The focus of week 6 was to better understand power relationships. During this week, the participants worked together on a activity that helped them to learn about power and control in relationships and specifically the benefits of having more power, benefits of having less power, drawbacks to having more power, and the drawbacks to having less power. The main concept that we were teaching with this activity is that there should be a balance when it comes to power. We first brainstormed ideas on what it meant to have power in a relationship. After that, the participants discussed how different situations could be red flags that a relationship is not safe and we had them place those on the outside of the circle. We superimposed a circle onto our original brainstorming to reinforce this concept (using the powerpoint project and a dry erase board).
At the end of group we played a “Would you Rather” game to help them tune into how much power and control they prefer to have in relationships. Students are asked about different relationships where there is a power difference (eg. parent-child). If they would prefer the more powerful option they take a step forward, the less and they stand still. In my experience, individuals with disabilities are much more likely to choose a majority of less powerful positions in relationships. Food for thought.
For more information and activities on this topic see Adult Human Sexuality Week 5- Power Relationships
This Week’s Materials
Week 6 Slides
Parent Letter Week 6
At this stage in the game, my partner in crime took over teaching the course. This is part of training paradigm were testing out where we partner with a community agency to teach the course. We process course development together, I start out as lead facilitator, and then we transfer over. For person who is facilitating also develops the materials. In the end, the agency gets a copy of all the resources we developed (all the ones I’m sharing with you here). If you’re interested in doing something like this and are in the Champaign-Urbana area, contact me:)
Everyone in our group really understood topics of sexuality and the law at the extremes so we spend most of our time processing situations that would be more nuanced and contextual. These situations are quite difficult, even for individuals who have few/no intellectual impairments. We gave some general guidelines, like Facebook commenting guidelines and also tried to simplify legal language.
People in the class were really interested in crime statistics regarding sexual violence. We didn’t include a lot of that information, but it is something that we might want to consider in the future. It’s hard to balance providing people with accurate information but not sensationalizing or using scare tactics.
This week we used a case study activity. I’ve never used this as a teaching tool before. We read a news article about Facebook stalking. I think the idea of using case studies is really interesting and I would like to test out this tool in the future. I’d love to hear from you if this is something you’ve had success using.
The article pictured below was featured in the Newsletter this week. It’s from Connect Ability; a website that was specifically developed for individuals with developmental disabilities.
If you’re thinking about teaching this on your own, feel free to use the materials we’ve developed (below).
This week was just a review. We had three review activities, but only got to two of them because we spent a lot of time on questions. I posted all the topics and subtopics on the board and asked everyone to write three to five questions they had about any of the topics we covered in class. Some of the questions were “What is considered to be by law a legal age to be sexually active?”, “What defines a person as a specific gender?”, What is the difference between having a crush on someone or just being in lust?”, “Can you provide an example of different ways for someone to commit voyeurism?”, Why do women get paid less than men who share the same job duties, nowadays, as a result of these stereotypes?”, & “Is it possible for a guy who may have any type of diseases to pass it on to a girl through rape?”. I think actually seeing the questions tells me a lot about what people are picking up from class and what are areas we might of glossed over more. I think it could be really fun to do this same activity the first week of class and then repeat it at the end.
If we would have got to everything, we would have role played situations where they would need to get information on sexuality topics after the class was over. We did talk about this topic. We did close with a values exercise where participants thought if they agreed or disagreed with different statements. We had a lot of like minded people in our group so we would talk about why someone might feel differently then we do. We sent participants home with a book that included supplemental material, material we covered in class that wasn’t in the handouts (activity based information), information from the newsletters, additional resources, and the worksheets they completed during class. I hope that will be a useful resource for folks in the future. We had such a nice time teaching the class- I hope the participants enjoyed it as much as we did (I think that they did!).
If you’re thinking about teaching this class, here are the materials we used.
It was really fun teaching about gender roles. Gender roles and gender identity were difficult concepts. Most of the people in the group talked about wearing a dress as if it made you a women. So we talked a lot about biology and society and how those both influence people and gender. We also talked a lot about gender stereotypes and how they can put limits on how people act.
Our big activity this week was making gender stereotype collages. We found images from magazines that we thought reflected gender stereotypes and made them into a collage. We talked about which stereotypes were easy to break and which ones were hard to escape. The men found a lot of images they thought were more realistic depictions of women. In the future, I think it could be fun to structure that into the activity.
Throughout the entire session, one of the things that was really difficult is that there are gender roles, gender stereotypes, and gender identities. They influence each other but they’re different. It’s not so critical that folks in the class understand the precise definitions, but it might have been helpful to walk through that a little bit more concretely. On the other hand it led to really nice discussion questions, for example one participant asked “What makes a person their gender?”
We used a couple videos in class. The first video focused on gender identity. It shows person in the process of gender reassignment. Over the three year period you can see how their external appearance reflects gender identity more and more.
