Drama 4: ‘Stuart’
Stuart and Kevin are both disabled. They relate their experiences of sex education (or the lack of it) and how they tried to learn about sex. Ann-Marie is a teacher. She talks about her experience of the difficulties associated with teaching a class of pupils with a variety of disabilities.
- Stuart - a disabled person
- Ann-Marie - a teacher
- Kevin - an older disabled person
It’s definitely easier to find out about sex now. When I was at school there was no internet, well at least it was still unusual to have pretty much unlimited access to it, and there wasn’t that much on it so if we wanted to find out about sex we only had a couple of options. Firstly we could ask each other, but let’s face it, we were all in the same situation basically didn’t know what we were talking about, even if we pretended we did. Or, we could try to find out as much as possible from the teacher. But that was as good as useless. There was no-one we could turn to who could tell us what we needed to know, so we just got on with it and didn’t think about the consequences. Which meant that by the time we finally received sex education at the tender age of 16, there was at least two girls who were already mothers with kids.
It’s the same old story, shutting the door after the horse has bolted. But at least at some point they recognised that even disabled people want a sex life and if left to their own devices will find a way to have one. When I was a kid it was much simpler – nobody spoke about it at least not to me, I was seen as more or less asexual. It was as if people seemed to find the idea of me having sex almost unthinkable. It happened though, but I was literally scrabbling around in the dark trying to figure out what to do! Mind you I have no doubt there were plenty of able-bodied people in a similar situation!
At least I was offered sex education, even if it was a bit late. I was in a special needs school and the sex education we had that was meant to satisfy our ‘special needs’ consisted of 45minutes a week for four weeks with our French teacher - who was clearly uncomfortable with it. So we just used to wind her up by asking questions that we knew would totally embarrass her. If nothing else it was good for a laugh. But what do you think of this though? The boys and girls were taught it in separate classes! What’s the point in that? Sex is the one thing we’re really meant to do together and they split us up! And you should’ve seen what they passed off as sex education. We had some diagrams of the body and a crappy video that was so old it was practically black and white – mind you I don’t supposed that mattered, shagging’s been the same for a long, long time.
But that was about it. That and couple of drawings of a condom and a public information film on sexual health – that was about the sum total of my sex education. So we knew how to get a girl pregnant but they didn’t tell us much about how to avoid it. We had virtually nothing on contraception, I certainly had no idea how to use a condom and some of my pals were paraplegic- so they had no control over their hands or arms. How are you meant to put a condom on with no arms? You’ve got to rely on the girl – and we’d no idea what they’d been told because they weren’t even in the same class! What a shambles. It made us think that knowing about sex wasn’t that important, that they were going through the motions, so to speak. It certainly wasn’t that relevant to any of us. Mind you I have since heard from my able bodied friends that the subject of sex is often not dealt with well in mainstream schools either.
You’ve got to look at it from my point of view too. I can have a class of kids with varying abilities - from quite profound learning disabilities through to those who have no cognitive difficulties at all but are in one way or another physically disabled. But ‘the powers that be’ have to decide what would be the best cognitive age to pass on the information. In the past it was considered better to wait until the kids were older because that would give the kids with learning difficulties a chance to reach a suitable mental age. However that approach also compounded the problem because in the case of kids with learning disabilities it’s common for their physical development to be ahead of their cognitive development and so they’re ready for sexual relations before they can absorb the information. I had one girl who said to me, “I might be slow at learning, but I wasn’t slow at sex”.
It’s different now because sex is more openly discussed and information about pretty much all aspects of it is freely available either online or through various organisations specifically set up to help people. That information is also more relevant because people are willing to recognise that others with disabilities are just as likely to want and are entitled to an active sex life. I can assess my kids and offer to help them when I think the time is right. I can pass them to support workers who provide them with relevant material that suits their needs. It’s not a bed of roses but it’s an improvement on the inappropriate and inadequate ‘one size fits all’ sex education that was, and regretfully is still, being delivered in some places.
Sounds much better than my experience and at least there’s no excuse now for not providing people with a decent sex education programme. All I want now is somebody to give me an education that tells me not just how to do it safely but how to do it better. You know, a few hints and tips. Not that I’m no good of course! But there’s always room for improvement!
I’ll second that!