A former British “madam,” Becky Adams, is planning to open a nonprofit that would be a “brothel” for individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, men and women, gay, straight and transsexual. It’s a controversial idea that raises numerous concerns including safety, not to mention the legal issues surrounding prostitution.
Adams is described as “one of Britain’s top madams” or rather ex-madams, as she sold a chain of illegal sex houses in 2009 after twenty years. She is no stranger to controversy, having sparked plenty of outrage when she said she would not mind if her own daughter becoming a prostitute. As she says,
Some people will think this is wrong. Sex work polarises opinion. Disability is also an old taboo. Sex workers and disabled people are alike in that they are both vulnerable and have very little voice in society. No-one ever listens to them.
Alexander Freeman, an American man who has cerebral palsy, echoes Adams’ words, saying that “If we are denied our right to sensuality, we are denied being human.” Freeman has made a documentary on the topic of intimacy and relationships, The Last Taboo, with interviews by six individuals with different physical disabilities and the able-bodied partner of one.
Bringing up the topic of sex and disability can itself make a conversation “stifling,” as Bethany Stevens, who was born with brittle bone disease and teaches at the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University, says to ABC News. Noting that individuals with disabilities can “trigger [a] lot of discomfort and fear” simply by their presence Steven notes that, when she and her (able-bodied) husband are in public together and express affection, they are “socially erased.”
Using Public Funds To Pay For Sex
Currently Adams runs a nonprofit telephone-based service, Para Doxies — the name evokes an old British term for prostitute — whose volunteers provide individuals with disabilities or those who care for them with information about finding “trust worthy, reliable sex workers, enablers or body-workers.” The mothers of some young men on the autism spectrum have been among Adams’ clients as has a soldier who was paralyzed from the neck down after serving in Afghanistan and now lives with his parents.
Madam – Prostitutes, Punters & Puppets, Adams’ memoir about her years in the sex trade — not only won the Brit Writers Award in 2012, but an Erotic Award by a U.K. organization, Outsiders, a organization for individuals with disabilities whose stated mission is “living life to the full.” In Britain, it is legal for two people to exchange money for sex, but illegal if a third party is involved. The planned facility — for which Adams has yet to receive a permit — will have elevators and other accommodations for individuals with physical disabilities.
Adams’ planned facility will be a nonprofit so injured soldiers and others may use social service benefits to pay, says The Sun. In Holland, individuals with disabilities can receive public funds to pay for sexual relations up to twelve times a year. Chris Fulton, a British man with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, has been urging U.K. authorities to have a similar policy and “do more to help disabled people pay for prostitutes.”
But other disability advocates including the group Disabled Rights UK have said that pushing to use public money to pay for sex is “not considered a priority.”
I think it’s fair to say there would be an absolute uproar if such a use of public money was even mentioned in the US!
Sex and Disability: A Very Delicate, But Important Topic
As a parent of a teenage son on the severer end of the autism spectrum, I’ll admit that issues of sexuality are difficult to address. My son has intellectual disabilities and “sex education” has generally been about issues of safety and “sanitation.” “Hormones” have occasionally been mentioned as a possible reason for times when Charlie seems in an agitated mood. Recalling my own less than happy adolescence and my struggle to explain how I felt, I have to think how more challenging it is for Charlie, who can communicate with only a few words.
I anticipate such feelings and needs remaining an issue as he becomes an adult; how to address them is not something anyone yet has an answer for. I’m not sure Adams’ facility is a solution for all, but it certainly raises the issue, as does a recent movie, The Sessions, in which a man with polio loses his virginity.
The topic of sex and disability is one that we have yet as a society to figure out how to approach. One reason is that, according to research cited by Stevens of George State University, those with disabilities are often viewed as “not full people — sort of suspended in childhood” and, therefore, “non-sexual or desexualized.”
Any debate about Adams’ proposed “brothel” for individuals with disabilities reminds us that, yes, children with disabilities grow up into adults with disabilities. While always taking care that those who are vulnerable are not taken advantage of or have their safety and health compromised, we need to acknowledge that, as adults, their needs change and evolve, and to learn how we might best support them.
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