David Thompson

Sex, Personal Relationships and the Law for Adults with Learning Disabilities


A guide to decision making in England and Wales, including the Mental Capacity Act (2005) and Sexual Offences Act (2003)

Sex, Personal Relationships and the Law for Adults with Learning Disabilities is a law and policy guide to sexual relationships.



Sex, Personal Relationships and the Law for Adults with Learning Disabilities explains how law and policy in England and Wales should inform support for adults with learning disabilities in matters related to sex and relationships. Drawing on his extensive experience, David Thompson explains how legislation provides a critical structure to support services’ decision making and how to lawfully and ethically navigate the many complex issues involved.

This informative and practical guide covers how to decide if a person with learning disabilities can consent to a sexual relationship, and what response is required depending on the outcome of this assessment under current law. The author addresses the tension between supporting relationships and trying to prevent and respond to sexual abuse. Consent issues related to marriage, civil partnerships and decisions about contraception, sterilisation and pregnancy are also explored.

The book focuses on the law in England and Wales as these countries share the same legislation regarding the capacity to consent to sex. The Sexual Offences Act (2003) and the Mental Capacity Act (2005) in particular are covered in depth. The author explores key cases that have gone to court and asks how the judgements from these cases need to inform responses to people with learning disabilities in similar situations. Case studies are also included throughout, providing thought-provoking examples of the powerful influence law, policy and practice have on the lives of people with learning disabilities.



This handbook is intended for those who work with people with learning disabilities. However, the legislation discussed equally applies to other individuals where there are concerns about their ability to consent to sex and relationships, such as people with dementia, brain injury or mental health needs.


ISBN: 9781911028888
Publication: 09 March 2018

  • The Mental Capacity Act
  • The Sexual Offences Act
  • Civil partnerships, marriage and forced marriage
  • The requirement to report sexual abuse
  • Female genital mutilation
  • The sexual experiences of people with learning disabilities
  • Sex involving a women and a man
  • Sex involving two men
  • Consent under the Mental Capacity Act
  • Sex education
  • Assessing capacity under the Mental Capacity Act
  • Best interests decisions
  • Decisions around contraception, sterilisation and pregnancy under the Mental Capacity Act
  • Sexual offences
  • Abuse of trust
  • Online sexual abuse and ‘sexting’


David Thompson has had a diverse career in health and social care, covering direct work, research, policy and practice development. After training to be a teacher of children with learning disabilities, he spent over 10 years providing sex education to people with learning disabilities. This work was the focus of his PhD. He subsequently broadened his interests in the lives of people with learning disabilities to include ageing, support for family carers and advocacy. He was heavily involved in the implementation of the Mental Capacity Act (2005) for the Department of Health in England, which included developing the Independent Mental Capacity Advocate role for the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards. Before relocating to Australia with his civil partner in 2016, he was vice-chair of the Ann Craft Trust.


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