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Sorry, You’re too Dumb to Have Sex

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | February 15, 2011 |

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | February 15, 2011 |

A couple of weeks ago a UK court ruled that a mentally disabled man shouldn’t be allowed to have sex. The man in question, Alan, has an IQ of 48 (which qualifies as a moderate handicap), and had been engaged in a sexual relationship with another man who lived in his assisted living home. The judge concluded that Alan did not understand the mechanics of sex or the health risks involved and should therefore be kept under supervision and prevented from engaging in it. In the UK, the Court of Protection has the authority to make life or death decisions for people who are considered to lack the intelligence to make such decisions for themselves. Since sex falls somewhere in between life and death, judges do indeed have the authority to tell a person with mental disabilities that they can’t fuck. Which sounds pretty goddamn awful, on the surface, but this ruling isn’t really as bad as it sounds.

Some people reporting this case have given it a homophobic spin, suggesting that Alan would have been allowed to continue a sexual relationship if his sexual partner had been a woman. Frankly, I doubt it. The fact that Alan’s relationship was homosexual just means the court didn’t have to deal with the thorny issue of eugenics, since Alan and his partner are in no danger of passing their genes on to another generation from gay sex. Most, though, are just taking the “outrage at the court’s trying to control an adult’s sex life,” angle. I think this too is mistaken. The judge is on record as acknowledging the delicacy of the issue and the need for caution in deciding such cases. Importantly, he did not rule that Alan can never have sex, only that he must first demonstrate understanding of the implications of sex, and he further ordered Alan’s caretakers to provide him with sex education (something that one psychiatrist argued should not be allowed because it would just ‘confuse’ Alan). In other words, the judge doesn’t want to stop Alan from having a sex life, just to make sure it’s an informed and safe sex life. (It’s also worth noting that Alan has been accused of making lewd gestures at school children, indicating that he lacks an understanding of what is sexually appropriate.)

The real question the court had to decide was not whether it’s okay for a mentally handicapped person to have sex (gay or otherwise), but whether this particular handicapped person had a thorough enough understanding of sex to protect his own health, as well as his partner’s health, and to avoid being exploited. Alan testified that he enjoyed having sex, and that it would “make [him] feel happy,” to continue, but that doesn’t mean he was ready to have it. The human body is designed to respond to sexual stimulation with pleasure. Children, for example, can experience sexual pleasure at the hands of a molester, but that doesn’t mean the abuse won’t be incredibly emotionally damaging. The same could potentially be true for people like Alan, who lack an understanding of what sex is and the mental capacity to protect themselves from sexual predators. The news reports don’t give any details about the mental state of his partner, so it’s impossible to tell if there was any exploitation in this particular case, but regardless, it makes sense that the court would wish to protect someone who is unable to evaluate such situations for himself.

This case does highlight, however, the need for people like Alan to be given adequate sexual education. Alan’s mind may not be as developed as most adults, but he is an adult and deserves the opportunity to express himself sexually. And he deserves to be given the tools to do so safely. It’s disturbing that he had not previously been given such information and that at least one mental health professional believed that he shouldn’t be given such information. People, even disabled people, will develop sex drives, whether it’s convenient for their caretakers or not. Alan has already shown inappropriate behavior that could put himself or possibly others in danger (if, for example, his sexual behavior towards children were to go beyond gestures). There may be people who’s mental capacity is so low that it would be a bad idea for them ever to engage in sexual activity with a partner, but a moderate mental handicap does not seem like enough to justify denying someone such a basic right. I think the judge made the right decision in mandating that Alan receive sex education, but I suspect there are a lot of disabled people out there who won’t be so lucky, which may leave them vulnerable to both sexual predators and over-protective caretakers. The worst of both worlds, in other words. Especially in the US, where we can’t even seem to provide non-mentally handicapped teenagers with comprehensive sex ed. There is a real question of how intelligent one has to be to safely engage in sex and how such issues as potential pregnancy when the adults involved are incapable of understanding the process or raising a child should be handled (Alan, it is noted, believed babies were delivered by storks). But these are questions that can’t be answered by simply denying people with mental handicaps information.

Sex is a major biological drive. People will engage in it whether they understand the implications or not, so it’s better to arm them with knowledge than to assume that just because someone has the mental capacity of a child, it’s safe to treat them like a child in all aspects of their life. With luck Alan will be back in the saddle and enjoying a healthy sex life before too long, but many others in his position will likely be denied such a chance because of our culture’s twisted view of human sexuality.

Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she’s had a little whiskey.