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We need to show real photos of genitals as part of sex education

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Labiaplasty is on the rise. Boys and men continue to worry that their penis is too small. Every other week there seems to be a new treatment promising to make your penis longer and harder or your vagina tighter, smoother, and more sparkly.

These treatments prey on our insecurities – our deep, dark worry that there’s something wrong with our genitals. That they’re not ‘normal’.

It’s no wonder we think that, though, when we don’t get to see a range of all the different ways vaginas and penises can look.

If you’re interested in same-sex relationships or, well, sex, you’ll likely get to see a few more genitals that look a bit like yours.

But this only happens once you start getting to the point of stripping down – a point you’re unlikely to reach if you’re so filled with doubt and self-hatred for the appearance of your genitals that you can’t even imagine letting someone else see them.

And for those who exclusively get busy with people of the opposite sex, it’s easy to never see a real-life alternative of your own sex-specific genitals out in the world.

Instead, you see smoothed, Barbie-perfect versions of vaginas and whopping great penises that stay erect for hours in porn.

You see blurred out images online or dainty flowers, or bananas and crude doodles to illustrate their place.

When you never see genitals that look even a tiny bit like yours, you’re going to worry that you’re abnormal, that something’s wrong, that you need to change yourself.

That’s why we need to get in there early, and show students actual photos of actual vaginas and penises.

Not doodles.

Not just vague diagrams of the reproductive system.

Actual photos or – if that greatly offends you for reasons I don’t understand – a wide range of illustrations that shows all the parts of the genitals and all the different ways they can look.

Students should see where the clitoris is, because if they don’t they’ll struggle to give women pleasure or experience it themselves.

Students should understand what a circumcised penis looks like versus an uncircumcised one.

Students should see longer labia, different skin tones, penises that are short and fat, penises that are long and lean. A range of healthy genitals to expand the definition of ‘normal’ in young people’s minds.

‘Relationships and Sex Education is an opportunity to challenge the idea that any one type of body is ‘normal’,’ Lisa Hallgarten, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, told metro.co.uk.

‘Learning about and celebrating body diversity may start with simply thinking about the different heights; body shapes; hair, eye and skin colour of people we can see around us; and learning about the difference between female and male body parts.

‘When it comes to genitals young people may think their own are unusual or unhealthy because they haven’t seen any images of different bodies, or because many sexual images they have accessed online depict a particular type of body (e.g. men with very large penises and women with hairless, surgically-altered vulvas).

‘Whether we use photographs, anatomical drawings or art works (such as Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina) it is essential that any images we show properly represent the great diversity that exists in the shapes and sizes of people’s genitals.’

Hear hear.

Seeing these images before we start having sex or having the power to make changes to our bodies through surgery or other means is incredibly important.

How we view our bodies informs how we view ourselves. It affects our sexual relationships, our decisions, our mental state.

Knowing that our genitals are okay, that there’s nothing wrong, gross, or weird about them just because they don’t match the images we see in porn, will inform healthier sexual decisions, make us more confident, and prevent people from considering drastic measures to ‘fix’ themselves.

As someone who was so self-concious about my vagina that I blamed it for breakups and went to the doctor to beg them to change the appearance of my vulva, I know how powerful learning that your genitals are normal can be.

It’s not just about seeing genitals similar to your own, mind you.

Seeing real, intimate pictures of bits of all genders will make sex significantly less intimidating.

If you’re shown accurate images of all different genitals, you won’t be confused and horrified when you start having sex and are greeted by a penis or vagina that looks entirely unlike the ones you’ve seen in porn.

Adding real images to sex ed will make people more understanding of the range of normal for the opposite sex, too. So boys won’t take the piss out of women’s labia or the size of their vagina*, and girls won’t say cruel things about the size of someone’s penis.**

*No, you can not tell how much sex someone’s had by how tight or loose a vagina feels. No, you should not make up songs about women’s ‘flaps hanging low’.

**No, it’s not cool to tell people your ex has a small dick just because he p*ssed you off.

It’ll make our sex lives better, too. There’ll be a greater understanding of how penises and vaginas work, and lots more pleasure happening when everyone understands where the clitoris is, which bits of the penis are more sensitive, and what to expect when they start going down.

