Sex and Relationships: The Role of Learning Disability Support Staff

Prof Doc Thesis

Cifelli, A. 2017. Sex and Relationships: The Role of Learning Disability Support Staff. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London Psychology
AuthorsCifelli, A.
TypeProf Doc Thesis

Sex and relationships with regards to people with learning disabilities is an important area of research for two overarching reasons; the promotion of social equality for people with learning disabilities, and to promote safety. Many people with learning disabilities have the support of paid staff to enable them to live independent lives. Support-staff’s attitudes and opinions towards sex and relationships can have an impact on the type of support they provide.

This study sought to explore what informs support-staff understanding of their role with regards to provision of support around sex and relationships, how learning disability support-staff conceptualise their role with regards to providing this support, and what conflicts arise as a result of their adopted role.

The study employed a qualitative design, using semi-structured interviews with a sample of 11 support-staff from across South East England. A critical realist epistemology was adopted and a thematic analysis used to analyse the data.

Three overarching themes emerged; ‘Definition of support work’, ‘Moral and value judgement’, and ‘Enablement and empowerment’. Support-staff discussed the changing nature of the support-staff role and how understanding of the overall support-staff role impacts on the type of provision towards sex and relationships. Support-staff identified the personal and value laden nature of decisions around sex and relationships, drawing on societal norms, family values and legislation to inform their role. Support-staff demonstrated a willingness to support people with learning disabilities with regards to sex and relationships and identified ways in which they could be enabled and empowered to do so such as organisational changes, clear guidance and support from external professionals.

The findings have implications for clinical change in organisations and cross professional working in this area. Further research could take a more action focused approach to enable and empower support-staff in the arena of sex and relationships.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintMay 2017
Publication process dates
Deposited14 Feb 2018
Publisher's version
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