Disability, sex education and language.

I post a lot on my instagram about language and how it matters when we’re talking about sex with young people with disabilities. I have more to say on it than I think one post can cover, so today I’m going to look at including reference to disability in your language.

For many young people with disabilities, especially those in mainstream schools, they don’t often see themselves represented in discussions about sex. I’m thinking particularly of high frequency disabilities such as asthma, diabetes or allergies that can have small but impactful effects on their sex lives.

Addressing this doesn’t have to be as awkward as people think it will be when I first mention it. “Do I have to run through all the disabilities in every session I teach?”, “won’t they just ask if that effects them?”, are common questions I get when I bring this up, and the answer to both of them is usually ‘no’. Most students won’t have ever thought about chronic illness or disability unless it directly affects them, so having a reminder when discussing communication or consent that they should check in on whether their partner has any health issues they should be aware of might genuinely be the first time they’ve considered it. It also speaks to the disabled young people in the room who would never know how to bring it up to someone without health issues. Which brings me on to the second question.

Young people who have a disability have often had it for the majority of their lives. Chances are, even with the best care or support, they’ve felt like an outsider because of it more than once. It’s unlikely that they would put themselves in that position again.

Inclusivity of language when it comes to talking about disabilities in general isn’t difficult – it’s quite simply a case of acknowledging that disabilities exist. Of asking young people to take account of the things they need to know about their partner in order to engage in good communication, of reminding young people with disabilities that their disability should never be a burden.

Practical examples that could be impactful to young people could include:

  • Reminding a group that latex allergies exist and that this is something to be aware of when using condoms;
  • Talking about the fact that there are several health conditions that can make hormonal contraception an unviable option, and that no one should be made to feel bad for this;
  • Talking about the fact that sex can be many different things and that some people may change the position or way they have sex due to their health needs;
  • Reminding them that sex is a physical activity and that some people may find this harder than others, and that checking in is always a good thing.

None of this needs to be awkward or difficult, and it is never unnecessary. For those that don’t have a disability, it reminds them that they might have to learn to accommodate different needs in the future, and for those that do, it shows that this accommodation isn’t a burden or a privilege, but a right.

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