Consent is the foundation of healthy partnered sexuality. Knowing that everyone is an enthusiastic, informed, freely-given ‘yes’ to a sexual activity before it happens is mandatory.
Adults with cognitive disabilities often get told what to do – by staff or families or even by strangers like medical specialists they only meet once. They may be punished if they don’t comply. When this happens, they learn that it’s not important whether or not they consent to something. They have to do what they’re told.
Given these experiences, consent is a concept that needs to be talked about a lot and reinforced so that people know how to ask for it in sexual situations, and know how to give it or to NOT give it.
It’s also valuable for staff and families to think about how we can model consent in our daily interactions with the people we support so that they are not getting mixed messages from us. (eg “No always means no… except when I’m telling you to eat your broccoli.”)