Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging
Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

3.1 Barriers to loving relationships

Charlene and Terry’s relationship shows that people with learning disabilities can and do have positive, supportive and long-term relationships. Lots of people with learning disabilities want to date, or have sex, or be in a relationship, but the evidence suggests that it is difficult for them to achieve this.

Activity 6 What makes it difficult to find love

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Can you think of two or more reasons why people with learning disabilities find it hard to develop romantic or sexual relationships?

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


One person answering this question said:

  • I think attitudes are part of the problem. I’m not sure that everyone thinks people with learning disabilities are capable of being in a romantic relationship, or the idea of it makes them uncomfortable.
  • People with learning disabilities don’t get many opportunities to meet potential boyfriends or girlfriends. People are socially isolated. That’s a big problem.
  • Services and families might feel nervous about this. Maybe they haven’t had training or are worried about legal issues.
  • Perhaps there are fears that it might result in pregnancy?

A report by the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) (Harflett and Turner, 2016) highlighted some of the key barriers to people with learning disabilities enjoying romantic or sexual relationships. These are shown in Slideshow 1.

Active content not displayed. This content requires JavaScript to be enabled.
Slideshow 1
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Now watch Video 6 from the Tizard Centre at the University of Kent. Their research explored what support people with learning disabilities need in order to have loving relationships. In this video you will listen to people involved in the project talk about what they found out.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 6
Skip transcript: Video 6

Transcript: Video 6

Initially, we had to give a lot of support for Daniel and Lily to help them maintain their relationship and develop it further. It would be simply helping to arrange a date, come up with ideas for where to go on dates, and simple things such as driving them there.
Many people told us that transport was a big problem. Not being able to travel around easily, many people couldn't keep relationships going.
It would be difficult to get a boyfriend because he lived too far away.
I can't use public transport very easily at all. It's easier now John's got a car. But when we first met, it was very hard.
I have travelled on the trains and the buses as well to see Lara as well. And that took a lot of time, that did.
And a lot of money.
One more from Manchester and one from from Nottingham. And it's a bit scary getting there and getting back.
Transport was a big issue. So people wanted help to be able to get out to places, to social events or to go on dates. And they often found that really difficult if there wasn't anybody who could help with transport. There were some practical issues about keeping in touch with people. And we heard of people who perhaps had met somebody that they liked and wanted to go out with. But because they didn't have support to kind of maintain that relationship, things just fizzled out.
End transcript: Video 6
Video 6
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

As you heard, the support people need to have relationships is often quite simple – for example, help to arrange a date; transport to get to places; and support to keep in touch. Unfortunately, lots of people with learning disabilities are not getting access to such support.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371