Raising an individual with a disability presents a different set of obstacles then an abled individual may, but one topic that all parents must address is sexuality. Individuals with disabilities are sexual beings and therefore deserve an education on sexuality. While parents may acknowledge this need, finding resources and strategies to present the information may be more difficult if you are raising an individual who requires a different method of learning.
The Sexuality Resource Center for Parents provides a well rounded variety of information pertaining to sexuality. The website includes a section of information labeled “for all parents” that contains subjects they believe are useful for all children. In addition, they provide sections titles “For parents of children of typical development”, “For parents of children with developmental disabilities”, and “For parents of children with physical disabilities”. In each section, you can find a variety of information such as basics, specifics, activities, and additional resources. They also include tip guides!
The Sexuality Resource Center for Parents works to provide a better, comprehensive information base for parents to use when addressing sexuality to their child. The variety of knowledge is extremely useful when trying to find information to meet your child’s specific needs. In their own words, their mission statement claims “It’s time to acknowledge that children with developmental disabilities will become adults with sexual feelings, and as such, we must provide them with the information and skills they’ll need to become sexually healthy adults.“
Sexual Education is known to be a vital part of education that many people with disabilities do not receive. The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) developed an excellent series of youtube videos aimed to help close this gap. The sex ed for individuals with I/DD project is a 10 part video series that can be seen on youtube. The project contains videos that discuss a range of important sexual information from healthy relationships and consent to how to use a condom. The videos also contain self advocates. Understanding that individuals with disabilities are sexual beings and informing such individuals on all sexual topics is extremely important. The NCIL’s video series is an amazing resource. Linked below is the introduction video to the series. The videos can also be accessed though the Nation Council on Independent Living youtube channel.
Sexuality and Disability is a free blog dedicated to providing a resource for women with disabilities. The blog answers questions pertaining to sex, the body, relationships, and more in a safe and open discussion. The welcome statement of the website encompasses this;
“Our site starts with the premise that people with disabilities are sexual beings – just like anyone else. sexualityanddisability.org is constructed as a bunch of questions a woman with a disability might have – about her body, about the mechanics and dynamics of having sex, about the complexities of being in an intimate relationship or having children, about unvoiced fears or experiences of encountering abuse in some form.”
Sexuality and Disabilityalso includes an award-winning section that appeals to many individuals with disabilities that contains stories from the point of view of an individual with a disability and gives an in depth and realistic view on sexual topics.
Anatomy and Reproduction were the topics for week 2. We started off the session with a game called “Parts and Post-it Notes” to talk about body parts with the participants. To play this game we had a giant piece of paper with the outline of a body on it. We gave the participants post-it notes to write down the body parts that they knew and asked them to place them on the outline of the body.
After this activity, the participants were told that for the rest of the class they would be focusing on body parts related to reproduction (another way to refer to sex organs or private parts). The participants were then directed to the next activity where they practiced saying terminology related to reproduction out loud and recording their responses to how saying the words made them feel.
When the participants finished the terminology activity, we spit them into two groups to start the fruit anatomical model of reproductive organs using fruit. The participants were shown a picture of the parts of the body and were giving tooth picks and flash cards to label the fruit parts and their functions. This activity was great for the participants to learn the vocabulary in a little abstract and safe way! For a more concrete example of reproduction, we used the “Miracle of Life” video to explain the process.
We ended this session by having the participants briefly summarize that they learned during the session.
YouTube has a lost of great sexuality education resources but it can be hard to find among all of the “not safe for work” content. Here’s a few channels and videos that might be useful. One of the most difficult tasks sex educators report is explaining intimate acts. This can be uncomfortable and difficult so I’ve tried to focus on these difficult to teach topics. The videos may not be the best fit for the person/people you’re working with, but they can give you an idea where to start. The channels also have great resources for expanding your own education on sexuality topics.
Healthchannel is a YouTube channel with short videos on a variety of health care issues including sexual health resources including a few I’ve listed below. The videos aren’t prefect. They don’t feature animations with people with disabilities and focus on heterosexual couples, but they give very precise, clear information.
