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Sexual Autonomy Symposium

Harvard Lecture Theatre 403


'Sexual Autonomy, Protection and Identity in Care Settings' Symposium

Northumbria Law School is hosting a free symposium and roundtable discussion on Sexual Autonomy, Protection and Identity in Care Settings on 10th November. 

Sexuality and intimacy for adults with degenerative conditions such as dementia, or serious physical and mental health conditions are central yet often overlooked issues in adult care settings. There is a tendency instead to focus on preserving the physical wellbeing, cognition and independence of the individual, so that their sexual and emotional intimacy needs are often ignored. Some people with mental impairment or disability can spend a lifetime in care without opportunities for sexual intimacy. Others may have sexual encounters that expose them to harm, or where their sexual identity goes unrecognised or unacknowledged. Preserving people's abilities to develop or maintain their sexuality and intimate relationships is therefore of fundamental importance, yet can give rise to complex legal, ethical and practical issues relevant to autonomy, protection and identity.

This one-day symposium will bring together national and international experts in health and social care practice and law in order to address some of the challenges associated with how sex, sexual identity and intimacy might be better conceived, expressed and facilitated in care settings. The aim of the symposium is to enable a more open dialogue around these issues and a deeper understanding of the sexual rights of people with disabilities.

Speakers include: Professor Jonathan Herring (University of Oxford); Professor Beverley Clough (Manchester Metropolitan University); Ruby Reed-Berendt (Edinburgh University); Dr Charlotte Elves (Outer Temple Chambers); Dr Laura Pritchard-Jones (Keele University); Dr Julian Hughes (Consultant in Old Age Psychiatry; Honorary Professor of Ageing, Newcastle University); Dr Oluwatoyin Sorinmade (Consultant in Old Age Psychiatry, Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust); Phil Harper (Newman University).

This is a FREE event at Northumbria Law School. Funded by the Modern Law Review, this symposium will be of interest to a wide audience including practitioners, policymakers, academics, advocates, and people with lived experience of negotiating sexuality and intimacy in care settings.  

For more information, please contact: Dr Laura Graham (; Charlotte Emmett (; or Dr Claire Bessant (

PLEASE REGISTER BELOW. Places are free but limited so it is important to register to secure your space.

PROGRAMME: Friday 10th November

View Symposium Abstracts (pdf)

08.45 – 9.15 Registration and Refreshments

09.15 - 09.30 Welcome Address and Introduction: Laura Graham, Charlotte Emmett and Claire Bessant (organisers).


Session 1: 09.30 – 10.50 Capacity and Consent in Adult Care Settings

(Chair and Discussant: Charlotte Emmett)

09.30 - 10.00 – Professor Jonathan Herring and Dr Charlotte Elves, Capacity and Consent to Sex and Sexual Assistance in Adult Care Settings

10.00 – 10.30 – Dr Laura Pritchard-Jones, 'Hard cases make bad law', or 'bad law makes hard cases': Sexual Capacity, Vulnerability and Safeguarding in Adult Care Settings

10.30 - 10.40 Questions and Answers


10.40 - 11.00 Break


Session 2:  11.00 – 12.10 Autonomy, Protection, and Vulnerability in Sexual Intimacy Decisions

(Chair and Discussant: Claire Bessant)

11.00 – 11.25 – Professor Beverley Clough and Ruby Reed-Berendt, (Un)blurred lines? Sex, disability, and the dynamic boundaries of mental capacity law

11.25 – 11.50 – Dr Julian Hughes, Sex in a home or sex at home: What’s the difference when it comes to autonomy and protection? A Practitioner’s Perspective

11.50 – 12.05 Questions and Answers


12.05 – 13.05 Lunch


Session 3: 13.10 – 14.10 Sexual Assistance and Sexual Services

(Chair and Discussant: Dr Laura Graham)

13.05 - 13.30 Dr Oluwatoyin Sorinmade, Dementia, Sexuality and the Law - Is the Law Striking the Right Balance?

13.30 – 13.55 – Dr Phil Harper, Rethinking Gender Neutrality: Creating an inclusive approach to supporting LGBTQ+ individuals with dementia

13.55 – 14.10 Questions and Answers

14.10 – 14.30 Break


Session 4: 14.30 – 15.30 Roundtable on Problem Solving in Law and Practice

(Chairs and Facilitators: Laura Graham, Charlotte Emmett, Claire Bessant)

All speakers from previous sessions will join the roundtable to discuss legal and practical approaches case studies and problems relating to sexual autonomy, identity, and protection in adult care settings.

15.30 – 15.45 Closing Remarks –Laura Graham, Charlotte Emmett, and Claire Bessant (organisers)



Event Details

Harvard Lecture Theatre 403
Business & Law Building, Northumbria University
City Campus East
Newcastle upon Tyne


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