Why do disabled people infantilize disabled people

Sexuality is just as important for the mentally handicapped as it is for the healthy

There are sometimes adventurous ideas circulating in public about the sexuality of mentally handicapped people. Some suspect that they are particularly instinctual. "The sexuality of the mentally handicapped is dramatized as animal and unrestrained exaggerated", said Professor Rainer Trost from the faculty for special education in Reutlingen at a symposium in Tübingen.

   Every second mentally handicapped person is a victim of sexual violence.

But these are mainly projections that have their core in the fact that sexual activities by the mentally handicapped, who mostly live in homes, are more obvious. Because either they have no privacy there, or they see no reason to hide anything.

Often the mentally handicapped are infantilized

The prejudice that the mentally handicapped are sexless goes in exactly the opposite direction. It is an infantilization, accompanied by the fantasy figure of the unspoiled child. This is accompanied by subtle messages that slow the sexual development of these people from an early age.

Because in order not to lose the attention of their carers, they pretend to be as sexless as they would like to see them. Still others have the image that the mentally handicapped are distant and intrusive, they demand physical closeness without considering social boundaries.

This perspective usually arises from a misinterpretation: In fact, mentally handicapped people, limited in their verbal possibilities, use body language more intensely. Consolation: "You could also take it to mean that their emotions have remained uneducated."

Sexual maturation proceeds according to age

The special education teacher countered the widespread reality-blind ideas with the thesis that love, partnership and sexuality are of the same importance for the mentally handicapped as for the rest of the population. Sexual maturation is age-appropriate and independent of other deficits.

However, it is much more difficult for them to embed a gender identity in their personality. They experience puberty in particular as particularly crisis-prone due to the non-simultaneity of physical and cognitive development. This upheaval harbors immense tensions that young people hardly understand. Experiences of not being able to keep up, as well as moral regulations and taboos that are incomprehensible to them, make things even more difficult.

They cannot even choose their partner for themselves

Externally determined and dependent, as they usually live, mentally handicapped people cannot even choose their partner themselves. The flaws in the gender role can be seen, for example, in the fact that girls are brought up to behave in a feminine manner, such as caring for others, but not to be wives and mothers.

It is precisely from this dependency that another serious problem arises: sex offenses against the mentally handicapped. According to studies, they are almost a mass phenomenon: up to 60 percent of women have been victims of sexual abuse at some point, and a quarter have even been rape or attempted to do so.

For example, female residents are four to five times more likely to be sexually abused than the rest of the population. The perpetrators - mainly people close to them - take advantage of their victims' communication difficulties, their longing for normality and their inadequate knowledge of sexuality.

After all, there have recently been prevention programs which, on the one hand, endeavor to educate the disabled and, on the other hand, to train staff to recognize signs of abuse.

According to von Trost, another positive step can be observed: a paradigm shift has taken place in attitudes towards mentally handicapped people, a shift towards more self-determination and individuality. In addition, there are approaches to evaluate disability not as a deviation from the norm, but as a variant of diversity; the focus is also on the resources and not always only on the deficits.

Although the earlier thought patterns are still virulent, mentally handicapped people are increasingly being granted the right to sexuality in the specialist discussion. Options for help are discussed, such as advice, instruction in sexual practices, procurement of videos, placement of prostitutes through to massage or help with sexual intercourse. However, Trost admitted that these are precarious considerations that require a great deal of sensitivity so that they do not degenerate into compulsory happiness, for example.

How ambivalent it is is illustrated by a story he experienced himself: The mentally handicapped Klaus P., a resident of the home, is visited by a woman, a prostitute, for the first time. Afterwards he was incredibly happy, he shone from within, told of consolation. In the evening you can find him on the dark balcony. He cries. What is it? He is asked, and he replies: I think I fell in love.