The British government's plan to pay for a mentally disabled man's visit to a prostitute has sparked an interesting debate: is sex a human right?
According to Bel Mooney of the Daily Mail, a UK program called Putting People First: Transforming Adult Social Care will pay for a 21-year-old man with "learning disabilities" to travel to Amsterdam for the purpose of losing his virginity with a prostitute. Mooney notes that "Sex for those with disabilities is one of the last taboos. Most people don't want to think about it," but to her credit, she's not against the young man getting laid. Nor is she anti-sex-work, citing the case of a 22-year-old disabled man whose time with a prostitute "gave [him] confidence and a sense that [he] was not missing out." All Mooney's saying is the British government shouldn't be footing the bill.
She cites supporters of the program who say that sex is a basic human right, and counters that "nowhere in the [1998 Human Rights Act] do I read that disabled people have the 'right' to have sex, no more than the rest of us." She adds,
Wish you had a girlfriend? Yes, that must be really tough. You think you have the right to travel abroad to have it off with a prostitute while we pick up the tab? Sorry, friend, no.
Her language is a little harsh, but she's right that conceiving of sex as a human right is deeply problematic. That's the same idea used by misogynists to proclaim that men deserve "access to women," and that women who deprive them of said "access" are behaving unjustly and even setting themselves up for rape. Whether sex is paid for or not, it depends on consent, and no one has an obligation to fulfill another person sexually. The disabled man in question certainly has the right to seek sexual satisfaction — but claiming he has the right to receive it, at government expense if necessary, risks setting a dangerous precedent.