Deafax: How does your hearing affect your sexual health?

Posted on May 2, 2012

How does your hearing affect your sexual health?

You might think you’ve misread, but read again, because the chances are your hearing affects your sexual health a great deal…

Think back to school: perhaps you received sex education in the classroom? Did this rely on your teacher awkwardly explaining how women get pregnant? Or muttering under their breath whilst battling with a condom and a wooden stick… or perhaps you were shown a video; the voiceover drowned by whispers and giggles from the back of the room?

Maybe you waited until you were out in the playground to listen to what your classmates made of it all, or popped onto Google when you got home to find out the real nitty-gritty.

But what if you were deaf?

No problem! Hand a deaf person a leaflet on sex/pregnancy/STIs or pass on a website address, and Bob’s your uncle, all information is readily accessible and easy to understand, right? Wrong.

This common assumption: deaf people can rely on written material to access information – is a dangerous one. Research conducted by Deafax reveals that out of a sample of profoundly deaf mothers, 95% said that their deafness affects their literacy skills and English is not their first language.

83% stated that they left school with no sex education or that they missed important information because it was not clearly provided. 1/3 fell pregnant whilst under the influence of alcohol and drugs and many reported that as deaf mothers they felt isolated, with no communication with a midwife.

Out of all the health trusts that Deafax spoke to, just one had a midwife who could sign, she had funded her own training to BSL Level 3.

Concerned by these findings, Deafax have started delivering deaf-friendly sex education in schools across the UK and deaf awareness training to healthcare professionals. Whilst delivering this training, more and more cases came to light, highlighting the detrimental effects of not being clued up on sexual health:

“I didn’t know anything about sex, contraception or relationships when I left school, there was never anyone to ask who could explain properly to me in sign language. I didn’t know how many sexual partners were ‘normal.’”

“When I left school and left home, I was raped by a man. Then I had lots of men coming to my flat and asking me for sex, I just thought that it was what I was supposed to do” one deaf mother shared. By the time she learned about sexual health risks, she was already pregnant.

Having delivered a baby of a deaf mother, a midwife described hospital policy:

“We don’t have a specific policy for deaf mothers-to-be we just take each case as it comes. We had one deaf lady who was in labour; she was very distressed and had no interpreter.

Normally, I would talk to her and soothe her, but she couldn’t understand me so we decided to give her an epidural.”

Despite the Equality Act of 2010 stating that it is a legal requirement for all service providers to make provision for the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people, this isn’t happening.

It’s also not on, which is why Deafax has launched the Deaf E.A.R.S campaign: to provide Education & Advice on Relationships & Sex to deaf people and to encourage schools and healthcare services to do the same.

By conducting new research into a previously overlooked area, Deafax hope to bring issues surrounding deafness and sexual health to the public eye, so that deaf students and patients are no longer overlooked and denied equal access to health services.

To improve communication, Deafax has created brand-new Sexual Health Packages on Safe Sex and STIs. The Packages contain all you need to deliver deaf-friendly lessons in the classroom for deaf students, including Guidance Notes and visual resources. In addition, Deafax are able to offer Deaf Awareness training specifically for healthcare professionals.

For more information on Deafax’s campaign, click here:

To be part of the latest research in the area of sexual health, please complete this short, anonymous survey for deaf and hard-of-hearing people:

This article was written by Eleanor Davis, who is the E-Media & Campaigns Coordinator at Deafax. Eleanor has worked with the team to launch the deaf E.A.R.S campaign.Her mother is an interpreter and both her aunt and uncle are deaf – she loves sign language and feels passionate about improving equal access to sexual health education and services for deaf people. You can follow Deafax on Twitter: @Deafax or Eleanor: @EleanorD23

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Posted in: Deafax