Relationships & Sex

Disability and sex: making ‘the chat’ easier

Although Valentine’s Day is done and dusted, dating and sex is always a hot topic. But when you have a disability or disabled child, talking about relationships, and certainly sex, can be trickier. But fear not as writer Meghan shares her top tips on making the sex and disability chat easier.

Writing this article made me realise something – hardly anybody actually talks about sex to their teenage kids. I know that in the old days it wasn’t seen as an appropriate topic to talk about. But even now people still aren’t open about sex, and this is particularly true if you have a disability or your child does.

The ‘sex talk’

I see growing up and the ‘sex talk’ happening in stages. It starts when you hit puberty at 12 or 13 and everything about your body changes, like your voice. You get acne and you start discovering more about yourself and others.

When you’re around 14 or 15 you discover that at 16 you’ll be allowed to date. When you finally get the thumps up, that’s when you get told about condoms and birth control. But is this always the case if the 16 year old has a disability?

Added to that, some families use their religious beliefs as a factor in explaining why you should wait until you’re ready or in love to have sex. But by the age of 17 you’re grown up enough for it to be your responsibility to practice everything your parents have told you to do about safe sex. But what if you’ve not really been told it? What if you have different needs to most other teenagers, what then?

This is the evolution of the average teenager of today, but the story is a little different for somebody who has a mental and/or physical disability. Naturally parents feel awkward broaching the subject, especially when it means their teenager might need extra assistance with relationships and sex.

As a parent you might be thinking: how do I explain it all to a 12 year old whose body is experiencing the same noticeable changes as everyone else but they’re mind is somewhat younger in outlook? They might not understand it. Do you attempt to talk to them about it or do you just dodge that conversation altogether?

Also, for those who do understand but may have physical limitations, how do you explain a period in the context of them having sex and children in the future when this may not been as straightforward as it would for others? A simple conversation for some might become a bigger more complicated one. And then later on, when they maybe ask why they’re friends are having sex but they are not, how will you begin to talk about that too?

Why don’t disabled teens get the sex talk?

In my experience, and that of my friends, disabled teens don’t get ’the talk’ for two reasons. Firstly, a lot of parents and/or guardians don’t think their child will be able to understand why their bodies and minds are doing this.

Sometimes, if you think your teen wouldn’t be able to handle the conversation, then saying nothing, or keeping the advice broader and less detailed until they are a little older might be the best thing. But I wouldn’t stay away from the topic forever. Sex is everywhere – it’s in music, movies, and cable TV! The topic isn’t just going to go away on its own.

Secondly many parents feel it’s a very uncomfortable subject to talk about, disabled or not. But you’re teenager, who might be confined to crutches or a wheelchair or even less able to communicate, will be just as curious as anyone else would be about sex and relationships. Isn’t it therefore unfair to leave them with unanswered questions?

We must talk about sex and disability

Everybody’s disability is different and some conditions can be more severe than others. It still doesn’t mean that they can’t find ways to have sex. Some may not be able to masturbate and then some can. Either way, everything should be explained in some form or another.

If you’re a parent, the key thing is that your teenager, or young adult, shouldn’t have to rely on friends or other people to tell them about sex. They need to know about how and why their bodies are changing and what sex is. And if you’re disabled yourself, it’s important that you stress this to your parents – you have a right to know, just like anyone else.

Making the sex talk easier – tips for parents and teenagers

To all of the parents and/or guardians, here are some tips for things to keep in mind and to try and make the talk less stressful.

  1. Remember they’re not babies anymore! You really need to keep that in mind when it comes time to talk about sex. Just because they may need more assistance with certain things, doesn’t mean they’re not grown up.
  2. You should feel honoured that they’re coming to you for advice. They could just as easily go to their friends. But their friends could have a difficult time explaining things too. They might give misleading or harmful advice, or they may not understand that person’s question and might react in a hurtful way.
  3. Be open to their questions and don’t make them feel ashamed for asking anything.
  4. You can leave out certain things if you feel they’re not quite ready – you don’t want to overload them. But make sure you’re clear that you are open to any questions.
  5. If you really don’t know where to start, do some research or speak to someone for advice first. There are a lot of organisations that can help, such as Enhance the UK, MyHandicap and SHADA.

Now for all of the adults or teens that need advice on how to get your parents or any other family member to give an honest talk about it. Here are some tips for you…

  1. Prove to them that you’re ready to talk about sex by being the one to broach the subject. Tell them that you can handle it.
  2. Your parents/friends are going to be a little hesitant at first, so you should start small. Talk about your body changes, for example.
  3. If you’re going to ask your friend(s), chose one that is you can trust and that has known you for years and understand the adjustments you need.
  4. Don’t force the subject or question on someone – if they don’t know how to really answer it, rephrase it or move on to the next question.
  5. There are a lot of online forums and websites too that offer advice, such as Outsiders, Sexuality and Disability and Cosrt. Either look at these yourself, or use them as a way to open up the conversation with your family/friend.

By Meghan

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