Let’s Talk About Sexuality

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What is sexuality? What is love? Can two people have sex and not make a baby? Does everyone have sex? What is safe sex? What does consent mean? How do I meet someone that I can have sex with?

Sexuality

These are just some of the questions that the people I support may ask during a session. And no, not all of the people I support are so interested in the subject. In fact, some of them are not focused on it at all. But, conversations about sexuality, when they do happen, go far beyond “the birds and the bees”, and often include identity, expression, and relationships. Since the vast majority of human beings experience sexuality in some form, the conversations I have with the people I support are varied and often complex. More often than not, people are willing to discuss the topic, to ask questions and to seek guidance.

Consent

Sometimes, these conversations become necessary as a result of a person being deemed “non consenting” for sexual activity, looking to build their knowledge base in order to engage in an intimate relationship that is healthy, safe, and fulfilling. Sometimes, these conversations occur as a natural result of being human, being involved in a romantic or intimate relationship and experiencing sexual urges and desires. And sometimes, these conversations occur as a result of a lack of education or previous conversation about the topic.

Sex Education

According to certified sexuality educator Sarah Stein, MA, BCBA, AASECT “most people with intellectual disabilities are excluded from sex education in school. The problem is that they then lack the information and skills to support socially and age-appropriate sexual behavior.” Whatever the reason may be for having these conversations, it is important to listen and support empathetically and non-judgmentally, to provide accurate and relevant information, and to explore the person’s attitudes and opinions as well as their experiences, as these factors may influence their perceptions and understanding of sexuality.

Let’s Talk About Sex

So, it’s time we start talking about sex. If you know someone with an intellectual disability, either personally or professionally, do not hesitate to talk to them about sex. Do not hesitate to talk to them about safety. Do not hesitate to ask them questions, and to answer their questions. Even if it feels uncomfortable for you, it may be important for them. All human beings need love and intimacy. Some people choose to express their love through physical intimacy. Some people experience confusion, need guidance and support, and some people possess knowledge and understanding but lack the social skills to form and maintain healthy intimate relationships.

In today’s day and age, it is less “taboo” to discuss issues related to sexuality than it once was. As a society, we have become more willing to accept the notion that one’s sexuality is a part of one’s identity, that our sexual selves, and how we express that side of ourselves, is a part of the human experience. As adults with intellectual disability come to terms with what it means to be an adult man or adult woman, sexuality is inevitably a part of that process. If you find yourself struggling to understand or support some aspect of someone else’s sexuality, whether that is their orientation, identity, expression, or practices, take a step back and ask yourself why. Seek to support and understand, not to condemn or control. There is too much risk in avoidance and alienation, let’s talk about sex!

Delaina Fico

Delaina Fico

Delaine Fico is a Social Worker (LMSW) for the Arc of Monroe.  In her free time she enjoys writing, drumming, spending time with loved ones and playing with her Great Dane, Bella.

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