Young people with disabilities aren’t being taught sex-ed — and it’s putting them in danger

Young people with disabilities aren’t being taught sex-ed — and it’s putting them in danger
For any young person, missing out on a robust education about sexual health education can put them at an increased risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies, among other things, says Alex McKay, the executive director at the .

One 2014 report  on young adolescents and sexual health says early intervention is key in building healthy future relationships.

What are young kids taught about violence against women?

What are young kids taught about violence against women?

Other research  suggests that teaching kids the proper names for their genitals at a young age is important “given that children are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse during the preschool years.”

McKay says that if a child does not know how to identify their genitals, they are going to be “less well equipped to report inappropriate touching or abuse.”

When kids receive accurate and age-appropriate information about sexual and gender identity, Mackay says, they are more likely to practice acceptance and promote inclusivity. This is especially important for children who may be members of the LGBTQ2 community.

This conversation is even more critical for youth with disability, who are more vulnerable to sexual violence. The education is also key to providing a foundation for people with disabilities to voice their unique “needs” when it comes to sex.

“I was … asking people with disabilities how they talked to a partner about their disability, and some of them didn’t even mention their disability,” McPherson said.

This can lead to miscommunication and distrust between partners, but it can also make sex dissatisfying for people with disability.

“My thinking is that, if we build these blocks in children and young people, [we] will really set the foundation for adulthood, when they make decisions about their body and have relationships,” said McPherson.

“This isn’t actually about sex — it’s about the conversation, getting kids comfortable with their body, encouraging them to explore their body, talking about appropriate and inappropriate touch.

“All of these things lead to healthy relationships.”

Young adults aged 18 to 25 with self-identified disabilities told McPherson that, moving forward, they want health care providers to raise the topic of sexual health without making any assumptions or judgments.

“The overwhelming theme was about creating safe spaces and how health care professionals could create safe spaces for them to feel that they could talk about something as vulnerable as their sexuality,” she said.

“They didn’t want to have to put it out there themselves the first time.”

Youth are also looking for understanding from health care providers that sex and sexuality are very different for everyone.

“A lot of it was not making assumptions about whether someone’s having sex, who they’re having sex with, what their gender identity might be … it’s really this idea of a safe space where they can express themselves without worrying about [if the conversation] will affect their relationship with their health care provider,” she said.

This can present a unique challenge for people with disabilities, because they often remain with one health care provider over many years.

Logie says the approach to teaching all youth — but especially youth with disabilities — about sexual health needs to be sex-positive and intersectional.

“When youth [and adults] are not provided information about sexual consent, about their bodies, and about what sex and safer sex may look like for them, it can result in less sexual agency, awareness and knowledge, that in turn can be associated with poorer sexual health outcomes and increased likelihood of abuse,” Logie said.

“I think sex-positive, LGBTQ2+ and disability inclusive, intersectional approaches to comprehensive sexuality education are needed for youth with disabilities to realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
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