A woman living with multiple sclerosis has won the right to have sex therapy funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but disability advocates are calling for the scheme to also extend to sex workers.
The woman applied to have sex therapy for “sexual release” funded under her NDIS plan, but was initially refused.
The woman appealed, and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has now decided in her favour, arguing that sex therapy is a “reasonable and necessary support” for her.
In his judgement, the Deputy President of the AAT, B W Rayment OAM QC, wrote the circumstances of the case were “very unusual”. He said the woman sought the services of a “specially trained sex therapist”.
“The only help she can usefully have to reach sexual release, to the extent to which she can, is by means of the qualified and trained sexual therapist whose services she seeks,” he explained.
Sexual release is good for the woman’s “mental wellbeing, her emotional wellbeing and her physical wellbeing… she also said that her mood is less dull, it releases tension and anxiety, and improves her outlook on life,” the judgement read.
Funding the sex therapy would not jeopardise the future of the NDIS, the judgement said. The tribunal said the woman should receive $10,800 each year to fund the treatment.
“The financial sustainability of the scheme is not threatened by funding the support which she seeks,” it said.
But the AAT stopped short of approving funding for a sex worker.
The NDIS claimed the woman was seeking the services of a “replacement sexual partner”, but Mr Rayment said he did not agree the applicant was looking for the NDIS to fund a “paid friend”.
The woman was not seeking the services of a sex worker, as they would be no help to her, the judgement said.
Mr Rayment said the case did not require discussion of whether or not the NDIS should fund a paid sex worker.
“I should stress that this case does not, in my opinion, throw up for decision the question whether the services of a sex worker ought, on the proper construction of the act, to be funded for persons with a disability if their needs require it,” he said.
But advocates say more could be done to support the sexual needs of those living with a disability.
Matthew Bowden, Co-CEO of People with Disability Australia, welcomes the AAT’s decision, but said it was only a first step.
“We congratulate the applicant, a brave woman with disability who is determined to have the same rights as non-disabled people to an adult sex life,” said Mr Bowden.
“The previous state-based disability support system had long supported people with disability to have funded access to sex work services – now it is time for the NDIS to catch up with this long-standing precedent,” he said.
Saul Isbister, President of Touching Base, said sex therapists working with people living with a disability would require specialised training.
“Sex workers often provide therapeutic outcomes for their clients through the services they provide,” he said.
Matthew Yau, Adjunct professor, College of Healthcare Sciences at James Cook University, wrote in The Conversation this week, “The tribunal decision did not go far enough. It should have recognised not only sex therapy, but also that the service of sex workers may be required by some people with disability.
“People who have a physical or intellectual disability might find it difficult to express their sexuality in satisfying ways.”
“For those who don’t have potential partners or the physical and/or intellectual capacity for sexual expression, access to sex worker services to satisfy their sexual needs should be seen as a legitimate option,” Adj Prof Yau wrote.
Mr Isbiste said, “For too long the issue of disability and sexuality has been a taboo topic that was kept shrouded in a veil of secrecy or denial.”
The NDIS is based on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states governments must ensure people living with a disability can enjoy life in the same ways that people without disabilities do.
“All persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the convention states.
Stuart Robert, the NDIS Minister, told HelloCare the scheme will appeal the decision.
“The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) intends to appeal the recent decision in WRMF and the NDIA.
“The current position continues to be that the NDIS does not cover sexual services, sexual therapy or sex workers in a participant’s NDIS plan.
“These services are not in line with community expectations of what are reasonable and necessary supports.
The NDIS is generally cautious about taking cases to the federal court, because of the risk of setting a precedent.