What’s the difference?

My research focuses mainly on sex education when it comes to people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. I get asked a lot what needs to be different, why anything needs to be different. And the question itself speaks volumes. As able-bodied people, it can be easy to assume that sex is the same for everyone and that, therefore, the basics that need to be taught – sexual health, consent – are universal.

But disability of any kind brings different life experiences, and they can’t be removed from the sphere of sex and relationships. Consent can be a concept riddled with complexity (the giving of it, not the need for it). If I say no, will they still like me? Is everyone else doing this? These are concerns that we are familiar with addressing as educators, but we’re less familiar with the added layer that can come with disability.

In essence, the reason why sex education needs to be differentiated is because disability does not exist in a vacuum. A disabled person is still a disabled person when they’re in a relationship, and if they can be helped to figure out the complexities of this safely, before they have sex, it has to have an impact on how they experience sex and relationships.

And finally, it’s a personal one. I learned over a very long time how to reconcile my disability with my relationships, but I wish I hadn’t had to spend so long, or have so many negative experiences, to do that. I hope that by tailoring the curriculum, many young people will feel like their disabilities don’t hold them back from any aspect of their lives, including sex.

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