A healthy approach to the sex talk

While many parents can find it uncomfortable, sexual health education is a crucial part a child’s upbringing. DANIE BREEDT gives some tips on how to approach the discussion, including talking to children with disabilities

Learning to access sex education as well as talk openly and honestly about sexual health is an important part of growing up.

Young people who understand their own bodies, rights, and experiences may find it easier to communicate their needs and have them respected.

All youth should be supported to receive the knowledge, attitudes, behaviours and skills they need to stay healthy in relationships and protected from abuse.

Similar to sex education in general, it is often the discomfort of the parent that is the biggest obstacle to youth accessing appropriate information. Creating an environment that is conducive to discussing sexuality will make it much easier for you and your child to have the necessary discussions.

Conversations around sexuality shouldn’t be a once-off information-giving session but rather continuous discussions that encourage independent thinking, decision-making and setting personal boundaries.

There are wonderful resources available to guide your discussions with your child and for them to work through on their own. However, resources should never replace open conversations aboutsexuality.

When talking about sexuality isn’t encouraged, it sends a message to your children that sexuality is something of which to be ashamed; it’s wrong. This is exactly the opposite of what the goal of sexual education should be.

Sexuality is a normal part of being human and the changes that teenagers go through physically could be disorientating for them if we don’t normalise it.

In addition to the general sex education approach, sex education for a child with a disability should also include a few extra aspects.

“People with disabilities can have fulfilling romantic and sexual lives.”

Firstly, it is important to emphasise that people with disability can also have fulfilling romantic and sexual lives.

Self-concept and social perceptions can often hinder the process of self-discovery and prevent them from experiencing healthy perceptions about sexuality.

It is also important as a parent to give your child the necessary information about how their disability affects sexuality. This includes sexual functioning, menstruation, fertility and assistive devices or practices.

The rates of sexual abuse are shockingly high for people with disabilities. This abuse mainly occurs before the age of 18 and often goes unreported. It is therefore vitally important that we teach our children with physical disabilities about acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviour and healthy boundaries.

It is unfortunate that society has many myths around sexuality and disabilities. This can be countered to some extent by preparing our children for these misconceptions and teaching them that they are not defined by their disability or illness.

All humans have a need and the right to be loved and accepted, regardless of the obstacles.

ContributorDr Danie Breedt is a passionate scholar-practitioner in the field of psychology. He divides his time between training, research and clinical practice. Danie works from an integrative interactional approach in psychotherapy, dealing with a wide range of emotional difficulties and sexual rehabilitation for patients with disabilities. He is the co-owner of Charis Psychological Services, a psychology practice that specialises in physical rehabilitation across South Africa.