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French gov't debates "the sexual life of the disabled"

PARIS A French regional government opened debate Monday on "the sexual life of the disabled" but backed off a push for sex surrogates amid unease about the issue.

The head of the Essonne department south of Paris, Jerome Guedj, had called for allowing sex surrogates -- people who can help disabled people explore their sexuality -- as part of regular social services delivered to those he said were least able to "discover their sexuality and their bodies."

Guedj noted that sex surrogates for the disabled are permitted in some other European countries as well as in the U.S., as seen in the recent film "The Sessions." Unlike in some other places, the French measure would have involved state funding.

But Guedj pulled the most contentious part of his proposal Monday, removing the term "sex surrogates" just ahead of the vote in the local council, after coming under criticism for opening the door to legalized prostitution.

Instead, the council agreed for now to open a "reflection on the sexual life of the disabled."

Guedj's original initiative won support from the French Association of the Paralyzed. "There's a real denial of the sexual dimension of the disabled," Pascale Ribes, vice president of the association, told Le Parisien newspaper. "That a group is trying to get past the taboos and try to deal with the problem is very encouraging."

But a national ethics council on March 12 ruled that authorizing sex surrogates would essentially "merchandise the human body" and could leave recipients emotionally vulnerable.

France's minister for the disabled, Marie-Arlette Carlotti, said Guedj's initiative is premature, but she welcomed debate on the issue.

"We're lagging a bit in France," Carlotti told Europe 1 radio in an interview Friday. "Reflecting on the emotional and sexual life should be a legitimate question."

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