Oh, and knowing the range of normal will make it easier to know when something’s gone a bit wrong.

If we know all the different ways a healthy vagina or penis can look, we’ll be more able to quickly notice a change in appearance or a dodgy symptom – and because we’re not holding on to the heavy worry of ‘what if my entire downstairs area is completely abnormal and the doctor will recoil in horror’, we’ll feel more able to ask for help.

And, of course, openly presenting students with pictures of genitals is all part of chipping away at our general silence and squeamishness around our bits.

Penises and vaginas are not inherently gross, or dirty, or wrong. We should be able to talk about them, ask questions about them, and not feel disgusted or scared when it comes to being presented with their natural states (*cough* periods are not gross, neither is body hair, and ‘vagina’ is not a dirty word *cough*).

Complete Article HERE!

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Reality Check: Anal Sex

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First it was shocking, then it was having a cultural moment, now it’s practically standard in the modern bedroom repertoire—or so a quick scan of any media, from porn to HBO, will tell you. But the reality about anal is not, actually, that everyone’s doing it, says research psychoanalyst and author Paul Joannides, Psy.D., whose comprehensive book on sexuality, The Guide to Getting it On!, is used in college and medical school sex-ed courses across the US and Canada. The book is amazing not just for its straight-up factual information on practically any aspect of sex you can think of, but also for its easy, nonjudgmental, at-times humorous tone.

The CDC reports that the number of heterosexual men and women who’ve tried it vacillates between 30 and 40 percent (oddly, the CDC doesn’t report on how many homosexual men have tried it, except in a statistic that weirdly combines it with oral). If anal turns you on, you are definitely not alone, but its prevalence doesn’t change the fact that it’s the riskiest sexual behavior in terms of HIV and other STDs. Here, Joannides talks us through the realities of making anal both as safe and as pleasurable as possible.


A Q&A with Paul Joannides, Psy.D.

Q

When did heterosexual anal start to become a thing?

A

In the 80’s, I remember hearing from a friend that he had a videotape of anal porn. This seemed shocking at the time. (This was pre-Netflix: Everything was on videotape, from porn to Disney movies to highlights from the Olympics. Video rental stores were everywhere.) I’m not sure there are too many middle schoolers today who would be shocked or even surprised to watch anal sex on Pornhub or Xhamster.

Since porn became as easy to access as YouTube, porn producers have had to fight for clicks, and so porn has become more extreme. I’d say that by 2005, porn had totally blurred the distinction between a woman’s anus and vagina. This wasn’t because women were begging their lovers for anal, it’s because porn producers were afraid you’d click on someone else’s porn if they weren’t upping the ante in terms of shock value.


Q

Does the popularity of anal in porn reflect reality in both homosexual and heterosexual couples?

A

No. There are some couples who enjoy anal sex a lot, maybe 10 percent to 15 percent of all straight couples. But if you ask them how often they have anal vs. vaginal intercourse, they’ll say maybe they have anal one time for every five or ten times they have vaginal intercourse. We occasionally, as in once a year, hear from women who say they have anal as often as vaginal, but that’s unusual.

As for gay men, statistics vary widely, and studies aren’t always consistent in how they collect data—some might be looking at different levels of frequency, i.e. have you had anal once in the past year, or do you have it regularly? I’ve seen studies suggesting that 65 percent of men have anal sex, and others that suggest the figure is less than 50 percent. So, I don’t have exact figures for hetero or homosexual couples, but there is data suggesting that a good percentage of gay men would rather give and receive blowjobs than have anal sex.


Q

How should we modify the anal sex we see modeled in porn to best suit an in-real-life couple?

A

The way the rectum curves shortly after the opening tells us we need to make a lot of adjustments for anal to feel good. Also, the two sets of sphincter muscles that nature placed around the opening of the anus to help humans maintain their dignity when in crowded spaces (to keep poop from dropping out) mean there’s an automatic reflex if you push against them from the outside.

So one of the first things a woman or man needs to do if they want to be on the receiving end of anal sex is to teach their sphincter muscles to relax enough that a penis can get past their gates. This takes a lot of practice.

Also, unlike the vagina, the anus provides no lubrication. So in addition to teaching the sphincters to relax, and in addition to getting the angle right so you don’t poke the receiver in the wall of the rectum, you need to use lots of lube.

