Relationships & Sex

Navigating the ‘sex talk’ with your disabled teen

Talking about sex and sexuality with your teenager is difficult for any parent. It can make them anxious and even give them sleepless nights. For parents who have a child with an intellectual or developmental disability, the idea of having a sex talk can seem even trickier. Resource website Cerabal Palsy FAQs explains how to make this conversation easier.

Talking about the birds and bees may be something you would rather avoid. But it is something parents need to discuss with their teens and pre-teens, regardless of their condition.

Puberty can become very confusing for any child, but particularly one with a disability. As their body starts to develop, they’ll be left with a million questions. It can be hard for them to accept the changes, but with the correct education, they can learn to appreciate their body and develop a positive attitude towards it.

As your child grows and becomes a young adult, having sensible advice enables them to embrace a healthy sexual outlook and stay safe. Here are some tips to help navigate the ‘sex talk’ and make it less awkward.

Have all the facts ready

Before you get started, have all of the information at your fingertips. Collect articles, books and DVDs on disability and sexuality and, after the talk, let them explore and learn further. 

If you’re not sure where to find information, talk to an organisation – such as Mencap, Scope, FPA and Enhance the UKthat have resources on disabilities and sex.

Speak to other parents who have a teen with disabilities and any medical professionals you’re in contact with. Getting support from different people enables you to face the issue head-on without embarrassment.

It’s vital that you also ask their teacher about the sex education provided by the school to avoid confusing your child. Knowing what they have learned already enables you to use the given resources to build on the advice.

Use the right language

Decide in advance the words you will use. It may become hard, but it’s vital you use medical terms, such as penis and vagina instead of vague terms, such as ‘front bottom.’ These may give your child a wrong impression of the genitals.

You may opt to use anatomically correct dolls to teach your child the difference between females and males. Explain that puberty happens to all children and that feelings and body changes are part of their growth.

Start with the basics first

Sex education is a broad topic with an array of information to pass onto your child.

Explain the least complicated and necessary facts, and the rest should continue as the child grows older and understands his or her sexuality in more detail. 


You might want to start by buying them all the things that they will need for good hygiene, such as sanitary pads, shaving cream, soap and deodorant. Depending on your child’s level of understanding, make sure you explain the basics too, such as how to use pads or a razor.

Private vs public

Teach your child the power of differentiating between private and public. Talk about the different body parts and what’s appropriate to show, as well as clothing and how we use it to cover up. Also, talk about hugging, kissing – what’s acceptable and what’s not – and public displays of affection.

Owning their body

It’s important that your teen owns their own body and understands that they should not allow anyone to touch them without consent.

Stress that it’s okay to say “no” and get them to practise this using eye contact and assertive body language.

Additionally, talk about uncomfortable and comfortable types of touching. For example, discuss what might happen when they visit a doctor for a check-up. Also, teach them to report anything that makes them feel violated or uncomfortable.

Be open about desires and feelings

Just like anyone else, disabled people have desires, feelings, and sexual attraction. It’s important to be open about this and not to make them feel different or that it’s wrong.

Make a point of discussing sexuality openly but on their comfort level. Avoid such talk in public places and embrace one-on-one discussion in the privacy of your home.

If your child tells you something in confidence, such as their admiration for a particular person, keep it secret. Becoming their confidant helps them to understand the importance of privacy.

Emphasise the critical points of sexuality and discuss masturbation as a natural and healthy way to express and explore sexuality, but it should be done in private places.

Take it slowly and try different methods

It’s possible that your first talk won’t go exactly as planned or be fully understood, or that they won’t be ready. Don’t let that discourage you. Let go of a past approach and experiment with new ones. 

Try breaking down the concepts into smaller parts and use a range of different methods to increase the retention rate.

Overall, make the sex talk natural and fun, but even more importantly, take it slow, be patient, and understand the emotions and hormonal turbulence associated with puberty. 

Keep in mind a system that works for one family may not work for another. Continue trying different approaches until you find one that is fun and acceptable by both you and your child.

Most importantly, don’t force the conversation on them as this could lead to rebellion. Instead, try to find the right time for them so that they are comfortable and more open to it.

Allow them to talk to others

In case your child prefers to talk to someone else about their sexual feelings, allow them to do so. Letting your child talk to a person they trust most about their sexual feelings and body changes will help them transit to adulthood with ease.

Also allow them to use third-party sources to get information, such as a counsellor or family therapist, but make sure they are trusted. Anything explored online should be monitored and consider getting parental controls added installed.

Encourage continued questions

It’s unlikely that you will have covered everything in your first talk, and they may have subsequent thoughts and questions.

After your initial discussion, encourage your child to talk more than once and ask subsequent questions.

Depending on how easily they tend to understand things, be ready to talk about the same topic numerous times until your child gets the concepts. For some children with a developmental disability, you need constant reinforcement and a reminder of their sexual feelings.

Also, ask them questions after every discussion to ensure they have understood. Remind them that the discussion didn’t have to end when they stopped talking – you’re always there to talk further.

By Cerebral Palsy FAQs

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