Sexplanations is another YouTube channel. They have mini episodes on human sexuality topics from shared sexual behavior to STDs to anatomy. Again the videos aren’t perfect. They move a little too quickly than I would like, but I’ve selected a few I think could be helpful. They could also be good to expand your own understanding of various topics.
I’m just going to be honest. I think sex shops can be a little creepy. It really pushes my comfort zone to support someone purchasing sex toys not because I’m uncomfortable with the individual I’m working with’s sexual expression- I’m uncomfortable the sexual of expression of general patrons of the store. Usually the line between sexual exploitation and sexual affirmation is a nice, clear, thick, black line. But in a sex store it’s gets blurrier and it can be difficult to navigate. It pushes me to think about my own biases, but at the same time I don’t think all sex shops affirm sexuality equally.
That’s part of the reason I was so glad to stumble upon “Come As You Are”. The other reason is because they actually know things about serving people with disabilities. “Come As You Are” is a sex shop located in Canada (great for Torantoins, but less than great for Illinoisians). They have a wonderful website, are knowledgeable about people with all different abilities, and are responsive to questions. If you know of place that is safe and accessible or at least responsive to the needs of individuals with disabilities, please share.
The store was featured in this video which I found to be very enlightening in regards to things to consider when supporting someone with purchasing a sex toy. For one, I wasn’t really aware of some of the options out there. The video also goes into several was to match ability needs with sex toy functioning. I will warn you that streaming quality is not that great, but the content is excellent.
Another thing to think about is the use of wedges and ramps for sexual exploration and sexual expression. The Liberator is probably the most popular line of sexual furniture. They look just like the wedges used in the exercise room of our day program (except the ads all have beautiful scantily clad women on them). Using tools for sexual positioning may be the only way some individuals can participate in intercourse or other sexual activities. The how to use videos on their website are more erotic than instructional. There are videos online geared toward instruction. They are explicit, but the participants are fully clothed throughout. Click here for the male positioning and here for female positioning.
Below is a “Hierarchy: Masturbation Training” by Lisa Mitchell, LCSW-R at Penn State. Her plan for what she calls, “private touching”, was specifically developed for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but I think it is a good general framework. The hierarchy goes from lowest level of support to highest level of support. Across the board, masturbation is a topic people want more information about. I think this is a nice way to think about what kind of education or training is available as well as what you might want to try before moving on to something more intensive. I have also included a link to her entire powerpoint. She covers other topics/tips you may find interesting (relationship checklist, key concepts for topic areas, teaching techniques, problem behaviors).
When appropriate, work with families and/or residence to establish a visual “private time schedule.”
When appropriate, supply individual with lubricant, explaining that it is for use during “private time.”
Meet with individual. Present illustrations of same sex persons masturbating, in conjunction with verbal explanation regarding technique.
Meet with individual. Use illustrations and anatomical model in conjunction with verbal explanation of technique.
Meet with individual. Use anatomically correct dolls to demonstrate appropriate masturbatory technique, in conjunction with verbal explanation.
When appropriate, supply masturbatory aids such as body pillows, magazines, collages of stimulating pictures, vibrating pillows, masturbation sleeves, masturbation pumps, or vibrators. Explain safe usage of such aids.
Meet with individual. Arrange for multiple viewings (when necessary) of instructional masturbation movies “Handmade Love” for males, or “Fingertips” for females. Viewings should occur in the individual’s bedroom or the private location where masturbation will be allowed to occur. Trainer may need to supply a verbal explanation while simultaneously viewing the tape to reinforce principles. (I would have the person watch on their own before feeling the need to view with another present. In general I think the videos are very good but very explicit. You could use the video in place of the verbal instructions indicated in the hierarchy).
For individuals with more significant challenges, consider use of ABA type
approach (preferably done with relatively unfamiliar trainer) to teach more
successful masturbatory technique. Shape up steps one at a time (e.g. “Pull pants
and underwear down”, “Lay on belly”, “Put pillow between legs”, “Rock from side to
side”. Or “Pull pants down”, “Sit on bed”. “Put fingers around penis”, “Rub up and
down, up and down.”) – I have heard of this method, but I do not know anyone personally who has ever instructed on masturbation at this level. I would want to have a very comprehensive plan on how this would be implemented, full team support, and special attention paid to protecting the individual being instructed and the person doing the instruction.