In the last decade, the sexuality of people with disabilities (PWD) has been formally included within the human rights agenda (UNCRPD 2006). However, the disability movement across Europe claims the issue has not been sufficiently addressed by research, or only addressed within a medical frame, disregarding considerations of relations, identity, desires and pleasures. Simultaneously, in many contexts, such as Britain, a change in the attitudes of health care professionals has been specifically demanded that would allow access to more accurate and practical education as well as to realistic sexual options for PWD, including the elderly. This has exposed the problematic role that nurses, family and partners might be asked to play in supporting this access. In some countries, such as Switzerland, commercialization and professionalization have been publicly identified as solutions to these tensions, with specialized providers offering ‘sexual assistance’ to PWD, sometimes in collaboration with mental health professionals. In other contexts, such as Sweden, this possibility tends instead to be seen as furthering the stigmatization of PWD, promoting heteronormativity and gender inequality, and legitimizing prostitution. In this controversial scenario, my research aims at furthering the empirical knowledge of commercial sex and ‘sexual assistance’ for PWD by comparing three diverse national cases. In particular, through interviews and participant observation with stakeholders such as nurses, activists, policy-makers, sex providers, as well as PWD and their families, the project will provide a detailed map of public debates and will explore the specific experiences of PWD who have engaged or considered engaging in these transactions, or might consider this possibility if it was legal. The research may positively contribute to evidence-based national and EU policies developed by including gender and sexuality perspectives in the analysis of health and welfare services.
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