Difficult sexual behaviour

This quick read guide and downloadable information sheet is designed to help family carers understand and respond to any sexual behaviour which may cause difficulties.

This information sheet is designed to help family carers understand and respond to any sexual behaviour which may cause difficulties for their son or others involved. It will focus on men and boys with learning disabilities as they are more likely to present sexual challenges than women.

Download: Information sheet on difficult sexual behaviour


Almost all men masturbate. Therefore, we should expect this from men with learning disabilities too. However, problems with masturbation can occur. Support can be given to reduce these by:

  • Teaching that masturbation is good. This is helped hugely if a man the person respects says they masturbate too.
  • Naming private and public spaces.
  • Giving private time without restrictive clothing or incontinence pads.
  • Being brave about explaining technique.
  • Looking for patterns. Often men do it when other activities offer little interest.

Sexual contact with other people

Understandably, many men with learning disabilities want sex and relationships. If a man is involved in any sexual contact with another person, the ability of both to consent should be checked. Think about:

  • Who initiates the contact?
  • Does the person have the skills and power to say no?
  • Do the people involved understand each other’s intentions?

Men exposing themselves or touching other people sexually without consent should be seen as unacceptable. Men should be helped to understand how serious their behaviour is. Clear boundaries may need to be set about what is and isn’t acceptable.

Men with learning disabilities are at an increased risk of being sexually abused. This should always be considered. However, don’t assume that abusive behaviour is the result of being abused.

Sexual suppressant medication should be strongly resisted. There is a lack of evidence that it works with men with learning disabilities and there are serious side effects.

Pornography and other sexual stimuli

Lots of men use pornography. We should not be surprised if men with learning disabilities are interested in it.

It is sometimes assumed that pornography will help individuals relieve their sexual frustration. There is no evidence to support this and therefore men should not be specifically provided with pornography. Although, men should be allowed to use pornography they have looked for or bought themselves.

If men are looking at pictures of children in a sexual way, you should seek specialist support.

Download: Information sheet on difficult sexual behaviour

Family Carers' Email Network

Family Carers' Email Network

The CBF Family Carers’ Email Network enables you to be in touch with a number of families around the UK. You can share experiences, information and receive support - without any obligation to reply or to identify yourself.

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Information and guidance

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