How to talk to your disabled teen about sex
Welcome back to Caring About Sex and Disability with your fave disabled person on the internet, me, Andrew Gurza.
One of the things that is sorely lacking in our sex education today, is sex education that is geared towards disabled teenagers and disabled people in general. It is not something that is taught in schools or in any major way pretty much anywhere. This can leave a disabled teen feeling more confused and full of questions, and also with a stinging realization that they were not included in the conversation, and that can be a really tough pill to swallow. So, let’s crack into it!
I remember when I was a teenager way back in 1998, and I can remember going to health class and being asked if I really wanted to be there because ‘I didn’t need to learn all this’. At the time, that meant that I had free time and as a 14 year old that felt awesome. Some 25 years later though at 39, looking back on that memory I feel cheated out of an opportunity to learn; cheated out of an opportunity to ask questions about my disabled body and what that would mean for my intimate life. I had and have so many questions: “what does accessible sex look like?” “how do I deal with ableism in the bedroom?” “how do you get STI testing when you’re disabled?” and so many more. It can make you feel unprepared as a disabled person trying to access their sexuality, and it is extremely unsettling and embarrassing to be in a sexual situation and realise that you don’t know something that you should have had access to – trust me, I have been there too many times to count. Disabled sex ed needs to be a priority, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it would instil sexual confidence in disabled youth to know that when the time comes, they are armed with the right information.
Another thing that I would like to address in this blog is how parents of disabled youth and teens can have a talk about sexuality that includes their disabilities. This can be such a difficult conversation to start because if there is little to no information for the youth themselves, there is just as little for their families to guide them. So, let me offer you a few conversation starters below.
#1: Let your disabled teen know that sex will look and feel different for them.
I offer this one because in disability discourse we often hear the phrase, “just like everyone else”. While I understand the sentiment, I think it can be jarring when a disabled person realizes that isn’t always true, especially in the bedroom. By letting your teen know that their disability may alter what they thought sex might look like, this sets realistic expectations for them when the time comes. Remind them that while it may look different, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, that might mean that it’s better.
#2: Broaden The Discussion Around Consent
I think it is important to talk about consent – always. But, I believe that when you are disabled, consent goes deeper than just yes and no. When you are disabled and you need help with caregiving to even access sex, consent means letting someone into your disabled world in a way that can be scary; letting someone undress you and reposition you and see you at one of your most vulnerable points can be daunting – trust. So talk to your kid about what yes means too, and the trust they’ll have to build. Ask them if they’re comfy with that, and how that makes them feel.
#3: Internalised Ableism In The Bedroom
Let your disabled youth know that internalised ableism – when disabled people turn ableist messaging in on themselves – may be present in the bedroom. They may second guess their sexual ability and attractiveness as a result of internalised ableism. Ask your disabled teen how they feel about internalised ableism, and if disability affects how they feel about their body.
There is so much more to explore here, but I hope that the above gives you parents of disabled teens a start to have conversations around sex. If you read this and have any more questions, please get in touch with the team at Care Rehab as they are able to support your family as you navigate these issues, or leave a comment below and I’ll answer back.
Until next time – I care about having these important discussions with you all.