Reproductive and sexual health is a natural part of everyone’s life, but seems to be a very taboo topic for individuals with IDD. Reproductive and sexual education is taught in most public schools all across the United States, but not many programs are out there that explain it so that individuals with IDD can fully understand. If we truly want these individuals to live healthy fulfilling lives, educating them about sexual health should be included. Part of living a fulfilling life is to find healthy relationships that help you throughout life’s ups and downs and increase your emotional happiness, so why should that be any different for individuals with IDD.
While this topic can be uncomfortable and scary to discuss with those you care for, it is necessary. There are stereotypes out there regarding this topic such as – individuals with IDD are asexual or, just the opposite, that they have an over-sexual drive that they can’t control. These stereotypes are just not true. They go through the same feelings and emotions that any other individual may have, but with the subject commonly being overlooked they may not understand what is happening in their bodies or how to properly deal with those feelings in ways that are socially acceptable. Teaching behaviors like when and where certain behaviors are acceptable, proper communication, mutual consent between individuals, and how to be smart/safe about protecting yourself in different situations is essential. A lot of this type of education is about teaching appropriate behaviors while the rest is presenting the actual facts.
Many individuals with disabilities have girlfriends/boyfriends, so it is important for them to know the options about if they are going to act on their feelings how to be safe to prevent the transmission of STD’s and unplanned pregnancy (unless in confliction with religious, cultural beliefs, etc.). Since many of these individuals may have pre-existing medications they take, consulting their physician is the best way to figure out what method of prevention is appropriate and safe for each individual. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently stated that birth control and reproductive health should be integrated to become a part of regular care for individuals with IDD.
Another very key reason why this topic should be addressed is because individuals with IDD are at a much higher risk of being sexually assaulted. Statistics say that an alarming 80% of females and 30% of males with IDD are sexually abused during their lifetime. Learning about the difference between good and bad relationships and appropriate boundaries is essential. This type of education will help teach individuals that it is OK to speak up and say no in a situation they are not comfortable in and hopefully will help to prevent these types of incidents from occurring to individuals with IDD in the future.
While it’s a difficult subject for a lot of people, it’s important that we learn to properly teach individuals with IDD about reproductive and sexual health. The Arc’s HealthMeet project has a resource section that contains information about puberty, sexuality and more. Teaching individuals to understand their bodies and feelings will lead to healthier relationships in the future.