It all started for me when I was 10 years old. I was a flower girl at my cousin’s wedding and I saw the love between her and her husband. I felt like I was falling in love with their love. It all looked so perfect.

I’ve been lucky that, growing up, strong relationships have always been part of my life. My parents have been married for over 40 years. I have learnt things from them which I hope will help me in the future. Even so, I’ve got to admit, growing up was pretty tough and friendships were quite tricky.

When it came to boys, kids at school would be mean and say that I wasn’t the prettiest girl and that I would never get a boyfriend. It made me lose any confidence I had to the point where I didn’t even want a boyfriend. My friends would get asked out, but never me. It broke my heart so much. Bullying is such a horrible thing, but they should never have underestimated me!

I’d watch weddings on TV like Scott and Charlene’s in Aussie soap opera, Neighbours and that made me want to do the same one day. That seemed a world away when I was a teenager…

Everything changed when I went to college. On the first day, I walked into
the canteen and saw Mark. He won’t thank me for this, but he was nice looking, had pretty, baby blue eyes and a blonde curtains hairstyle, like he was in a boy band.

I was too nervous to ask him out straight away, but I managed to find the courage to buy him a burger. Not very romantic I know, but that burger changed my life because he’s now my husband!

Mark is kind and caring. He has been incredibly supportive of me and my career at Mencap and I couldn’t live without him.

Next step after meeting, was meeting his parents. I was so nervous! I wanted them to like me so much. Luckily, they were so welcoming and never made me feel like my learning disability was an issue; it’s something I’ll never forget.

When Mark and I moved in together there were lots of things we needed to talk about, including sharing a bedroom. We decided to visit our GP’s surgery to get advice on things like contraception. A supportive nurse helped us understand everything properly. For us though, the relationship wasn’t about sex. It was about togetherness, friendship and remembering the love I saw between my cousin and her husband.

Now, we love a kiss and a cuddle, but I’ve learnt that it’s best not to rush into anything you’re not comfortable with. It’s OK to take your time and get support. People with a learning disability should open up and talk about it more. Sex and relationships look different to everyone, so the more people talk, the better. Everyone should have the right to express their sexuality and form relationships but of course this will be different for everyone.

About Ciara Lawrence

Ciara Lawrence is a well-known learning disability campaigner. She has written for The Guardian, The Huffington Post and the Independent. Ciara works as a campaigns support officer for Mencap led their drive to make OKCupid remove an offensive question about people with low IQs. She gained national press coverage and the dating website eventually bowed to public pressure. In 2016 she won the CharityComms Inspiring Communicator Award for her campaigning work.

Twitter: @ciarale01