Sex Education, Sexual Health and Disability

** Content notes: Sex, Sexual Assault

A disability advocate on twitter from the US said “If you talk about disability and you don’t talk about sex, you are treating us like we are children.”


I have two stories to share and before I share those stories, I need to share this to preserve privacy.

I have lived in three different provinces in this country.

I have worked in both Deaf and hearing non-profit organizations in a variety of settings. (Supportive housing, independent housing, day programs, etc.)

I have worked in multiple school locations.

I have two really important stories to share.

Story #1

I knew a 15-year-old teenage girl with Down Syndrome who was raped by two boys from her high school and became pregnant from that rape. Her parents pulled her from school, and I never saw her again. I don’t want to explain our connection but when I heard the news, I felt such deep sadness and deep anger.

On a similar topic, but not connected to her rape, that school year her parents refused to sign a sex education health class participation form. They thought that because she has Down Syndrome, sex isn’t an issue in her life.  When I was in college for the Developmental Service Worker program, I had to take a class on abuse.  In the class we learned how predators choose people with disabilities to rape, and then will say that they consented. “They said yes,” is the rapist’s defense. What exactly did they say yes to? Then the parents have to take their disabled child to court and convince the court they are incapable of making decisions in order to have their child’s rapist arrested. Then their child, due to the court decision, will never be able to make any important decision regarding their life ever again. The abuse continues.

Story #2

This was another important person in my life. He was 16 years old. He was living in care. Like any healthy teenager he would masturbate.  However, he would become aggressive and frustrated.  They wanted to bring in a sex therapist to teach him to complete. Twelve professionals around a large table were in the meeting to discuss this plan with his mother and request her permission. His mother was stunned for the whole two-hour meeting. She thought because of the type of intellectual disability her son had, that his hormones would match, and she struggled accepting the content of the meeting. For the next two years his world shrunk. There were talks of removing him from school because he was pulling his pants down in the hallways and masturbating frequently. We couldn’t take him out in public because of his sexual behaviour. They were concerned someone would call the police.  He was under house arrest, essentially. It was devastating to watch this to happen to someone for something that was so natural and instinctive and human and with such a simple solution. It wasn’t until he was 18 when they were legally allowed to hire a sex therapist and his whole world changed.  He was able to have his private time and live a fulfilling life. What a disservice to this young man, to need to wait until he was 18 years old, and so life shaping.

People with developmental disabilities are often provided zero sexual health information or information that is not intended to really meet them where they are so they can find the information relative and useful. This is a complete disservice from our society.

People have different comfort levels when they talk about sex and sexual health.  People with disabilities should not have their sex lives be dependent on other people’s comfort levels. They deserve to feel sexual pleasure and have sexual protection.  

I have witnessed sexual health in education intended to teach people with disabilities, and I can tell you that those education moments were not designed for the community that they were teaching.  The sexual health teaching was a joke. It was checking off a box to say complete. We need to include sexual health but also focus beyond just sex and focus on relationship health.  Disability organizations supporting teenagers and adults through the lifespan have a responsibility to provide environments for romantic relationships to develop and grow through the lifespan. LBGTQIA2S+ included.

People with disabilities deserves better.

Over twenty years ago, I was in the Developmental Service Program at Humber College. Myself and another student each won an award for our academic accomplishments. We were awarded a free pass for a professional conference. We got a sneak peak into the professional world before graduation. I was listening to advocates already working in the system, discussing disability rights issues. I overheard one of the advocates say on our bus tour, one way to judge a disability non-profit organization that offers supportive housing, is to ask how many of their clients are married or in relationships. This particular organization boasted that they had six married couples living in supportive housing.

A friend of mine of Facebook a couple of years ago, shared an article. A woman when she reached her 100th birthday in Toronto was asked if she regrets anything about her life. Her response? She said, “I wish I had more sex. Well, it has been 30 years!”  Google that topic! She’s not the only one.

Humans have a natural sexual physiological drive. When we talk about disabilities and mental health, physical health, emotional health, social health, let’s not forget sexual health.  Let’s be honest. Sex is an important part of my life. How about you?