Sex and disability- it’s worth talking about

Sex talk. A daunting and dreaded subject by many parents. Yes, as a parent of an adolescent the topic of sex and sexuality can be frightening, and an intellectual, developmental or physical disability makes the topic that much more unapproachable. But don’t stress, you’re sufficiently prepared and well equipped to talk to your child about safe sex practices. You have life experience with relationships and sex after all and that goes a long way in teaching your child.

Remember that sex is natural and also that you are not alone, there are plenty of educators and service providers who can help you inform your child about sex.

Sex plays a significant role in people’s lives, says Margaret Hicks, a family and sex counsellor at Hicks Counselling in Toronto.

“[Sex] is a human need, a normal need for everyone and it’s very healthy,” Hicks says. “We’re all sexual beings.”

And because we are all sexual beings and we are all curious about sex, including children. That’s normal.

“It’s important to speak to any kid about it [sex],” says Sue Johanson, sexual educator and host of Talk Sex with Sue. “I mean, that’s a given. Because they [children] are sexual beings and they are curious and have sexual feelings and need to understand them.”

Yet there’s a myth that people with disabilities are asexual or without sex.

“Messages about sexuality and myths around sexuality can influence how we perceive ourselves,” Hicks says, adding that it often has a negative effect.

“Many people with many different disabilities are looked at as not being able to have sex,” says Rainbow Samantha Hunt, a young transgendered woman with an intellectual disability. “But people with disabilities, they can do anything they put their mind to … and they can have sex in many different ways.”

Hunt says she was bullied in high school because of her disability and her sexuality and that she felt insecure and alone.

Luckily for Hunt, her mother was very supportive of her identity.

“My mom died two years ago, right in front of me, holding my hand,” Hunt remembers. “The last thing she said to me was, ‘be happy for being a trans.’”

Hunt says that because of her mother’s support, she has the self-confidence to follow her dreams, be herself, and stand up for herself.

“I want to be a singer and dancer,” Hunt says, adding that her mother’s memory gives her strength. “I look at her all the time in heaven and it’s just an amazing gift to have that.”

Figuring out relationships, sex and sexuality can be confusing for teens and as a parent you want to be there to support and guide them.

“I’ve been called a freak, I’ve been told that I can’t raise children because I’m stupid,” Hunt says. “I felt isolated, suicidal, emotional, very shy and invisible.”

Hunt says educating people about sex and sexuality is important to fight the stigma and the discrimination that has happened to her.

As parents, you can educate your children about sex and sexuality and you can be a pillar of support for your children. Of course, you know your child best. You’re the best person to decide your child’s maturity level and how much information they need to explore their sexuality in a healthy and safe way.

“Basically, you do the same thing for someone with disability, whatever the disability,“ Johanson says. “You do it exactly the same. The only thing that’s different is if it’s an intellectual disability, you do it slower, and answer questions as they go along.”

Johanson says you can also use drawings as an educational tool.

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One response to “Sex and disability- it’s worth talking about

  1. I think with all people sex comes with its hang up and with its issues of comfort. With disabled people it is similar to a person that might be overweight or a person that is taught sex is dirty. Education is key, and with the availability of so much information good information is even more important. In the old days you would go to your dad or older brother to talk about sex but as families have broken down its more difficult to find out who do you trust. I went with many of my friends for advice and they didn’t seem to know much so it really comes back to trusting yourself and maybe reading some old fashion books. Book guidance will inform people on the mechanical situation and how to avoid STDs, I’m sure there are a million books on the topic. But I would say people just need to work on body image in their own mind, work on accepting and when they are with a partner they can learn together. Eventually they will figure out what feels right.

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