Friendships and relationships – our work

People with learning disabilities face many barriers to making friends and development romantic, loving or sexual relationships. We want to ensure everyone has the same rights and opportunities

Our work

People with learning disabilities face many barriers to making friends and developing romantic, loving or sexual relationships in their local communities. This can include a lack of education about relationships and sex, overprotection, isolation and loneliness, difficulties in meeting people and a lack of awareness about safe and happy relationships.

Families and professionals may worry about the risks and consequences of individuals having relationships and not offer the support required.

The rights of people with learning disabilities to have relationships is supported by law, policies and guidance. Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence) emphasises the right to make friends, finding a partner and having a family.

Mencap’s vision is “a future where the personal and sexual relationships of People with learning disability are accepted and barriers to having a loving relationship are removed. We want to see individuals supported to have positive, healthy, informed and safe relationships.

People with learning disabilities have a right to develop loving relationships and must be free to express their sexual identity like anyone else. Adults and young people also have the right to have consensual sex. Personal and sexual relationships can bring happiness, fulfilment, companionship and a greater sense of independence.”

Our challenge is to work in partnership to deliver this vision which can be better achieved with a national perspective and drive.

Issues we will be exploring include:

  • How to meet and date
  • Safeguarding, risks and rights, consequences
  • LGBT issues
  • Consent and capacity
  • Sexual exploitation and grooming
  • Social media and online risks
  • Sexting
  • Positive sex education
  • Accessible high quality information
  • Access to sexual health clinics and other support services – good sexual health
  • Support to think about relationships
  • Developing resources – accessible, inclusive and relevant
  • Workforce issues including training
  • Practical issues such as places to meet, privacy, transport, being dependent on others to facilitate relationships
  • Supporting parents and carers
  • Values and beliefs
  • Use of pornography
  • Appropriate and inappropriate behaviours
  • Domestic violence and abuse
  • Forced marriages
  • Developing self esteem and self confidence
  • Working with people with profound and multiple learning disabilities
  • Social cues, interaction and community
  • Infections and unsafe practices
  • Access to health promotion and screening