They show none of this in porn. Nor do they show communication, feedback, or trust. Couples who do not have excellent sexual communication, who don’t freely give and receive feedback about what feels good and what doesn’t, and who don’t have a high level of trust should not be having anal sex.


Q

What are the health risks of anal?

A

A woman has a 17-times-greater risk of getting HIV and AIDS from receiving anal intercourse than from having vaginal intercourse. So your partner needs to be wearing a condom and using lots of lube, unless both of you are true-blue monogamous, with no sexual diseases. Any sexually transmitted infection can be transmitted and received in the anus. Because of the amount of trauma the anus and rectum receive during anal intercourse, the likelihood of getting a sexually transmitted infection is higher than with vaginal intercourse.

Unprotected anal sex, regardless of whether it is practiced by straight or gay couples, is considered the riskiest activity for sexually transmitted diseases because of the physical design of the anus: It is narrow, it does not self-lubricate, and the skin is more fragile and likely to tear, allowing STDs such as HIV and hepatitis easy passage into the bloodstream.


Q

Are those risks all mitigated by the use of condoms and lube, or are there still issues, even beyond that?

A

The risks are substantially reduced by the use of condoms and lube as long as they are used correctly, but you won’t find too many condoms that say “safe for anal sex” because the FDA has not cleared condoms for use in anal sex. That said, research indicates that regular condoms hold up as well as thicker condoms for anal sex, so there’s nothing to be gained from getting heavy-duty condoms.

As for using the female condom for anal sex—studies report more slippage and more pain than with regular condoms.

Do not use numbing lube, and do not have anal sex while drunk or stoned. Pain is an important indicator that damage can occur if you don’t make the necessary adjustments, including stopping. If there is pain, perhaps try replacing a penis with a well lubed and gloved finger. The glove will help your finger glide more easily, and might be more pleasurable for the person on the receiving end. Also, this allows a woman to do anal play on a male partner. (When it comes to anal sex, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.)


Q

Are there known health consequences of anal practiced over the long-term? Can you do it too much?

A

One of the urology consultants for my book believes that unprotected anal sex can be a way for bacteria to get into the man’s prostate gland. He prefers the person with the penis that’s going into the other person’s butt use a condom.

Also, small chunks of fecal matter can lodge into the man’s urethra. So if the couple has vaginal intercourse following anal intercourse without a condom, the male partner should pee first in addition to washing his penis with soap and water.


Q

Do pre-anal enemas make a difference in terms of health safety? What about preventing accidents?

A

I know of no studies on the relationship between pre-anal enemas and health outcomes. As for its general wisdom, people seem as divided on that as on politics in Washington. So I would say, to each her own. Also, some people use a “short shot,” which is a quick enema with one of those bulb devices instead of using a bag and going the full nine yards. In any case, accidents are likely to happen at one time or another.


Q

What tests should people be getting if they practice anal?

A

There’s “should” and there’s reality. If I were on the receiving end of anal sex, I would want to be sure my partner did not have HIV before I’d even let him get close to my bum with his penis.


Q

Probably more people try anal today than in the past—are there ways to make a first experience a good one?

A

Both of you should read all you can about it first. Spend a few weeks helping the receiving partner train her/his anal sphincters to relax. Make sure you and your partner have great sexual communication, trust, and that you both want to do it, as opposed to one trying to pressure the other, or not wanting to do it but doing it because you are afraid your partner will find someone else who will. Do not do it drunk or stoned, and do not use lube that numbs your anus. If it doesn’t feel good when it’s happening, stop.


Q

Do people orgasm from anal stimulation? Is it common or uncommon?


A

Some women say they have amazing orgasms from anal, but usually they will be stimulating their clitoris at the same time.


Q

Does it usually take a few tries to enjoy anal? Are there positions that make it easiest?

A

It depends on how much you are willing to work on training the receptive partner’s anal sphincters to relax, how good your communication is, how much trust there is, and probably on the width or girth of the dude’s penis. Common sense would tell you it should go way better if a guy is normal-sized as opposed to porn-sized.


Q

What should we be telling our kids about anal?

