A woman with multiple sclerosis will become the first person with a disability to have a sex therapist covered under Australia's National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), despite the National Disability Insurance Agency stressing that it “does not cover sexual services, sexual therapy, or sex workers”. The woman approached the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) after the NDIA rejected her application to have sex therapy for "sexual release" covered in her NDIS plan, the ABC reports. This week, the tribunal ruled that she should receive $10,000 a year to fund the treatment.
"[The] only help she can usefully have to reach sexual release, to the extent to which she can, is by means of the qualified and trained sexual therapist whose services she seeks," the judgement stated, in a ruling that’s been described as a “fantastic win” by disability advocates. Brian Rayment, the tribunal’s deputy president, said there were “special features of the case” that meant it would be unlikely the applicant could find a partner who could help her “obtain sexual release”—and “her condition also prevents her from masturbation.”
The woman was described as being in her 40s. She reportedly stopped seeking a partner when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 15 years ago.
The judgement further noted that "her response to her achievement of sexual release… as a result of the services of a specialised sex therapist were described by the applicant in evidence which I accept as good for her mental wellbeing, her emotional wellbeing, and her physical wellbeing.
"She also said that her mood is less dull, it releases tension and anxiety, and improves her outlook on life.”
While the ruling has been celebrated as a “precedent-setting” case, however, some disability advocates argue that it does not go far enough in acknowledging the sexual needs of people with disabilities. Of particular contention is the fact the tribunal actively avoided ruling that the NDIS could also fund sex workers.
In the ruling, Brian made a point of stressing that the woman did not want funding to see a sex worker but rather “seeks the services of a specially trained sex therapist, a term which I have used to draw attention to an important difference”. But Matthew Bowden, co-chief executive of People with Disability Australia, argued this was an “unnecessary distinction between sex therapy and sex work services”, which could “deny people with disability the same rights to sex as non-disabled people”, The Guardian reports.
“It is not the choice of the majority of people to access the support of a sex worker, however some people with disability do and we fully support that choice,” Matthew said. He also commended the tribunal’s decision overall though, saying that “it acknowledges her right as a woman with disability to an ordinary life that includes sexual satisfaction and that her disability impacts directly on her ability to self-pleasure and in turn give sexual pleasure.”
The NDIA intends to appeal the decision, insisting that “sexual services, sexual therapy, or sex workers… are not in line with community expectations of what are reasonable and necessary supports." The NDIS, who was the respondent in the woman’s appeal case, argued that she was seeking funding for a "paid friend", which was not the kind of "reasonable and necessary support" the scheme was meant to pay for.
Brian argued otherwise. “The public understands that if a person with disability is unable to reach their own genitals that paid assistance would be a reasonable and necessary support,” he said—further pointing out that services which “facilitate sexual expression” had been a “long standing position of previously operating state disability services”.
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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.