The second video is more about gender stereotypes and gender roles. One of our participants brought up how boys don’t like to play with “girl toys” and I remembered having seen this and pulled it up (it’s nice when it works out like that!).
If you want to take a stab at teaching this on your own, hear are the materials we used.
Circles and Life Horizons are two of the most popular human sexuality curriculum for adults with intellectual disability.
Circles has two levels and two booster packs for $1999 which covers social distance, relationship building (Level 1), social distance expanded, relationship transitions (Level 2), recognizing/reacting to exploitation, learning appropriate protective behaviors (Abuse Booster), communicable disease, and STD/AID (STD booster). Again you can just buy specific levels. This is appropriate for all age groups.
Life Horizons is $799 for the two part DVD series which covers: parts of the body, sexual life cycle, human reproduction, birth control, sexual health (Level 1), building self-esteem, moral/legal/social issues male, moral/legal/social issues female, dating/love, marriage/other lifestyles, parenting, and preventing/coping with sexual abuse (Level 2). You can buy either level separately. Life Horizons is very useful. They come with a workbook that you can follow. It’s not necessarily the most engaging and there is sometimes inaccurate information. It’s geered towards adults but could also be used with older teens.
This company has several other family life education programs that you might find useful such as “Janet’s Got Her Period” a curriculum for people with severe intellectual disabilities.
FLASH is a curriculum that was developed in the Seattle area and was adapted for students with special needs. It’s free and has some nice lesson plans. I don’t usually use any of them from start to finish on their own, but it’s a starting place to get ideas. Did I mention that it’s free? Many of the lessons have “transparencies” that are in Power Point form.
This is a curriculum by Katherine McLaughlin at Planned Parenthood, Karen Topper at Green-Mountain Self-Advocates, and Jessica Lindert. I know several folks who use this curriculum and really love it. It was developed for adults, but they have a school expansion now. If you already have the adult version you can get the supplement school materials for free.
I think you get great bang for you buck with this curriculum. It covers different types of relationships, public/private, friendship, communication, decision making, moving from friend to partner/sweetheart, many roads to relationships, being in a relationship, communicating about sex, decision making about sex, challenges or things that could go wrong, do you want to have a child, avoiding pregnancy, and getting a STI.
I wanted to put you in touch with a website called “Living Well with Autism“. They have several Board Maker Social Stories related to privacy.
While I think overall this site has some nice ideas, I’d be careful about using “Good Touch Bad Touch”. Good/Bad may bring up feelings of guilt, could be over generalized, and might be confusing as an assault often starts with touches that feel good then moves to touches that feel bad. Also, there are some studies that have shown that children understand the word touch differently than adults. For example they wouldn’t categorize people kissing as touching, because well, they’re kissing. I think this could be a problem for someone with an intellectual disability that doesn’t categorize well. I like the terms safe and unsafe touch. I also like saying touching makes you feel something. If a touch feels good, it’s probably safe. If a touch doesn’t feel good it’s probably not safe. Then you can teach specific kinds of touches. Having said that, the site gives you some good Social Stories to start with. Pictured left is part of one of their stories.
Just another note on language. There is a movement among abuse prevention advocates to alter some our terminology when talking about sexual abuse prevention. I mention in my workshop that we have to be careful when talking about using education to help prevent sexual abuse because it implies that the individual is responsible for reducing his or her own risk. Alternative terminology includes personal safety skills, abuse-response skills, or self-protection skills.
I’m partnering with a local service provider to offer a 10 week human sexuality class, Connections. I’m really excited about it. The goal is that the community agency will be able to continue offering classes in the future. They will have someone who has experience teaching a class and they will also have a set of materials. This is my first time doing a co-operating method of training so I’ll be keeping you posted on how it is going. If this is successful, it’s a model that I would like to pursue so if you’re in the Champaign-Urbana area and you’re interested, let me know.
The group is really great. I love working with middle school and high school students, but adults are just refreshing. This week we mostly just got to know each other. We did some of my favorite get to know you activities such as making collage of who we are on the outside and the inside.
We also have an undergraduate social work student working with us. She’s developing a newsletter that will go home each week with the participants. The newsletters expand on the topics that we talk about in class.
The other thing that is really neat bout this group is that one of the participants comes to the planning meetings and helps set the group up. He’s taking a participant and instructor role.
I’ve attached all the materials we used for the class.
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
It can be a little overwhelming to start thinking about communicating pictorially about human sexuality topics, but there are some supports available.
Many of you already use Board Maker (computer software that helps make visual supports and PECS). They have a “Communicating About Sexuality” add on that is very useful and only costs $15.00 (but you have to already have Board Maker).