A

We don’t tell them about the clitoris, about women’s orgasms, about masturbation, about the importance of exploring a partner’s body, and learning from each other. We don’t tell them that much of what they see in porn is unreal, and we don’t talk to them about the importance of mutual consent. So I don’t see anal being at the top of most parents’ “should talk to our kids about” lists. There are more important things we need to be talking about first.

Paul Joannides, Psy.D. is a psychoanalyst, researcher, and author of the acclaimed Guide to Getting it On!, which is now in its ninth edition and is used in college courses across the country. He’s also written for Psychology Today Magazine and authors his own sex-focused blog, Guide2Getting.com. Dr. Joannides has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Sexual Medicine and the American Journal of Sexuality Education, and was granted the Professional Standard of Excellence Award from The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. Joannides also lectures widely about sex and sexuality on college campuses.

Complete Article HERE!

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What do men really think about sex? This is why we need better education

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We asked men how they learned about sex, and found that puerility and pornography have always trumped the facts. Mandatory sex education is most welcome

‘Alan, now aged 79, was evacuated to the countryside at the age of five – and spotted a bull mounting a cow. “It was a significant part of my sex education,” he said.’

It was announced this month that sex and relationship education is to become mandatory in schools for children aged four to 15. About time too. It’s never been easy for children who have wanted to learn credible information about sex.

We’ve recently been interviewing men for a project to find out what they really think, feel and do about sex, and found the early information they received was, in many cases, baffling. “Women don’t like it,” Bill was told as a teenager in the 1960s, “but you can do it all the same … [and] you only do it on Sundays when the children are out.”

Back in the 1940s, communicative adults were hard to come by, and children had to solve the mystery by themselves. Alan, aged 79, was evacuated from London to the countryside, aged five. There he spotted a large bull mounting a cow. “It was very significant,” he said. “I have never forgotten it.”

At primary school Bill, now 75, believed boys stood behind girls to do “it” (he was basing this on his observation of dogs). He was hugely embarrassed when told to stand behind a girl in a school folk-dance performance. “I thought that was very dirty.”

It was a rare grown-up who suggested that sex might be something pleasant, or something to look forward to; rather, a child’s sex education was more likely to elicit feelings of fear, danger and shame – and would often involve a lonely search for the facts. By the late 1950s, parental guidance was still fairly non-existent. At 14, Michael remembered finding a “dirty book” belonging to his father: “The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information, but often mind-boggling too … the contortions! The big penises! And the pleasure shown on women’s faces. I couldn’t believe it could be like that!”

‘The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information – but mind-boggling, too!’

While Michael was studying the Kama Sutra, the only sex still being taught in the classroom involved plants and rabbits, and was often expressed in Latin. Several more decades were to pass before human genitalia and procreation were bravely described in English. Not until the early 1990s did the national curriculum specify that sex education must be taught. But just the mechanics. Nothing about relationships. And making the subject even more shambolic was the decision that each school could have its own individual policy, and each teacher was stuck with their own capabilities, experiences, terrors and confusions in conveying this information.

The easy way out was to explain that sex happened “when people loved each other and wanted babies”. Pleasure, variety and consent were rarely mentioned. But some teachers bravely tried to further enlighten the children. In 1994, in his last year of junior school, Dean, who was then aged 10, went to a sex education lesson in which his teacher tried her very best to take an innovative, practical and robust approach.

“Miss Woods asked the class if they knew of any ‘barrier methods’. I didn’t really know what they were, but someone said ‘condoms’. Miss Woods said, ‘Yes, anything else?’ Then a boy called Dave said, ‘You can get them with feathers on the end, Miss.’ Miss Woods looked cross, and said, ‘No you can’t’ – but Dave went on and on, saying, ‘Yes you can, they’re called French ticklers, I read in my Mum’s book. It had pictures in,’ and then Miss butted in, and said ‘Nonsense’, so Dave had to shut up.”

Here was Miss Wood’s chance to grasp the nettle. But even then, in the late 20th century, she could not. Although bolder than many teachers, she was still not able to respond to any surprises that might crop up.

