Let’s Talk About SEX

Just like many other fathers with a 22 year old daughter, I’m constantly thinking about sex. No—not my sexuality, hers. Our nation’s youth are sexually maturing at a startling pace. Today it’s not unusual to see boys and girls in their early teens experimenting and exploring their sexuality. But what if that young man or woman has special needs? The answer is complicated.

Today I begin a series of weekly blog entries on Sexuality and Special Needs.

Kathy and Me

Dr. Phil

Let me begin by saying that while I may have some similar physical attributes with Dr. Phil (especially our hairline), I am not a trained professional. I am simply the dad of a special needs daughter. And I admit that the subject of her sexuality is constantly weighing heavily on my mind. Will she engage in a sexual relationship? Will she marry and have children? What about an unplanned pregnancy? Is she a potential victim for a sexual predator? What is my responsibility as both her parent and as her legal guardian? So many questions … so little guidance!

In doing some research for this article, I found a broad range of issues that are being discussed that spans all aspects of relationships and sexuality, such as friendships, sex education, masturbation and even the use of prostitutes. I’m not going to touch on some of these subjects which remain far too controversial for a general special needs parenting focus. I will focus on those things that I have experienced as a parent and those things that I think might best help you as a parent.

Let’s start with Social Relationships.

Sexuality ostensibly is a function of social relationships. The special needs adult who seeks intimacy and a corresponding sexual relationship will first look to their existing social relationships for a suitable partner. For this reason, it is never too early to begin helping your child develop social relationships that will last for years to come.

Dr. Brian Abery, a researcher and the Coordinator of School Age Services for the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota offers an outstanding list of DOs and DON’Ts on how parents can encourage social inclusion for preteens with special needs. This article is a “must read” for any parent whose special needs child will someday face the challenges of integrating into our ever-more-social world. The entire article can be read here: www.healthyplace.com/parenting/child-development-institute/do-you-like-me/menu-id-1638/

My wife Kathy and I never had the benefit of this excellent list, but in retrospect, we have followed most of the guidance offered by Dr. Abery. Since she was in grade school, our goal was to help Melissa develop a strong circle of friends, both inside and outside the classroom (the place where most youth connect with others). We also sought out positive role models with the hope that Melissa might model her own life and values after those she saw in others. Finally we created a trusting, protected environment for her to nurture those relationships, frequently hosting her friends to “hang out” at our home.

So you might ask, what does this have to do with sex?

Everything! Now as a young adult, we can see the value that these social relationships provide. As Melissa has moved into new socially-challenging environments (new schools, workplaces) she has been able to independently engage others and expand her social network. And as she begins to explore her own sexuality through dating, she is able to reach into a large group of people that she (and we) know and trust.

Next week I will continue the series where I will cover “Having the Talk”, “Safe Sex and Contraception”, “Personal Safety”, and lots more.

To prepare for that discussion, I want to take you back 35 YEARS.

Below is a link to a 1975 training video called “The ABCs of Sex Education for Trainables”. It was created by Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania for teachers and social workers who were working with the mentally impaired (which they disgustingly refer to in the film as trainables). The goal of the video was to help educate the mentally disabled about sex.

I must warn you that this is a VERY difficult film for a special needs parent to watch. But I think it will help put next week’s posting into perspective as we embark on some challenging topics. Nothing is better at helping us keep an open mind than to see how far our society has already come. This video certainly demonstrates that!


I encourage your feedback on this series, this entry, the video, or anything else you would like to share. Until then …


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