Sexual Rights: Knowledge

The sexual right of knowledge for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There is a pink outline of a head with a yellow light bulb with a brain in the center of the light bulb.

We know that knowledge is power and ignorance is NOT bliss. Last month, we talked about choice and making your own choices, but this month we are adding “informed” to making choices. We all need knowledge to make informed choices, but when it comes to sex and sexual relationships people with disabilities are given the message that they don’t need this information, this isn’t for them. But we all have the right to learn and become informed and when we aren’t informed, we may suffer. 

This right is very specific about what knowledge people with I/DD want and need. They are asking people to go beyond friendship, meeting partners and wondering what a healthy relationship is. They are asking for access to information about sex such as what is sex? And, wondering how to have a safe and healthy sexual relationship, as well as reproductive health.

“I have a right to learn about sex, safe and healthy sexual relationships, and reproductive health.” 

Learning Objective

 For Self-Advocates: To have knowledge on having safe, healthy, and pleasurable sexual relationships.

For Professionals/Parents: To discuss and share resources on safe, healthy, and pleasurable sexual relationships. 

Suggestions that support learning objective

  1. Review the handout on “What is a Sexually Healthy Person” either on your own or with a support person. Check off any of the statements of knowledge that you already have and check off the ones that you need more information on. This will give you a sense of what you already know and what you need to learn about. 
  2. Create a plan for how you are going to learn the information that you need. Here’s a handout with information (contains graphic content) about how to have a pleasurable and safe sexual relationship. Review the resources below that can help you learn about these topics as well. 

National Council on Independent Living video series. All of these would be helpful in learning about sexual relationships.

Organization for Autism Research website. These topics may be very helpful: Consent, Am I ready? Sexual Activity.

Organization for Autism Research podcast. These topics may be very helpful: Consent, Am I ready? Sexual Activity.

  1. Ask questions when you don’t understand the information. Even after discussing, watching, reading, and/or listening to this information, you still may have questions about sexual relationships. Ask someone that you really trust if you still have questions. Those of you supporting someone, ask the self advocate to teach back what they have learned so you can be sure they are understanding the information.

Inspiration/end result

People with I/DD have the information they need or know where they can get the information so they are able to make informed choices and reduce the negative impact of lacking of education like unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Self reflection/call to action

For Self-Advocates: Yes, we have the right to learn about sex and sexual relationships. Find a resource that works best for your learning style. Is it talking with someone you trust, reading a website, watching some videos, or listening to a podcast. We all learn differently so find what works best for you!

For parents/professionals: Get comfortable talking about sex, sexual relationships, and sexual health. You may feel uncomfortable, but that is ok. There are so many positives for talking about this topic that a little embarrassment is worth the benefits. People with I/DD have missed out on all kinds of sexuality topics and deserve to know about sexual health and safety. For professionals specifically, remember that you only need to share facts and help self-advocates think about their own values. Don’t share your values because your role is to help them make informed decisions. Give them the information and skills for making decisions and support the choices they make!

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