Even if teachers now manage to describe sex as pleasant, it sometimes seems to frighten and shock, rather than enthuse the children. Informed, six years ago, by a comparatively enlightened teacher, that people had sex “because it felt lovely”, eight-year-old George was horrified. “Miss made a terrible mistake,” he told his Grandma, with great authority and concern. “She said it felt nice! She’s got it really wrong!”

Age specificity hadn’t really been thought through. Slightly older, more intrepid boys, sensing that they still weren’t quite getting at the truth, or any satisfactory explanations – either from each other, or from adults – now gained access to a greater selection of more flamboyant, salacious, almost cartoonish information: porn.

“I think as boys we’d seen a few porno films here and there,” said Jason. “The first stuff I saw was on a video. I was 13, and the tape started doing the rounds – we thought that was the way you did it.”

As the years have passed, and porn has become more widely available online, younger and younger children have been seeing such imagery. In 2001, Jack, then aged 10, learned about sex from pornography. “Everyone was looking at it,” he said. “That’s how I found out I was gay. I didn’t want to look at the girls.”

Despite the overwhelming flood of pornography – and the continuing lack of guidance – there do appear to be a few glimmers of hope. The importance of relationships and feelings is now creeping into sex education at last, and it is a relief to find the idea of consent has surfaced. Many of the young men interviewed in the BBC3 documentary Sex on Trial were sympathetic when shown footage of a young woman whose consent had not been clearly given. In fact, they were more sympathetic than the young women. That’s reason to be hopeful, at least where young men are concerned.

Unfortunately, most sex education is still passed between children themselves, taught by the “naughty” peers who seem to have found out more than anyone else. Or are pretending that they have. Boasting has always been, and still seems to be for many boys, the beginning of proving that you are a proper man. Frequency, volume, conquest and size still matter to them. How are young men to understand women if they have never been taught to understand themselves, and the people teaching them have been taught even less?

Hopefully the new national curriculum mandatory sex education plans will bring about change for the better. It might help if lessons could be conducted in small groups, with the sexes separated. It would need to be age-appropriate, of course – with less emphasis on the mechanical details, and more on the importance of relationships, with appropriately trained teachers, prepared for anything the children might say, know or have experienced. They also need to be unshockable.

Complete Article HERE!

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7 Butt Play Tips for Bum Fun Beginners

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As a man who likes men, I can confidently say butt play isn’t easy. Bottoming can be back-breaking work, and topping is hard AF. But, besides that, it’s also unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen. Is it going to hurt? What if he poohs on my peen, or worse, what if I pooh on his peen? Are farts a turn-off?

If you’re on your first anal adventure, you probably have tons of questions about the ins and outs of bum fun. Don’t worry. It’s normal. No one’s born an expert in anal and everyone starts out as a butt play beginner. So, if you’re new to fifth base and ready to explore the magical world of buttholes, this one’s for you.

Before we get started, let’s start by stating the obvious: The first time you have a dick up your ass, it feels like you have a dick up your ass. But, with proper preparation, you can enjoy every satisfying second from the moment of penetration to the flash of a climactic finish. Here are seven tips for butt-play beginners.

1. Tidy up

Ok, everyone has an opinion about cleaning out. Some guys are all for it while others believe the process is bad for your bowels. We’re not saying you need to hook up to a garden hose every time you take it, but a wet wipe never hurt anyone. Whether you plan to top or bottom, it’s nice to have a clean workspace. What if your man wants to finger your ass while you pound his purple starfish? It could happen, and you’ll want to be fresh(ish).

2. Start small

Start with something smaller than a cock, like the tip of your index finger or pocket bullet. By massaging the anus, you can loosen up the sphincter muscle and introduce the notion of penetration.

3. Go slow

Whether you’re inserting a pinky finger or a penis, go slow and find your groove. If you’re topping, going slow allows your man’s body to acclimate to the sensation of being penetrated. And, if you’re bottoming, you’ll appreciate the extra time to adjust to his length and girth.

Yes, when porn stars shove it in and go straight to pound town, it’s hot AF. but, in reality, it can be uncomfortable and ruin the whole experience. So, or the sake of the hole, slow your roll.

4. Reach around

If you’re the one playing the hole, distract your man with a reach around. This technique works particularly well if he’s on his hands and knees (aka in table position). Here’s what you should do: As you work his hole with your fingers, reach around and tease his shaft, balls and taint with your other hand.

