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BBC: Is it OK for disabled people to go to brothels?

This strikes me as a really bizarre piece from the BBC.

Is it OK for disabled people to go to brothels?

I'm having trouble finding excerpts from the piece that I want to highlight because, honestly, I'm not sure exactly what the piece is about. I can absolutely understand what is behind the perspectives presented by disabled people, but I think that my confusion arises from the title of the piece: Is it OK for disabled people to go to brothels?

What is the BBC asking?

Is it OK for disabled people, as opposed to non-disabled people, to go to brothels?
Is it OK for anyone people to go to brothels?
Is there a difference between disabled and non-disabled people going to brothels?

I'm not sure, and would be interested in your thoughts. (Obviously, I welcome comments on the above and anything else you are thinking about this issue and/ or the piece.)

We live in a society saturated with sex, but disabled people can often feel they've not been invited to the party. Some feel prostitution might provide the answer. But is visiting a brothel the right thing to do?

Taking your first steps. Riding a bike. Your first kiss. The first time you have sex. All standard rites of passage for anyone growing up in much of the world.

But what if you never took your first step? What if you couldn't ride a bike? What if the disability you were born with distanced you socially? What if there never was a first time?

Asta Philpot, 25, is a confident, extroverted person, similar to many other British men in their 20s. But he was born with arthogryposis, a condition that severely limits the movement in his limbs.

"Are you having a nice night?" is a line Asta is used to hearing, delivered by women in pubs and clubs throughout his adult life. There often seems to be a patronising undertone. Flirting isn't easy when you can't move.

Last year, he chose to lose his virginity in a licensed Spanish brothel. This year he took two other disabled men on a bus trip to the same brothel, filmed by BBC's One Life.

"When I was younger I had a friend and we always used to talk about relationships. He had muscular dystrophy and passed away without having a sexual experience. Why should people struggle for that experience?", Asta says.

Skewed view

This is the decade when discrimination against disabled people is finally being tackled in the UK, but while the law can open up a workplace or install a ramp, it is never easy to change what is in people's minds. And there are many people who would shy away from a relationship with a disabled person.

"I've been out to pubs and clubs, you see people with each other. Then they go off home. But people look at disabled people as not being able to have a relationship."

Society has a difficulty with disabled people and sex, Asta suggests. Television, and particularly the film industry, doesn't like to present people in wheelchairs in romantic scenarios. As objects of pity, or as exemplars of an inspirational fight against adversity maybe. But when was the last time you saw a disabled person playing the run-of-the-mill romantic lead?

To Asta, the situation is stark. Sexual experiences are a vital part of life. They are hard to come by. And visiting a brothel is the right course of action, he thinks.

"I feel more confident with girls. I'm totally for it. Not one regret. Disabled people are so sheltered and protected, in an institutionalised forcefield."

He believes in legalised prostitution, a view that many across society will not share but that appears to have currency within the "disabled community".

Moral issue


A survey for the Disability Now website in 2005 suggested that 75% of disabled people believed in the legalisation of prostitution, with 62.5% of men and 19.2% of women saying they would use trained sex workers. It's a situation that exists in the Netherlands where a voluntary group provides just such a service for disabled people. Most clients pay for it themselves but some local authorities subsidise the service.

There is also a group within the UK attempting to put disabled people in touch with suitable prostitutes, but there are those for whom visiting a brothel is morally wrong.

Anna Bowden, of Eaves, a group that helps vulnerable women, including those who have been trafficked into prostitution, recognises that disabled people face "a very difficult situation".

"Obviously I don't think the answer is perpetuating a form of violence against women. We reject the view that men have a right to sex."

But the notion that visiting a prostitute is intrinsically wrong is not shared by all. Cari Mitchell, of the English Collective of Prostitutes, make no distinction between disabled and non-disabled.

"Prostitution is consenting sex between adults. There's nothing uniquely degrading about prostitution except that it is criminalised," she says. "Men with disabilities going to a brothel is no different to any other men. They have the same needs as anybody else and should be entitled to the same access to paying for sex... as anybody else."

But counselling psychologist Simon Parritt, the author of the 2005 Disability Now survey, says it is difficult to see brothels as the answer.

"I think everybody has the right to a sexual identity," he says. "I don't think everybody has the right to sex with another person. That involves somebody else's rights."

Sexual exclusion

And in the eyes of some, he says, the Netherlands approach risks "ghettoising", with disabled people regarded "as something so different they need some kind of specialised charity sex".

But it is clear that many disabled people in the UK face sexual exclusion.

"The process of learning from experience is limited. When you get to 15-16 you may go out clubbing. The gap between you and your peer group becomes particularly big. Sexual and relationship skills get left behind," Mr Parritt says.

And he has first-hand experience of people's attitudes. Some years ago he placed identical personal ads, one mentioning that he was disabled, one not mentioning. The advert that mentioned his disability drew the better quality of responses but they were vastly fewer in number than the advert that did not mention his disability.

"People end up in their mid 20s and later not having had any kind of sexual experience. The right kind of experience gives you confidence."

Confidence is one of the things Asta was seeking. He thinks he has found it.


Thank you.

(Cross-posted to relevant communities.)
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