If you would like some guidelines on how to approach augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) in regards to sexuality Speak Up has resources that you may find useful. Speak Up is a group dedicated to preventing sexual abuse/victimization among people who use alternative communication. They have guidelines, suggestions for communication displays, and information about building sexual vocabulary. This group surveyed individuals who use AAC and found that ACC users say they need:
- People who recognize that they are sexual
- Information about sexuality
- Vocabulary to communicate about sexuality
- People to communicate with about sexuality
- Accessible resources and services
Sounds pretty darn reasonable to me.
Individuals with physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities have a right to education about sexuality, sexual health care, and opportunities for socializing and sexual expression. Healthcare workers and other caregivers must receive comprehensive sexuality education, as well as training in understanding and supporting sexual development, behavior, and related healthcare for individuals with disabilities. The policies and procedures of social agencies and healthcare delivery systems should ensure that services and benefits are provided to all persons without discrimination because of disability.
Human sexuality encompasses the sexual knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors of individuals. Its various dimensions involve the anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of the sexual response system; identity, orientation, roles, and personality; and thoughts, feelings, and relationships. Sexuality is influenced by ethical, spiritual, cultural, and moral concerns. All persons are sexual, in the broadest sense of the word.
From Sexuality Information & Education Council of the US, www.siecus.org
Teaching human sexuality is about formal lessons, selecting information, and choosing how to teach it, but it’s more than that. To be a sexuality educator you have to see the whole person and be committed to support that person. It’s not easy, it won’t be prefect, and you might make mistakes. But it’s not impossible either and you have lots of tools.
To me, it’s about asking “why not?”. Why not teach someone about different sexual positions? Why not incorporate questions about sexual life into annual planning meetings? Why not teach someone how to ask someone else on a date? Why not affirm someone when they are expressing their sexuality? Sometimes there are good answers to these questions but a lot of times there just aren’t. Being a sexuality educator is about being an advocate. It’s about giving people information in an engaging way they can digest. It’s about teaching skills and changing patterns of behavior. It’s about sending the message that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with who you are. I really appreciate people taking time to read this blog because I think the work you do is really important. Thank you!
This book by Miriam Kaufman, Cory Silverberg, and Fran Odette is eye opening. It’s written by people with disabilities for people with disabilities and focuses on the joys of sexual intimacy. As a typically developing person, it challenged a lot of my assumptions about sex and made me think about new things. Chapters include: Myths About Disability and Sex; Desire and Self-Esteem; Sexual Anatomy and Sexual Response; Communication; Sex with Ourselves; Sex with Others; Oral Sex, Penetration and Positioning; Sex Toys, Books, and Videos; Yoga and Tantric Sex; S/M; Sexual Health; Sexual Violence and Sexuality; Resources; and Glossary of Gender and Sex Terms. I want to share two passages with you.
Sex and Spontaneity
“We’re taught that sex is suppose to be spontaneous, something that just comes naturally (like ‘true love’). This belief is damaging to everyone, but is a real problem for people living with disabilities, because any amount of planning makes sex not spontaneous. Believing in this myth pretty much ensures a lously sex life.
While sex has many meanings, at its heart sex is a process of communication. Whether we are flirting from across a crowded room, giving someone head for the first time, or making love while listening to a piece of music that totally turns us on, being sexual is being in contact with ourselves and our surroundings. The idea that this process can happen without thinking, talking, or planning is ridiculous.
Maybe we are willing to buy into the myth of sexual spontaneity because talking about our desires is difficult. It’s risky, and makes us feel exposed and vulnerable, and often vulnerability is equated with weakness.”
This made me think a lot about the way I teach reproduction and sexual intimacy. I tend to focus a lot sexual behavior, but not as much on the planning and communication that comprises that behavior. Also, I do a lot of role playing, planning out what you’re going to say in advance, and scripting. I’ve never really done that around negotiating intimacy.
“If we were taught anything about sex at all when we were younger, many of us learned that sex was something private, inappropriate to talk about or do in front of others. Privacy becomes a requirement for sexuality.
From someone living in an institution, or using attendant services, or needing the assistance of someone else to facilitate communication, privacy is a completely different reality. The definition of privacy changes when you have no lock on your door, or when you request private time at a specific hours knowing that it will probably be written down in a log-book. This myth is one of those ‘no-win situations,’ because we’re told that real sex is a private matter and, guess what, you can’t have that kind of privacy.”
This passage really challenged me to think about how I teach privacy and how I teach about relationship types. I think sometimes I might ignore that what a lot of people think of as privacy and the individual I am working with reality of privacy are two disparate things.
I do wish this book focused a little more on people with intellectual disability and was written at lower reading level. I do think people with ID/DD could read it with support, especially sections. Much of the book is testimonies by people with disabilities and I think these passages could be great teaching tools. There are also suggested exercises- one of the exercises was about looking at your body. I teach antimony all the time, but I don’t think I’ve ever said, “when you’re at home, alone in your bedroom, look at and feel your body and check out the parts we’ve been talking about, you can even use a mirror.”