It will drive him wild and take his mind off your fingers that secretly slipped inside.

5. Rim don’t ram

This one is self-explanatory. For tops and bottoms alike, it’s strangely tempting to ram it (your penis, a finger, etc.) in and get right to the rough stuff. Unless you’re into receiving or inflicting pain, don’t do it. Even if the bottom is ready to be penetrated, a forceful entry can make taking it too painful. So, regardless of your weapon of choice, rim the edge and carefully insert whatever your welding into the hole. Also, before you start poking around back there, lube up. Lube is your best friend

6. Communicate

Communication is key to just about everything. When it comes to sex, it’s vital. Whether you’re catching or pitching, ask your partner what feels good and before you perform any crazy maneuvers, talk to your man. Butt play is a lot more fun if you’re communicative.

7. Take fiber

If you’re not into douching but want to be somewhat clean, add extra fiber to your diet. The easiest way to increase your fiber intake is to add a supplement like Pure for Men to your regime. The ingredients in Pure for Men act like a broom and sweep out your insides. A clean butt breeds confidence, which makes it a lot easier to let someone put their finger up your ass.

8. Relax

The most important thing to know about butt play is that relaxing is fundamental. You have to relax. If you’re tense or uncomfortable about ass play, you or your partner could get hurt. So, unwind, grab some lube and explore your backdoor.

Complete Article HERE!

Be sure to check out my very own tutorials on butt fucking: 

Finessing That Ass Fuck — A Tutorial For a Top

and

Liberating The B.O.B. Within

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The Vulnerable Group Sex Ed Completely Ignores & Why That’s So Dangerous

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By Hallie Levine

When Katie, 36, was identified as having an intellectual disability as a young child after scoring below 70 on an IQ test, her parents were told that she would never learn to read and would spend her days in a sheltered workshop. Today she is a single mum to an 8-year-old son, drives a car, and works at a local restaurant as a waitress. She blasted through society’s expectations of her — including the expectation that she would never have sex.

sex-edKatie never had a formal sexual education: What she learned came straight from her legal guardian, Pam, who explained to her the importance of safe sex and waiting until she was ready. “I waited until I was 19, which is a lot later than some of my friends,” Katie says. Still, like many women with disabilities, she admits to being pressured into sex her first time, something she regrets. “I don’t think I was ready,” she says. “It actually was with someone who wasn’t my boyfriend. He was cute, and he wanted to have sex, so I said I wanted it, but at the last minute I changed my mind and it happened anyway. I just felt really stupid and uncomfortable afterwards.” She never told her boyfriend what happened.

Katie’s experience is certainly not unique: In the general population, one out of six women has survived a rape or attempted rape, according to statistics from RAINN. But for women with intellectual disabilities (ID), it’s even more sobering: About 25% of females with ID referred for birth control had a history of sexual violence, while other research suggests that almost half of people with ID will experience at least 10 sexually abusive incidents in their lifetime, according to The Arc, an advocacy organisation for people with intellectual disabilities.

When it comes to their sex lives, research shows many women with intellectual disability don’t associate sex with pleasure, and tend to play a passive role, more directed to “pleasuring the penis of their sex partner” than their own enjoyment, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sex Research. They’re more likely to experience feelings of depression and guilt after sex. They’re at a greater risk for early sexual activity and early pregnancy. They’re also more likely to get an STD: 26% of cognitively impaired female high schoolers report having one, compared to 10% of their typical peers, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Katie, for example, contracted herpes in her early 20s, from having sex with another man (she says none of her partners have had an intellectual disability). “I was hurt and itching down there, so I went to the doctor, who told me I had this bad disease,” she recalls. She was so upset she confronted her partner: “I went to his office crying, but he denied everything,” she remembers.

Given all of this, you’d think public schools — which are in charge of educating kids with intellectual disability — would be making sure it’s part of every child’s curriculum. But paradoxically, kids with ID are often excluded from sexual education classes, including STD and pregnancy prevention. “People with intellectual disabilities don’t get sexual education,” says Julie Ann Petty, a safety and sexual violence educator at the University of Arkansas. Petty, who has cerebral palsy herself, has worked extensively with adults who have intellectual disabilities (while not all people living with cerebral palsy have intellectual disabilities, they face many of the same barriers to sexual education). “This [lack of education] is due to the central norms we still have when thinking about people with ID: They need to be protected; they are not sexual beings; they don’t need any sex-related information. Disability rights advocates have worked hard over the last 20-some years to get rid of those stereotypes, but they are still out there.

