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Hero Worship - An audience with Dave Hingsburger

Hero Worship. Is this a positive thing?

Perhaps it’s good to have someone to look up to, whose qualities are a source of aspiration and inspiration, someone to follow, learn from and be motivated by.

However, could there be disadvantages? Perhaps excessive admiration, whilst nurtured at a distance, could lead to disappointment when one’s hero is encountered in the flesh?

These were some of the thoughts that interrupted my excitement, when I heard that Dave Hingsburger was crossing the Atlantic to do a lecture tour. I had long been a devotee of his books, videos and insightful blogs, using many of his original concepts in my sex and relationships training sessions.

His tour was short, with limited venues. Travelling north to Glasgow would give me the chance to enjoy the delights of another hero, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and see the newly refurbished Willow Tea Rooms.

He delivered a five-hour session without Powerpoint, props or group work and had the audience enthralled. Well, that’s a feat worthy of worship. Every idea was carefully peppered with real, often poignant stories about people who Dave has served in his clinical practice.

He was at times calm and considered, at other times rousingly angry and shouting. There is much to be angry about in the human service world and this was absolutely an appropriate emotion that served to highlight the absurd injustices experienced by people with a learning disability. Light hearted moments provided balance, with self- deprecating humour and amusing anecdotes that had the crowd laughing in unison.

There were however hard-hitting messages, some of which I recreate here:

  • Withholding information about sex and relationships from people with a learning disability amounts to neglect. Given that there is much evidence of the psychological trauma resulting from not being provided with relevant information, coupled with readily available sex education resources, this looks and feels like purposeful intent.
  • Sex education for people with a learning disability needs to be more focussed on abuse prevention because the likelihood of being tricked, manipulated and lied to is more prevalent.
  • Relationships require skills. Therefore, we have a responsibility to teach people social skills, particularly the important aspect of reciprocity. These competencies won’t just happen by people being ‘in the community’.
  • Direct support staff are not people’s friends and they do a great injustice by suggesting that they are playing this role.
  • There is an epidemic of loneliness that is being ignored. Despite the knowledge that this can have terrible consequences for individual wellbeing, relationships remain low down in the social care hierarchy of needs.
  • It is helpful to have key people within an organisation who will deal with sexuality and relationships issues. This will ensure consistently positive responses and give the message that it’s not something that you talk to everyone about.

My composure was retained throughout, whilst concentrating on these compelling arguments. But then finally in response to the quandary that so many of us pose , ‘Why is disability and sexuality so controversial?’, came the profound answer ‘If we acknowledge that people can actually love each other, the implications are that they can feel and have felt everything that we have done to them in the past’ . This was when the tears rolled and the incentive was spurred to continue working to raise awareness of the importance of relationships in the lives of people with a learning disability. With that honest arrow through the heart, how can it be ignored?

Thank you, VIA Scotland and Dave for a memorable and elevating day. You didn’t disappoint, neither did the Willow Tea Rooms. Lesson: Hero Worship is good for the soul.


Sue Sharples is a member of the Lancashire Friends and Relationships Group and Chair of the U-Night Group, a Community Interest Company that runs the MeetnMatch Dating Agency and Y be Shy Training in Lancashire. She also works as an independent trainer and consultant, specialising in learning disability, relationships and sexuality.

Dave’s work and blog can be found here https://conversationsthatmatter.org/presenters/hingsburger-dave


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