I found an interesting article today about a former madam in Britain, Becky Adams. She’s currently acting as a sort of facilitator for disabled people who
are wanting to explore their sexuality with the assistance of sex workers, ranging from those who are willing to be sexual partners to third-party “fluffers” (Becky Adams’ word) to help “set the scene” and assist with logistics. Becky Adams’ dream is to set up a fully-accessible brothel where disabled people can access these services.
Everything that Becky Adams is doing now is legal. A brothel would create legal challenges in the UK and in most parts of America.
I have mixed reactions to what Becky Adams is doing.
On the one hand, I commend Becky Adams for her commitment to providing an outlet for people with disabilities to express their sexuality. Society does tend to assume that particularly severely physically and or developmentally disabled people are nonsexual. It’s unfair to them, as sexuality is a part of life and all people deserve the chance to explore it. It’s also unsafe for them, as it often leads to them not getting information on sex and sexuality that allows them to recognize and deal with sexual abuse. Becky Adams has obviously done her homework on the barriers people with a variety of disabilities face to having a fulfilled sex life, and both the work that she does now to remove those barriers and her desire to create an environment where disabled people may have their sexual desires met and meet the needs of another person (whether a sex worker or a another person of their choosing with a sex worker as someone to assist with logistics) is, I think, admirable. Apparently some of the sex workers involved with the work that she does now even do it for free.
But it’s not addressing the real issues.
Becky Adams, Brothels, and Keeping the Sexuality of Disabled People Backroom and Taboo
When I trained to become a Developmental Services Worker, we didn’t spend a great deal of time on learning to support intellectually disabled people as they explored their sexuality, but we did learn about the importance of advocating for their right to express the sexuality in a way that feels natural to them, provided that all parties are consenting, just as non-disabled people do. I know that non-disabled people use the services of sex workers and/or go to brothels. I’m not going to get into the issues surrounding that, because the debate over whether the sort of liaisons that Becky Adams facilitates are in the best interest of the sex worker or the customer is something about which one could write an entire book. From an equality standpoint, however, it’s nice that someone has taken the pains to make sure that the experience of using the services of a sex worker is an option for both disabled and non-disabled people.
However, regarding the brothel issue in particular…
I’m uncomfortable with the idea of disabled people feeling pushed into a brothel environment because they feel no other option for exploring their sexuality with their partner. I think it’s noble of Becky Adams to adapt the traditional idea of a brothel to give disabled people and their partners a safe place to be sexual with each other. But it still stuffs the sex lives of disabled people into a (currently illegal, in most places) back room, where society doesn’t have to deal with how the idea of disabled people being sexual beings makes it uncomfortable. Criminalizing the sex lives of disabled people is not a viable solution to a problem that actually stems from society’s attitudes toward sex and disabled people.
If you can’t see how it’s a problem with society’s attitudes, consider this. I don’t know the statistics on how many non-disabled people living in environments that they consider their own home (as intellectually disabled people are told to consider group homes) feel driven to access a brothel environment when they encounter situations in which it’s difficult for them to engage in sexual activity with someone (lack of privacy, needing assistance with logistics) , but I’m sure the number is small. There are other options for them that may not be options for a disabled person: the other person’s residence, a hotel, etc. For severely physically disabled people who do need assistance with positioning and other logistics, sex may seem like an impossibility. Is the fact that they can’t get support a violation of their human rights, as Becky Adams suggests? Yes. I was never trained to assist people in this very intimate way, and my DSW training was supposed to cover meeting all the needs of people that I supported. We’ve not found a way, as service providers and staff, to feel comfortable enough to address these very real needs. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve seen any recognition that disabled people are sexual people with sexual needs.
While disabled people should have access to brothel services as long as non-disabled people do, brothels and the services that they provide cannot become the only way that disabled people have full access to their sexuality. Families and service providers need to start talking about this, and about the ways in which they can sensitively provide education, support, and “safe space” in which disabled people can explore sexuality the way that non-disabled can.
Thank You, Becky Adams
Despite my concerns, I do thank Becky Adams for what she’s trying to do. She’s willing to go the jail over her belief that disabled people need the brothel that she’s proposed. I admire her courage, and her commitment to giving some disabled people options that they’ve never had.
The rest of us need to pick up on what she’s done and start running with it, though.