Consent is the foundation of healthy partnered sexuality. Knowing that everyone is an enthusiastic, informed, freely-given ‘yes’ to a sexual activity before it happens is mandatory.
Adults with cognitive disabilities often get told what to do – by staff or families or even by strangers like medical specialists they only meet once. They may be punished if they don’t comply. When this happens, they learn that it’s not important whether or not they consent to something. They have to do what they’re told.
Given these experiences, consent is a concept that needs to be talked about and demonstrated often. This helps people learn how to ask for consent in sexual situations. It also helps them learn how to give consent when they’re a ‘yes’, and how to not give it when they’re a ‘no’.
It’s also valuable for staff and families to think about how we can model consent in our daily interactions with the people we support so that we are not sending mixed messages. (eg. “No always means no… except when I’m telling you to eat your broccoli.”)
It’s not fun to think about, but adults with cognitive disabilities are at increased risk of experiencing sexual abuse. How we respond if we find out this has happened can make a big difference. Listening to & believing survivors, pointing them towards support organizations, and being willing to accept their romantic & sexual goals afterwards are all parts of top-notch support.