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Capacity to consent to sexual relationships in adults with learning disabilities
  1. Glynis H Murphy, PhD, FBPsS, Professor of Clinical Psychology of Learning Disabilities
  1. Tizard Centre, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK
  1. Correspondence Prof. G Murphy, Tizard Centre, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7LZ, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1227 827989. E-mail: g.h.murphy{at}


People with learning disabilities used to be seen as asexual or promiscuous and were discouraged from expressing their sexuality. However, with the growth of the rights movement, attention has turned to the dilemma of how to both empower and protect people with learning disabilities in relation to their sexuality. A recent research project showed that, on average, adults with learning disabilities knew much less about sex and understood much less about sexual abuse than non-disabled young people aged 16 years. Sex education made a significant difference to their knowledge and understanding however. The implications of the study for services for people with learning disabilities and for definitions of capacity to consent to sexual relationships are discussed.

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