More Sex Talk

Every day we are bombarded with images of sexuality. Even Disney movies have sexual references. So it should be no surprise that our special needs children will become interested in the topic of sex! What, if anything, should we do about it?

Have “the talk” of course. But for those parents of children with cognitive impairment, having a discussion about the “birds and bees” can be challenging. Procrastination is common, justifying the delay by thinking that he/she is not ready yet. But I’ve found that our kids know a LOT more than we give them credit for!

My daughter Melissa didn’t start “dating” until she was 20. We didn’t push it, but let her take the lead. My wife and I felt that she would take the first step when she felt comfortable. And eventually she did. After she spent some “quality” time with her then-current boyfriend, I asked her about KISSING.

I asked if she knew how to kiss. “Yes, Dad” she replied. I asked how she knew she was doing it right. I asked where she learned to kiss. “Watching movies” she said matter-of-factly. This conversation then led to having the “talk”.

Throughout our brief conversation, she kept saying “I know Dad”. She told me that she had learned this stuff in her “dating” class in school. Since then I’ve learned that educators are making a concerted effort to expose special education students to the realities of reproduction and even the social implications as it relates to dating. I’m not sure that Melissa got anything from our little chat … but I know that I felt better!

Sexually transmitted disease knows no boundaries. Protection must be a high priority for anyone who is sexually active. Unwanted pregnancy is an important consideration for any young adult, and especially important for those with special needs whose life might be threatened by pregnancy or who are cognitively unprepared to raise a child.

In both cases, options for protection and/or contraception may be narrower due to a chronic medical condition or disability. For example, those who are allergic to latex need to use non-latex condoms and dental dams for safer sex. Physicians of those with poor circulation or mobility may recommend against taking the pill because of a higher risk of getting thrombosis (blood clots). Of course religious beliefs also play a role in the methods of contraception that might be available for a young adult.

Controversy continues over the use of sterilization procedures for men and women with mental handicaps. Advocates, many of whom are caretakers and guardians of mentally challenged adults, believe that tubal ligation and vasectomies protect their loved ones from unwanted pregnancies that can harm the adult and the newborn. Many guardians prefer to have their family doctor inset IUDs or give birth control injections to prevent pregnancy. Advocates for the disabled, however, continue to fight for the autonomous rights of all individuals to select their birth control methods. They say that the side effects of certain birth control devices are not always taken into consideration by caretakers and guardians when making these decisions.

Researchers at the Western Journal of Medicine argue that those who are incompetent to make their own medical decisions should have the decision made for them about the kinds of birth control they use. Studies done showed that 85 percent of parents of developmentally disabled children agreed that they would prefer to use permanent sterilization methods to prevent pregnancy in their children.

So what is the right answer?

Frankly I don’t think that there is one single answer. Just like each disability is unique, so is each situation. I believe that you must let your conscience be your guide. That is the way you are managing the health and well-being of your child, and this falls directly into that category. When the time comes, I’m sure you will make the right decision for your child.


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