman. I didn’t learn anything about consent, safe sex or LGBT.

I was too scared to talk to my dad about sex, but I was lucky that my dad was supportive and talked to me about consent. Otherwise I would have had to learn from what I watched on TV!
If you don’t have the right relationship and sex education or information, how are you going to learn? TV, for example, can tell you some things but it shows love, sex and relationships as a glamour world. It isn’t at all like what it is like in real life. If what they see on TV is all that they know, it could mean that they get carried away, like in a fantasy world, or learn bad behaviours.

The importance of Sexual Health Week

It’s a lot harder for people with a learning disability to find out about sex and relationships because accessible information is hidden away. Mencap and Brook are helping each other this Sexual Health Week to make sure young people with a learning disability know about sex and relationships. At the end of the day, it’s our choice – we just need support to help us understand healthy relationships, consent and safe sex.

I am lucky that I am in a relationship with someone I love – being loved makes me feel special and awesome. Everyone deserves to be able to experience that feeling if they want to. But some people are quick to judge people with a learning disability, like me, when it comes to sex and relationships.

In some cases, people with a learning disability are stopped from having relationships and sex. It is just awful. It only makes them feel lonely and isolated if they don’t have anyone to share things with or talk to.
People with a learning disability are human beings too. We feel things, fall in love, we are just like you. That’s why this Sexual Health Week, we want to help people with a learning disability to learn about healthy relationships, sexual health and consent to help them have choices about sex, relationships and their sexuality.

Don’t forget you can download Mencap and Brook’s free resources for parents and professionals and keep following the hashtag #SHW19 on social media to catch up on everything from the awareness week.

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