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People With Challenges Have A Right To Intimacy Too

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Intimacy can be understood as both emotional and physical closeness and openness of thoughts and feelings. Typically, we expect greater intimacy from a romantic partner than from a friend, but intimacy threads through both types of bonds in shared secrets, caring touches, moments of laughter and tears, and understanding silences. It is not only about how two people act together, it is about how they make each other feel – connected and understood.

Representational Image

Can intimacy be defined differently for couples with challenges? Yet, most look indulgently upon “normal” couples, not at all like couples with challenges, especially when they share their fantasies of romance, intimacy, and bonding. Significant steps have been taken in guaranteeing fundamental rights to couples with challenges; their requirement for closeness requires a more general societal response.

Sustaining Relationships For Couples With Challenges

Nonetheless, couples with challenges have proven that they are capable of indulging in and sustaining romantic relationships.

Shubham and Nidhi felt that they could give their child as much love, care, and consideration as any other parent. Despite her other challenges, Nidhi did not require a cesarean or any help with discomfort and gave ordinary birth to a normal baby who they named Amira. Just by being there, Amira empowered other handicapped individuals to see that trust exists.

Shubham additionally worked with Prerna1, a philanthropy that aimed to move youthful and incapacitated individuals to have a voice – regardless of what their circumstances were. A friend of Shubhams’ who has handicapped himself, revealed that he had never thought he could have an infant. Yet after seeing Amira, his opinion changed and he began to think that he too could have a child. Despite the scepticism that surrounded their foray into parenthood, Shubham and Nidhi believed that as a unit, they could together do what it took to raise their child.

This story comes with important lessons. We learn that couples with challenges share love and intimacy like any other couple. Despite their incapacities, no matter how severe, persons with disabilities should be encouraged to find companionship and embrace love. However, it is for all of us to understand that relationships need not always be sexual in nature, and to learn the variant meanings of intimacy as experienced by the differently-abled.

“Here, No One Can See Us And We Are Free To Do Whatever We Want”

One evening, Anandita grabbed Ritesh by the hand and pulled him down a steep embankment below a graffiti-covered bridge. With late-summer mosquitoes buzzing around them, the two giggled and caressed each other, their voices muffled by the rush of a nearby stream and the traffic above. “It’s our secret hideaway,” says Anandita, 21, who has Down syndrome, as she snuggles with Ritesh, 24, who has a developmental disability. “Here, no one can see us and we are free to do whatever we want.

For couples with challenges like Anandita and Ritesh, such freedom to be intimate is rare. Across geographies, adults with challenges complain of having to overcome constant hurdles to engage in romantic activity and sustain loving relationships. The obstacles include arbitrary curfews, lack of transportation, and segregated housing that cuts them off from mainstream social life and opportunities to date. Often, the barriers are imposed by parents or caregivers. To go on a date, adult residents generally have to obtain permission in advance, and then go out under the watchful eyes of paid staff.

From these stories, we realize that denying people the right to intimacy and connectedness is like denying them a fundamental part of being human. Moreover, these denials arise because it becomes uncomfortable to envision couples with challenges engage in intimacy. A change in ideology is much needed, and this can be facilitated by wide-reaching awareness programs that target changes in peoples’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices.

Physical and legal barriers are sometimes reinforced by the widely held perception that couples with challenges are “asexual,” or are too helpless to consent to intimacy, advocates say. A positive development, however, has been that recently, information on sexuality, intimacy, and sexual functioning has become part of the rehabilitation process of people with challenges (i.e. spinal cord jury, traumatic brain injury, developmental disabilities, amputation, etc.).

While caregivers are primarily responsible for people with challenges, it is also worthwhile to consider who the latter should turn to for recourse when it comes to seeking support and consultation for their physical and emotional needs?

Support organizations and unique social networking sites like offer opportunities for more interaction and education. Furthermore, the continued popularity of online dating has given rise to sites geared specifically for people with disabilities, including,,,,, and

Fitting in,” after all, is a basic human desire. But looking at disability as uniqueness, and loving every bit of it can change the wants of people with challenges and see them living happily.

Life is too short to be ordinary; to be like everyone else and doing the same old thing. Disability can definitely make life harder, but it can also make the person a unique survivor worth noticing.

About the author

Kirti Agarwal is a finance student pursuing her MBA in Rural Management from Xavier University, Bhubaneswar. She has completed her graduation in Commerce. Kirti is passionate about her career and is a technology enthusiast. She loves to spend time with her family.

1 Names altered to protect identity.

All Images Used Are Representational
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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