“I work with adults with disabilities all the time, and the attitudes of the caretakers and staff around them are, ‘Oh, our people do not do that stuff. Our people do not think about sex,’” Petty says. “It’s tragic, and really sets this vulnerable population up for abuse: if they don’t have knowledge about their private body parts, for example, how are they going to know if someone is doing something inappropriate?”

sex-ed2

Historically, individuals with intellectual disabilities were marginalised, shunted off to institutions, and forcibly sterilised. That all began to change in the 1950s and 1960s, with the push by parents and civil rights advocates to keep kids with ID at home and mainstream them into regular education environments. But while significant progress has been made over the last half century in terms of increased educational and employment opportunities, when it comes to sex ed, disability rights advocates say we’re still far, far behind.

“What I find is shocking is I’ll go in to teach a workshop on human sexuality to a group of teenagers or young adults with cognitive disabilities, and I find that their knowledge is no different than what [young people with ID would have known] back in the 1970s,” says Katherine McLaughlin, who has worked as a sexuality educator and trainer for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England for over 20 years and is the co-author of the curriculum guide “Sexuality Education for Adults with Developmental Disabilities.” “They tell me they were taken out of their mainstream health classes in junior high and high school during the sexual education part, because their teachers don’t think they need it. I’ve worked with adults in their 50s who have no idea how babies are made. It’s mind blowing.”

“There’s this belief that they don’t need it, or that they won’t understand it, or it will actually make them more likely to be sexually active or act inappropriately,” adds Pam Malin, VAWA Project Coordinator, Disability Rights Wisconsin. “But research shows that actually the opposite is true.”

Indeed, as the mother of a young girl with Down syndrome, I’m personally struck by how asexualised people with intellectual disabilities still are. Case in point: When fashion model Madeline Stuart — who has Down syndrome — posted pictures of herself online in a bikini, the Internet exploded with commentary, some positive, some negative. “I think it is time people realised that people with Down syndrome can be sexy and beautiful and should be celebrated,” Madeline’s mother, Roseanne, told ABC News. Yet somehow, it’s still scandalous.

Ironically, sometimes the biggest barrier comes from parents of people with ID — which hits close to home for me. “A lot of parents still treat their kids’ sexuality as taboo,” says Malin. She recalls one situation where a mom in one of her parent support groups got attacked by other parents: “She was very open about masturbation with her adolescent son, and actually left a pail on his doorknob so he could masturbate in a sock and then put it in the pail — she’d wash it with no questions asked. I applauded it: I thought it was an excellent way to give her son some freedom and choice around his sexuality. But it made the other parents incredibly uncomfortable.”

Sometimes, parents are simply not comfortable talking about sexuality, because they don’t know how to start the conversation, adds Malin. Several studies have also found that both staff and family generally encourage friendship, not sexual relationships. “It’s a lot of denial: The parents don’t want to admit that their children are maturing emotionally and developing adult feelings,” says Malin. An Australian study published in the journal Sexuality & Disability found that couples with intellectual disability were simply never left alone, and thus never allowed to engage in sexual behaviour.

I’m doing my best — but despite all my good intentions, it’s certainly not been easy. This fall, I sat down to tell my three small children about the birds and the bees. My two boys — in second grade and kindergarten — got into the conversation right away, and as we began talking I realised it wasn’t a surprise to them; at a young age, they’d already picked up some of the basic facts from playmates. But my daughter, my eldest, was a whole different story. Jo Jo is in third grade and has Down syndrome, so she’s delayed, both with language and cognition. And because of her ID, and all the risk that goes along with it, she was the kid I was most worried about. So it was disheartening to see her complete lack of interest in the conversation, wandering off to her iPad or turning on the radio. Every time I would try to coax her back to our little group, she would shout, “No!”

