Often perceived as children trapped in adult bodies, the possibility they might have the same desire for intimacy as everyone else was scarcely countenanced.In institutions and in the community, men and women were kept apart, so any sexual encounters that took place were fleeting, furtive and unsatisfying.Today, attitudes have changed; those who work with people with learning disabilities recognise the importance of socialising and dating.
"There are lots of barriers," says Joyce Innes, project co-ordinator at Dates-n-Mates, the only organisation of its kind in Scotland.
"It starts when they move from school into the care system and lose contact with people they have been friends with for four or five years.
We find the longer they are not going out into society, the longer they lack the strength to go out and meet new friends, the more they are inclined to lose confidence." People with learning disabilities may also lack social skills.
The air is crackling with excitement and the promise of romance on the first floor of the Radisson Blu hotel in Glasgow, where Dates-n-Mates, a friendship and relationship agency for people with learning disabilities, is holding one of its parties.
Small groups of women, their hair freshly blow-dried, chat animatedly, while those who are new or have come alone hover self-consciously, waiting for staff to show them to a table.
At a Dates-n-Mates party there is no dress code; ethereal frocks and sparkly shoes jostle with sequinned two-pieces, brightly-coloured skirts and jeans and jumpers. As the band blasts out John Denver's Country Roads, voices are raised and arms fly out in all directions.A middle-aged man moves uninhibitedly to his own beat, his kilt flying up as he birls around.Somewhere in the middle of this riot of colour and noise, a young couple stand intertwined, the girl, as dainty as a china doll, on her tiptoes so she can gaze into her partner's eyes.Those party-goers who are still single are coyer about their desire for love or a liaison."I'm here to make new friends," says Karen Dreghorn, 33, who has been posing, hand on hip like a catwalk model (but with antlers) in front of a photographer in the foyer.Asked if she's spending the night in the Radisson though, she gives a cheeky grin: "I'd love to stay in a posh hotel if I could find a nice guy to stay with me." Until the seventies, the concept of sexuality in people with learning disabilities was taboo.