Opinion

Sex, sexuality and relationships

Karolina Gerlich, Executive Director, The Care Workers Charity

Forming romantic and sexual relationships is a big part of life for most people. Our romantic histories often serve as markers of different parts in our lives. For many, some of the most beautiful days are related to relationships.

Yet, somehow, it seems that the moment people enter social care their romantic and sexual needs disappear. They become taboo. I have come across very few places that openly and actively talk about them.

However, CQC has just launched a report on sexual wellbeing and safety, which is a great way to start a bigger and deeper conversation around these topics.

First of all, better quality and more-consistent training is needed. Care workers need to learn about different sexualities and genders so the support they offer is personalised in this area as well. As a bisexual female, I hope that if I need care I will not be judged for being attracted to men and women. And yes, I am happy to talk here about my sexual orientation.

It is the responsibility of leadership to open up discussions. Sexuality and topics around sex must move from being taboo to being a part of every initial assessment and training. People still have a right not to disclose it but we should ask, the same way we ask about family and health conditions. If we are to improve on relationship-centred care, we really need to cater for all needs, not just those we are comfortable with.

Open conversation and better training should also reduce the number of adverse incidents and abuse. In this area, what also needs to be looked at more is the experience of care workers. We are taught about safeguarding and rights of the people we support; very rarely do I hear – having not experienced it myself – that care workers are taught that they have a right not to be sexually abused. It has been my own experience, and I have heard from a number of care workers that it happens and is often excused as a ‘part of the job’. It is not. Care workers should not feel scared of disclosing their sexuality or being inappropriately addressed or touched.

By ensuring that care workers feel safe in their place of work we improve the culture of care, which should reduce the number of incidents in both directions.

Wherever care is delivered, a microcosm is created where each action has consequences and the well-being of one group of people affects others.

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