Communicating About Sexuality Adaptively

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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.

 

Explaining Anatomy

I had a blast in Carbondale (thank you all)!  People really responded to the time we spent thinking about how to explain concepts like arousal and orgasm.  In the anatomy lesson of the curriculum we’ve been did this summer, I have similar explanations for explaining the reproductive parts of the body.  I’m going to include the entire list here, but if the entire list is too overwhelming for your students choose 3-5 physiological parts to focus on per gender.  I would recommend reading over the full WEB MD definitions of these terms (click here for the worksheet Body Part Functions)- you may come up with better explanations!

Some general ideas I try to convey…

  • Some people’s reproductive organs are mostly inside the body and some people’s are mostly outside the body.
  • Reproductive organs are a system of tubes, canals, and storage centers that connect to one another.
  • Reproductive organs produce genetic information and try to bring it together. 

Vulva: A part of a person’s body that is used for reproduction, urination, and pleasure. The vulva is outside the body. Every vulva looks a little bit different, but they all have folds of skin, openings into the body, and a clitoris. During puberty, the folds of skin become covered in hair.

Labia majora: Skin that protects the vulva

Labia minora: Skin that protects the opening to the vagina

Clitoris:  Skin and nerves that cause pleasure

Vagina (birth canal): The vagina is used for reproduction and pleasure. During reproduction, the job of the vagina is to connect the uterus to the outside world. When a baby is born, the vagina squeezes in a special way to help the baby out of the uterus. When being used for pleasure, the vagina can be touched to make the body feel good.

Uterus:  Where a baby grows

Ovaries: Holds the eggs (which hold genetic information)

Fallopian Tubes:  Connects the ovaries and the uterus


Penis
: A part of a person’s body that is used for reproduction, urination, and pleasure. The penis is outside the body. Every penis is a little bit different but they all are shaped like tubes with a small hole at the end.

Scrotum: A tissue sack that holds the testes. During puberty it gets covered with hair.

Testicles (testes): Produces sperm (genetic information)

Epidermis: Where sperm mature

Vas deferens: Brings sperm to the urethra

Ejaculatory ducts: a connector.

Urethra: carries urine and semen out of the body

Seminal Vesicles & Prostate Gland: Produce sperm energy

Bulbourethral gland (Cowper’s glands): Produces lubricant (makes things slippery)

How to Explain Sex to Someone with an Intellectual Disability

This may be more difficult than it appears at first.  I like to communicate and teach broad and complex ideas about what sex is, but this can be really difficult for folks to grasp at first.  I usually start out talking about reproduction because it’s a little more concrete and then move into sex more generally once reproductive intercourse, erection, ejaculation, and arousal have been covered.  So lets start with those (and I’ll toss in a couple other concepts that may be difficult to explain).  These are how I explain these concepts, but a curriculum you use may have other suggestions you find helpful.  I used board maker pictures here, but real pictures would also be appropriate in many cases.

Arousal: “When you have sexy feelings and you feel tingly or excited all over your body especially in your private area*.”

*You could substitute genitals, vulva, or penis for private area to be more concrete.  Sometimes with middle school students I say “you know where” to be intentionally more vague- but only if I’m confident they do know where.

Erection: “When blood fills the penis making it harder and bigger”.  I follow this up with the why it happens, “because you have sexy feelings.  You feel aroused.”

Sometimes I add, the blood fills up the spongy tissue of the penis, but other times I omit the blood part and just say the penis gets harder and bigger.  This would depend on the level of complexity the individual can handle.

Ejaculation/Orgasm: “You have sexy feelings, your body feels really good, and you get so excited that you have an orgasm- a big burst of sensation*.” If they have a penis, I add “then fluid comes out of the penis.”  If they have a vulva, I add “then some fluid may come out of the vagina”.  If they ask what kind of fluid you could add, “a sticky milky fluid” and then if they have a penis, “with sperm in it.”

*If sensation is an inappropriate word you could replace it with feelings.

Reproductive Intercourse: “When a person put their penis in another person’s vagina and releases sperm, ejaculates.  If the sperm meets with an egg then the person might get pregnant.  A baby might grow inside the uterus.”

As students are first learning I do call this sex but once they have this I build that sex is bigger than just one act.  It is heteronormative* to present reproductive intercourse as if it was sex.  It could make students who are not interested in vaginal intercourse feel as if their form of sexual expression is less valid.  At the same time, the students that I work with are often overwhelmed by all the new information and have difficulty navigating all the nuances.  When I call this form of sex, “sex”, I do match it with vaginal sex, reproductive intercourse, or intercourse to allude to the idea that there are other forms of sex.

*If you’re not familiar with the term heteronormative, it refers to when heterosexuality is used as the default.  It also refers to other lifestyles that are considered the default.  For example, a heteronormative definition of family would be if you used, implicitly or explicitly, a husband, a wife, and children as the definition of family.

Wet Dream: “Sometimes when you’re sleeping you have have sexy feelings.  These feelings can be so good that you may get really excited in your sleep.  You may feel so good that fluid comes out of your body.”

If they know erection and ejaculation, you can use those words too but I try to limit my use of those words if I’m not confident they have a full conception of the terms.

People with vulvas can have wet dreams too! Regardless of whether there is ejaculation, having organisms and arousal during sleep can be scary. It is an important thing to prepare children for as their bodies change with puberty.

Sex: “Sex is when two people have sexy feelings they want to share with each other so they touch each other’s private parts to make each other feel good.”  You can expand it further, “A person might put their penis inside a person’s vagina.  Sometimes people kiss and lick each other’s vulva or penis.  A person might put their penis inside a person’s anus*.”  If they ask why someone has sex, I would answer “Either because they want to have a baby, because they love each other and they want to share those feelings, or because they want to have fun.”

*I would use butthole if I thought that was a word the person understood better.  In this definition, I’ve defined sex as anal, vaginal, or oral intercourse.

Sperm/Egg: The cells inside a persons body that have genetic information.

Not all folks will grasp the concept of genetic information but they will probably know that it means scientific or medical information.

Next week, well be covering reproduction in Human Sexuality 101 so look check out the curriculum for that section for more information.