Promoting sexual well-being in professional practice

Date: Wednesday 1st March 10 – 4pm
Location: 2nd Floor, Executive Business Centre, Bournemouth University, Holdenhurst Road

The National Centre for Post-qualifying Social Work hosted a FREE event on Promoting sexual well-being in professional practice.

Sexual well-being is one of the most significant aspects in life (Taylor, 2011), profoundly connected to human well-being where pleasure, person to person connection and communication enhances self-worth and confidence (Nusbaum and Rosenfield, 2004; Myers and Milner, 2007; Dunk, 2007; Owens, 2015).

With the concept of well-being becoming embedded within social care following the implementation of the Care Act 2014, practitioners must be prepared, and able, to support people in identifying what impacts on their own well-being. This exploratory, collaborative, approach to well-being has the potential to uncover diverse issues which present practitioners opportunities to directly apply their interpersonal skills.

Sexual well-being is a sensitive topic but social workers’ preparedness to discuss difficult and sensitive subjects is a professional strength (Bywaters and Ungar, 2010). Engagement with sexual well-being is an aspect of practice which faces multi-layered barriers, ranging from social taboos around sex and disability, to personal values, culture and experience. Fear of risk, uncertainty about the law, and lack of policy or guidance create an environment where enabling people’s sexual expression is problematic, yet the Human Rights Act, 1998, makes explicit that agencies must not inhibit citizens’ rights to a private life and relationships of their choice (Article 8) – risk averse practice may seek to protect, yet might be breaking human rights law.

With all this complexity in mind the National Centre of Post-Qualifying Social Work and Professional Practice held an extremely well-received day exploring the importance of promoting sexual well-being in social care and health practice. The event emerged from doctoral research focusing on the meaning of sexual well-being for physically disabled people. The programme covered the topic from different perspectives.


Dr Sally Lee (NCPQSWPP), began the day by exploring the relevance of sexual well-being to person centred, well-being focused social work practice.
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Helen Stevens, Service Manager of Dorset Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) presented the work the work of DRCC, informing delegates of the range of supportive services offered to victims, families and professionals. Helen also disclosed the pride DRCC has in being involved as advisors to the current series of Broadchurch. This fictional story presents a realistic and accurate account of the nature of DRCC’s work.
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Rachelle Rowe and Beverly Downton from the Mental Capacity Act advisory team at Dorset County Council guided the audience through the complexities of the act in relation to sexual well-being, using a case study to see the act in application.
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Claire de Than, Co-Director of the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism at City University, London, and Law Commissioner (Jersey) led an informative session on the law, debunking myths and promoting practice which meets the requirements of human rights legislation.
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The day was completed by Dr Lee-Ann Fenge (NCPQSWPP) who presented on, and led a discussion around, sexuality in older age, especially in respect of people living in residential care. Lee-Ann’s session challenged assumptions and provoked debate.
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The event was a success with new working partnerships and shared projects (including a potential book) emerging. The day was part of the work to take this research forward, further aims include the development of a practitioner learning tool designed collaboratively with stakeholders, further presentations at academic, professional and disability group events and more publications.

If you are interested in this topic or would like to find out more, please contact me at