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Everybody Needs Somebody
The companionship theory
Sex maybe on everyone’s mind, but do we even give it a thought when it comes to the mentally people with disability? Society is comfortable thinking about providing the mentally disabled with proper food, clothing, shelter and so on, but what about their need for sex?

Now how does sex come into all this? Only because sex is a biological need, second to that of survival. So though this need is present also in mentally persons with disability, it is never addressed to. But eight years ago, in Sholapur, an experiment was carried out called the The Companionship Theory, which works solely to address the need for physical intimacy in mentally persons with disability. Dr Suparna Telang, consultant in sexual medicine, and who has advocated the Companionship Theory in Solapur and Pune, explains how this works.

What the Companionship theory is?
The Companionship Theory addresses the need for sex among mentally disabled. Only it is done without a marriage. Marriage in our society is the license given to couples to satisfy this biological need. But since mentally persons with disability are not capable of emotional commitment, a legal marriage is out of the question. But, to allow physical intimacy, couples live together without the bond of a legal marriage. Way back in 1992, two of Telang’s patients who were mentally disabled were admitted in Sholapur Civil Hospital. Besides the parents could do other jobs or simply rest while their offspring was being looked after.

Why marriage is not allowed?
Simply because mentally persons with disability are unable to care for themselves and marriage essentially comes with responsibility. Besides they outgrow a relationship more easily than others. Apart from a legal bond, such persons are also advised to undergo sterilization. This is because they are unable once again to care for themselves, so how can they care for their offspring?

How does this system work?
Under the companionship theory, the male and female live together, without a marriage. Ideally one should form a community of such persons. If a mentally disabled, male and female decide to live together, then the respective families should equally divide the care giving duties, in an effort to give their respective caregivers a break from this job. So for a week or more the male will live with the female and her family, thus giving the male’s family a break and the next week, she will shift to his house.

What about the finances?
As there is no legal marriage, the companions cannot stake a claim on the other’s assets. Ideally the two families should become trustees of the two children.

What’s in it for the persons with disability himself?
Irrespective of their IQs all mentally people with disability have feelings and a need to interact with the opposite sex. The Companionship theory would not work with people with severe mental disabilities. If the need for physical intimacy is met with, the person will very obviously have gained a companion. Apart from satisfying a basic biological need, it will help them stabilize emotionally to a greater degree.

Will society accept a live in situation?
This is a problem that we face. I have a patient in Hyderabad who has four children who are mentally disabled. The parents are ready to accept the CT, but are afraid of what society will say. My first patients, Anil and Anita eventually got married after living together for five years. The social stigmas persist, but given the disability, living in seems the only solution that works on different levels.