To support the sexual health and education needs of young people with intellectual disability

To read on SENDirect website:

Note: In the UK, the term of ‘Learning disability’ is used instead of ‘Intellectual disability’.

Information on sexual health and education

This page provides information to support the sexual health and education needs of young people with special education needs and disabilities.

When you are caring for a young person with special educational needs or a disability you will naturally want them to feel confident, look their best and be able to interact with the world around them. A part of this is caring for their health and sexuality. A person with a healthy sexuality will feel attractive, joyful, energetic and communicative.

Every young person with special educational needs and/or physical disabilities has a unique set of needs so this fact sheet hopes to signpost to services that support their sexual health.


What are sexual health and education services?

Sex and relationships education (SRE)

Sex and relationships education is learning about the emotional, social and physical aspects of growing up, relationships, sex, human sexuality and sexual health. It should provide accurate information about the body, reproduction, sex and sexual health. It also gives children and young people essential skills for building positive, enjoyable, respectful and non-exploitative relationships and staying safe both on and offline.

Why is it important?

It helps create safe school communities in which pupils can grow, learn and develop positive and healthy behaviour for life.

There is guidance for teachers on SRE here:

Sexual health services

Sexual health services are free and confidential services available to everyone regardless of sex, age, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation.

If you have a disability and you have special requirements, it is useful to let the service know so they can make arrangements in advance.

Does my child have a right to receive these services?

Everyone has the right to get all the information they need so that they can make informed choices about what’s right for them. They also need to know when the law will make those choices.

Sexual health services are free and confidential and open to all.

Currently sex and relationships education (SRE) is not compulsory in schools in the UK. The school should be informing you of any SRE that is delivered so that you can support your child with understanding the information. If you are unsure, you can check with the school.

Why might we want to use these services?

Sexual health services can support young people to make informed choices about their sexual health and well being as well as providing access to contraception, screening for sexually transmitted infections and signposting to other support services when necessary.

Open communication and good quality sex and relationships educationcan protect young people from harm, enable them to make informed decisions and help them look after their sexual health when they eventually start having sex.

Caring for a young person with special educational needs and/ or disabilities can present a range of different support requirements and concerns for parents or carers. These can include concerns about the individual’s capacity to consent to make sexual decisions, addressing inappropriate behaviours, not being able to form or sustain relationships.

There are support services across the country for advice and information. You can contact:

  • GPs
  • Social care
  • Specialist Children’s Learning Disability services
  • Learning disability community nursing team

All children and young people are potentially at risk of harm, though some groups – for example, children and young people who have a disability – may be at increased risk of exposure to, or of developing, unhealthy sexual behaviours.

What is healthy sexual development?

There are a range of sexual behaviours that reflect safe and healthy sexual development. They are:

  • Displayed between children or young people of similar age or developmental ability
  • Reflective of natural curiosity, experimentation, consensual activities and positive choices

Expressing sexuality through sexual behaviour is natural, healthy and a part of growing up. These behaviours provide an opportunity to positively reinforce appropriate behaviour, and to provide further information and support.

How do I know what is healthy and unhealthy?


Brook’s online Traffic Light Tool distinguishes between healthy and harmful sexual behaviours by the age of the child or young person. You can use this as a guide if you are concerned about any sexual behaviours of someone you are supporting. You should consider the maturity and developmental age of the child/young person when using the tool.

If you are concerned that behaviour is outside safe and healthy development you can get help from a specialist organisation who will advise you. These include:

What happens at a sexual health service?

When visiting a sexual health service for the first time, people are usually asked to fill in a form with their name and contact details. They can visit any sexual health clinic; it doesn’t have to be one in your local area. (…)

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