Feel the Vibe expo takes on the taboo and breaks down sexuality barriers for people with disability

By Jessica Clissold , 15 November 2023 , Comments

Over 200 people with disability, support workers and health professionals from across NSW recently attended Northcott’s Feel the Vibe expo to learn about relationships and how to explore and express their sexuality.

For many people with disability, a lack of education about sex and relationships is one of the biggest barriers faced when it comes to having fulfilling and healthy intimacy with others.

Northcott customer, Ben travelled down from Coffs Harbour with his support worker just for the event. “I’ve come to Feel the Vibe because I really want a boyfriend and to learn how to be in a relationship. At one of the stalls, someone showed me how to put a condom on a banana. I’ve never had anyone show me how to use a condom before,” said Ben.

Addressing inequities

Northcott’s Clinical Lead Counsellor, Amanda Damian, said, “Up to 50% of people with a physical disability don’t take part in mainstream sex education in school. This is just the beginning of the inequities that people with disability face in learning about sexuality and healthy relationships.”

Feel the Vibe challenges misconceptions by providing a fun and safe environment where people can be comfortable in sharing their lived experiences as people with disability. The free event offers a range of advice and services from health professionals and sexual health advocacy organisations.

Educating disability service providers

“We have customers who have been asking some spicy questions that we’ve not known how to answer appropriately. We’ve come to get answers for them and to find out more about training. With this we can learn how to offer better support in this area,” said Amanda, Service Coordinator at Northcott’s Kembla Grange disability home.

Northcott’s Sexuality and Relationship Education Service and Touching Base spoke about how they offer formal supports to connect people with disability with vetted disability friendly sex workers.

Michael, a support worker from Northcott’s Merrylands accommodation, said, “Mark* has a real interest in this kind of stuff, so we connect him and other residents who are interested with sex workers monthly. It’s just a part of Mark’s routine”.

Sharing lived experiences

Northcott’s Sexuality and Relationship Education Counsellor, Patrick Hukins, facilitated a panel discussion to break down taboos on sex and disability. In their conversations, the panellists shared their own experiences as people with lived experience with disability.

“When support workers go by their own views of what’s right and are not allies, this can destroy the professional relationship and also infringe on basic human rights,” said Kyle, panellist and adaptive artist.

“I identify as a pansexual nonbinary person. I struggled with only receiving education on heterosexual, cisgender sex and not about pleasurable sex with a long-term partner,” added Kit, panellist, and student advocate.

“One way to make sure you’re supported is to surround yourself with progressive organisations and bold people. I’d also suggest putting a sex specific goal on your NDIS plan,” said Nina, panellist and founder of The Hand Up Space.

Patrick, Northcott’s Sexuality and Relationship Education Counsellor, concluded, “Our special thanks go out to all the speakers and stallholders. They worked together to make Feel the Vibe an unforgettable experience for many by working to bridge the gaps in education for people with disability who want to learn about sexual health, sexual fulfilment and healthy relationships”.

*Northcott customer – name changed to protect confidentiality.

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Are you interested in learning more about our Sexuality and Relationships Education Service? Learn more here.

 

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