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Dylan Kapit: Disability Inclusion in Sex Ed is Beneficial for Everyone

According to members of the disability community,  the preference is to phase in identity-first language. To support this movement, SIECUS has kept the author’s original language. Learn more about the movement here.

Disabled people have sex. 

For many people, this is a completely mind-boggling and revolutionary idea. Historically, conversations around disabled sex have painted disabled people as asexuals who are completely uninterested in sex and relationships. Not only is this completely untrue, but this perpetuates harmful understandings of disabled individuals. 

For those of us who are teaching sex ed, it’s important to include disabled individuals in our lesson planning, curriculum building, and teaching practices. Even if you do not have students who have visible disabilities or diagnosed disabilities, I promise that there is a disabled student in your classroom. This means that every single sex educator or teacher needs to be disability competent to ensure all young people receive instruction that’s responsive to their unique needs. 

So, what does disability competency in sex education look like?

First, it means recognizing that disabled people can and do have sex. While this may seem like a minor concept, it is actually a huge deal. Seeing disabled people as humans with sexual desires is a revolutionary concept and the first step to making sex education inclusive of disabled individuals. 

Next, it’s important to recognize that disabled people might need various types of accommodations for sex, and to be able to discuss sexual wants and desires. It is also important to remember that disabled folks are not a monolith. Just like people who are not disabled, everyone’s sexual needs are different, and their accommodations will also be individualized.  People who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices might need certain types of accommodations, while people who are autistic or have sensory needs might need other types of accommodations. Each type of accommodation is valid and should be discussed in a sex education classroom. When we teach consent, we also must also teach that consent includes checking in with your partner and making sure that they feel comfortable and safe.  Asking before you touch someone is always important, but many of us who are disabled are used to being touched without anyone asking, and therefore teaching consent to our peers is even more important. 

As an #ActuallyAutistic person, it’s important to me to address some of the other pieces involved in sex other than the actual sex acts – communication, nonverbal body cues, and consent. All of these concepts are necessary in all sexual encounters, but for those of us who are autistic, they might be even more difficult. 

Sex is full of social nuance, which I and many other autistic people struggle with. This makes consistent communication even more important. So much of sex is interpreting nonverbal communication, which is a struggle for autistic folks. Checking in with partners and being clear about what is or is not okay or enjoyable during sex becomes even more important. 

Consent is an essential topic that should be discussed in all sex education classrooms, and discussing it for disabled students is also extremely important. Many of us who are disabled are accustomed to people doing things to us or for us or around us without asking. I have many friends who use wheelchairs who discuss people trying to push their wheelchairs or touch their wheelchairs without asking. It is extremely important to check in with disabled partners, friends, and loved ones about their wants and needs at all times, and discussing consent can help aid in these conversations about disability. 

Additionally, talking about the very abstract concept of consent in clear and explicit ways is important for students who are autistic or might struggle to grasp abstract ideas. Helping students understand that some people will try to communicate consent nonverbally and that it’s okay to check-in and ask questions can prevent disabled folks from accidentally causing harm to their partners when not understanding something that they are trying to communicate nonverbally. 

As an autistic doctoral student studying autistic sex ed, I have this radical and revolutionary idea that making sex education inclusive of disabled students by pushing for conversations about accessibility and explicit teaching practices actually makes sex ed better for everyone. Explaining things in explicit terms instead of abstractly or with euphemisms actually helps everyone better understand concepts around sex, and helps everyone become better communicators during sexual situations. 

Disability inclusive sex education is, at its core, about bodily autonomy, explicit conversations about sex, many discussions around consent, emphasizing the idea that sex looks different for everyone, and many other ideas that are just, well….good for everyone. 

Dylan Kapit (they/them) is a queer, trans, non-binary, autistic Jew. They are currently a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, where they are working on creating sex education materials for autistic individuals.