We all have values and attitudes regarding sexuality. We have thoughts and beliefs about sexual decisions such as when to be sexual and with whom. There is nothing wrong with having values and, as a parent of someone with a developmental disability, it is important to share your values with your children. That is a parent’s job, but what about when you are in a professional role? How do you manage your values and attitudes and support those you work with?
Setting aside your values and attitudes about sexual decisions such as when to have sex, who to have it with and the reasons to have it, will help those you work with figure out their own values. They will make decisions that support what they believe. Here are a few steps for managing your values and not imposing your values on to others.
Know your values and attitudes. One way to be sure not to impose your values is to actually reflect on what your values are and what situations might push your buttons or bother you. Usually, we impose values and attitudes because we are caught off guard and we, accidentally, blurt them out. The more you know of your values and attitudes, the more prepared you are. Here are a few values and beliefs to consider:
Do you believe…
It’s OK for a 16-year-old to have sex?
People need to be married to have sex?
Ending a pregnancy is OK to do?
Men are after one thing?
Notice your assumptions. As people, we often make assumptions about certain situations and think of our assumptions as facts. We assume that we know what is going on in a particular situation. Ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation?” Then, let your assumption go. Start fresh with no assumptions so you remain open.
Remember your role. Many professionals remind themselves that their role is to support the person and help the person sort out their decisions. Try saying to yourself, “This is not about me” gently reminds you of your role.
Get the focus away from you and your thoughts and beliefs by asking open ended questions about the situation. For example, if someone you work with is talking about sexual decision making, ask them, “What are your thoughts about that decision?” “What would help you make your decision?” “What is important to you in relationships?” You can also give them a range of opinions such as “Some people believe that is not OK to do. Some people believe that is OK to do. What do you think?”
Stick to the facts. Make sure any information we share with the person is factual. For example, saying that people can get pregnant if they have unprotected vaginal sex. Is it true? Every time? Yes, they could. But saying, “People are in love when they have sex” is not a fact. Is it true? Every time? No. You might want it to be true or would feel more comfortable if it were true, but it is not a fact.
At a recent workshop, one of the participants said, “You can be a vegetarian and work at McDonald’s.” I thought that comment was very powerful and useful to remember. You can have your values and still be kind to customers and give great customer service. But, if you kept telling customers how being a vegetarian is the better way to eat than eating a hamburger, you might lose your job. It may be difficult, but can be done and is done every day by many professionals in the field of developmental disability. You just have to remind yourself of your role and get the focus away from you and ask, “What can I get for you and would you like fries with that?”