People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities1, like all people, have inherent sexual rights. These rights and needs must affirmed, defended, and respected.
For decades, people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities have been thought to be asexual, having no need for loving and fulfilling relationships with others. Individual rights to sexuality, which is essential to human health and well-being, have been denied. This loss has negatively affected people with intellectual disability in gender identity, friendships, self-esteem, body image and awareness, emotional growth, and social behavior. People with intellectual or developmental disabilities frequently lack access to appropriate sex education in schools and other settings. At the same time, some individuals may engage in sexual activity as a result of poor options, manipulation, loneliness or physical force rather than as an expression of their sexuality.
Every person has the right to exercise choices regarding sexual expression and social relationships. The presence of an intellectual or developmental disability, regardless of severity, does not, in itself, justify loss of rights related to sexuality.
All people have the right within interpersonal relationships to:
- Develop friendships and emotional and sexual relationships where they can love and be loved, and begin and end a relationship as they choose;
- Dignity and respect; and
- Privacy, confidentiality, and freedom of association.
With respect to sexuality, individuals have a right to:
- Sexual expression and education, reflective of their own cultural, religious and moral values and of social responsibility;
- Individualized education and information to encourage informed decision-making, including education about such issues as reproduction, marriage and family life, abstinence, safe sexual practices, sexual orientation, sexual abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases; and
- Protection from sexual harassment and from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
With respect to sexuality, individuals have a responsibility to consider the values, rights, and feelings of others.
With respect to the potential for having and raising children, individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities have the right to:
- Education and information about having and raising children that is individualized to reflect each person’s unique ability to understand;
- Make their own decisions related to having and raising children with supports as necessary;
- Make their own decisions related to using birth control methods within the context of their personal or religious beliefs;
- Have control over their own bodies; and
- Be protected from sterilization solely because of their disability.
Adopted: Board of Directors, The Arc of the United States
August 4, 2008
Board of Directors, AAIDD
August 18, 2008
Congress of Delegates, The Arc of the United States
November 8, 2008
1 “People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities” refers to those defined by AAIDD classification and DSM IV. In everyday language they are frequently referred to as people with cognitive, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities although the professional and legal definitions of those terms both include others and exclude some defined by DSM IV.