Two secs about sex: what is it?

One of the most challenging aspects of adapting Relationships and Sex Education for those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities is the lack of an essential definition.

The curriculum defines the need for students to know about reproduction, but how often are reproduction and sex separate? Sex is not always (or, in many cases, often) about producing children. The element of sex that is for pleasure and, as it’s reverse, the element of sex that can constitute abuse, can be difficult to define.

As a loose definition, consensual sex could be considered “two people (who both want to) touching each other for pleasure”. It is a very loose definition, but does at least include all genders, sexualities and the element of consent.

In conceptualising this for young people, situational teaching is probably the best way to go about it. For example, a social story about a boy and girl having sex at a party, or a couple deciding to have sex after talking about it.

For young people with SEND, a visual representation of these situations could work best. This is difficult due to pornography laws, but is the best way for many learners to conceptualise these situations.

Offering students lots of situations that could be considered sex allows them to arrive at their own definition of what sex means for them. In most of our personal lives, there isn’t a standard definition of what this is and, if there is, it isn’t always rooted in its biological definition.

But, for education, we need that starting point to move off from.

How about you? How would you define sex in a gender neutral, easily understandable way?

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.

Have you got two secs?

This is, I hope, a quick introduction to what I aim to do here.

I’m a PhD student and a teacher in Special Education. My research focuses on how the UK Relationship and Sex Education curriculum needs to be adapted to young adults with Special Educational Needs.

That means a lot, but, above all, it means talking about sex with young people, and it means being frank about it. And it doesn’t have to be a long, specially designed conversation. My idea is that positive Relationships and Sex Education can be a short, regular conversation.

I’ll be posting on Sundays with short conversations about sex that you can have with young people, teaching tips and curriculum adaptations.

I believe everyone needs good RSE, and everyone deserves to have a great relationship and sex life.

Please stay around, hopefully we can start something great here.