Mon, Jan 02, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Disabled man fights for `human right' to a sex life

THE OBSERVER , AARHUS, DENMARK

Many people would agree with Torben Vegener Hansen's views on sex: "It makes me feel good. It makes me more dynamic. Having sex is as important as food."

But it is his insistence that sex is "a human right" that has led him into a legal battle with his government.

Vegener Hansen, 59, who has cerebral palsy, is fighting to force the Danish state to subsidize visits to his home by prostitutes in the same way they would pay for a meals-on-wheels service.

"Denmark's social law provides for me to be compensated for the expenses I incur because of my handicap," he said. "It should therefore cover my right to a sex life."

Vegener Hansen, a former social worker, lives alone in an adapted one-bedroom flat. He travels about Aarhus city center using an electric wheelchair. The local council pays for him to receive 37 hours' practical help every week. His speech is impaired but he uses the phone and Internet.

"I need to have sex to feel like a normal human being," he says over coffee and biscuits. "I have a girlfriend at the moment so I do not need to see prostitutes. But if I didn't have Vivia I would want sex at least twice a month."

Because prostitution is legal in Denmark, Vegener Hansen argues his local authority unfairly made a moral judgment when it rejected his application for financial support to bring prostitutes to his flat.

Since 2001, Denmark's social service guidelines on disability have stipulated that care staff in institutions must be prepared to help disabled people obtain sex. That includes accompanying them to a prostitute.

Arranging sex is part of the job for staff at the Hulegaarden residential home for mental disability near Copenhagen. Its director, Lars Nielsen, said: "We have many hours of discussion, in groups, before actually doing so. It is clear that there is no human being who is not also a sexual being. If we do not allow disabled people to have the experience of sex, we cannot expect them to build up their lives."

But Nielsen is uncomfortable about Vegener Hansen's campaign because it affects two marginalized groups, prostitutes and disabled people.

Vegener Hansen's 46-year-old girlfriend Vivia, who does not want to reveal her surname, opposes him.

"I think it is important that the sex lives of disabled people be discussed," she said. "But I am against all forms of prostitution and think that, sometimes, you have to accept your destiny."

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