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Lisa Shevin, whose 30-year-old daughter, Chani, has Down syndrome, says she’s never had a heart-to-heart with her daughter about sexuality. “The problem is, Chani’s not very verbal, so I’m never quite sure what she grasps,” says Shevin, who lives in Oak Park, a suburb of Detroit. While Chani has a “beau” at work, another young man who also has an intellectual disability, “They’re never, ever left alone, so they never have an opportunity to follow through on anything,” says Shevin. “I feel so frustrated as her mother, because I want to talk to her about sex ed, but I just don’t know how. I’ve never gotten any guidance from anyone. But just because my daughter is cognitively impaired, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the same hormones as any other woman her age. You can’t just sweep it under the rug and assume she doesn’t understand.”

In one interesting twist, sex educators say they tend to see more women with intellectual disability than men being sexually aggressive. “I worked with a young woman in her late 20s who would develop crushes on attractive male staff members at her group home,” recalls Malin. “She would try to flirt, and the guys would play it off as ‘hah hah funny,’ but eventually she called police and accused one of them of rape.” While the police investigated and eventually dropped charges, Malin was brought in to work with her: “We had a long conversation about where this had come from, and she kept talking about Beau and Hope from ‘Days of Our Lives’,” Malin recalls. “It turned out she had gotten so assertive with one of the male staff that he’d very adamantly said no to her, but her understanding of rape boiled down to gleaning bits from soap operas, and she thought that if a man in any situation acted forcefully with a woman then it was sexual assault.”

While most cases don’t escalate to this point, sometimes people with intellectual disability can exhibit behavior that causes problems: Chani, for example, was kicked out of sleep-away camp a few years ago after staff complained that she was hugging too many of her male counsellors. “She’d develop little crushes on them, and she never tried anything further than putting her arms around them and wanting to hang out with them all the time, but it made staff uncomfortable,” Shevin recalls. Chani’s since found a new camp where counsellors take her behaviour in stride: “They’ve found a way to work with it, so if she doesn’t want to do an activity, they’ll convince her by telling her afterwards she can spend time with Noah, one of the male counsellors she has a crush on,” says Shevin. (At the end of the summer, Noah gave Chani a tiara, which remains one of her prize possessions.)

So what can be done? Sadly, even if someone with ID is able to get into a sexual education program, the existing options tend to severely miss the mark: A 2015 study published in the Journal for Sex Research analysed 20 articles on sexual education programs aimed at this group and found most fell far short, mainly because people who unable to generalise what they learned in the program to an outside setting. “This is a major problem for individuals who are cognitively challenged: They have difficulty applying a skill or knowledge they get in one setting to somewhere else,” explains McLaughlin. “But just like everywhere else, most get it eventually — it just takes a lot of time, repetition, and patience.”

In the meantime, for parents like me, McLaughlin has a few tips. “Take advantage of teachable moments,” she says. “If a family member is pregnant, talk about it with them. If you’re watching a TV show together and there’s sexual content, don’t just sweep it under the rug — try to break down the issues with them.” It’s also important to be as concrete as possible: “Since people with ID have trouble generalising, use anatomically correct dolls or photographs whenever possible, especially when describing body parts,” she says.

Some local disability organisations also offer workshops for both teenagers and adults with intellectual disabilities. And the Special Olympics offers protective behaviours training for volunteers. But at this point there’s a dearth of legislation and organisations that are fighting for better sexual education, which means parents like myself have to take the initiative when it comes to educating our kids about their burgeoning sexuality.

It’s a responsibility I’m taking to heart in my own life. Now, every night when I bathe my daughter, we make a game of identifying body parts, some of which are private, and I explain to her that no one touches those areas except for mommy or a doctor. Recently, she’s started humping objects at home like the arm of the sofa, and I’ve begun explaining to her that if she wants to do something like that, it needs to be in the privacy of her own room. It’s taken a lot of repeating and reinforcing, but she seems to be getting the message. I have no doubt that — like every other skill she’s mastered, such as reading or writing her name or potty training — it will take time, but she’ll get there.

As for Katie, with age and experience, she’s become more comfortable with her sexuality. “It took me a while, but I’m confident in myself,” she says. “I am one hundred percent okay saying no to someone — if I’m pressured, there’s no way in the world now I’ll do anything with anybody. But that means when it does happen, it feels right.”

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