Posted by Smriti Dhingra
The issue of imparting education on ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH)’ has been a topic of contestation in India and rest of the world as well. In 2016, when National Education Policy in India was being drafted, imparting issues of sex education was given importance but emphasized on banning the words ‘sex’ and ‘sexual’ in the final government document. The idea seems to be objectionable as it will encourage immoral behavior among children. Also, workshops on health and hygiene are often conducted in the name of sex-education.
With already existing taboos on imparting knowledge on sexual and reproductive health, it becomes difficult to impart similar knowledge to persons with disabilities due to unavailability of accessible teaching-learning methods, teaching materials and an unavailability of experts addressing SRH issues from the perspective of disability.
Eroticism is never considered to be a quality for disabled individuals. Instead, adjectives like heroic, inspiring, divyang (divine) and asexual are often used to describe persons with disabilities. This implies the notions towards disability have yet not moved forward to a rights-based perspective where ‘sexual and reproductive health issues’ are to be considered for discussion.
Persons with disability are sexual beings and they too have sexual desires and sexual feelings to express, just like anybody else. With this premise, many organizations have come forward to address these issues through workshops organized specifically for persons with disabilities. But the need to include the various other important stakeholders like caregivers, parents and educators in these workshops is often ignored.
Persons with disability are sexual beings and they too have sexual desires and sexual feelings to express, just like anybody else.
Imparting knowledge on sexual and reproductive health, and making adults with deafblindness comfortable around the topic is one of the key issues that Sense India believes in. Addressing SRH issues from 2006 onwards, Sense India realized the need to transfer this knowledge to educators associated with them. Our belief is to inculcate such knowledge through Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) which are designed by educators for children and adults with deafblindness. But to practice such ideas, one needs to be comfortable with it.
To inculcate that comfort around SRH, recently, trainers from Sense India conducted a training organized by Centre for Disability in Development in Bangladesh on “Sexual and Reproductive Health Issues’ for the special educators working in the field of deafblindness in January 2017.
Deafblindness is a unique disability – a combination of visual and hearing impairment where a person faces challenges in communication, mobility and accessing information. Being dependent for an information on others, deafblindness becomes one of the most isolating disabilities.
When issues on sexual and reproductive health are addressed for people with deafblindness, the information received is often filtered and diluted by parents, caregivers, educators and other rehabilitation professionals. The information is filtered by the many taboos associated with sex, sociocultural and religious beliefs, limited understanding and information regarding the topic, gender stereotypes and individual inhibitions.
The four-day workshop contained discussions on ‘equality and equity’ to demonstrate the various positions of individuals in the society with the deafblind being most marginalized; ‘myth-busting gender sessions’ to understand that women too have liberty to express sexual desires and persons with disability can express their sexual desires, and most importantly imparted knowledge on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in the perspective of deafblindness.
“Women with disability are always left behind men with disability. Already society doesn’t want women to head the society and when it comes to disability, they are not considered worthy of anything,” expressed a participant during one of the sessions.
One of the challenges faced in the workshop was that cultural and religious taboos prevented participants from speaking out about issues of female masturbation and menstrual hygiene openly among male participants. Also, many participants expressed attitudes that equated women expressing sexual desire with immorality.
However, the discussion was carried forward from the perspective of disability to make participants understand the basic premise, ‘Disabled people are sexual beings’ and they too can express their sexual desire.
Some Challenges Facing Educators Regarding Sex and Sexuality Among People With Deafblindness.
This extensive four-day training saw many experiences narrated which educators had been facing but had no guidance on how to proceed, which was then discussed. Some examples of these issues and their resolutions were:
- “A deafblind woman was sexually molested various times. Initially, the woman didn’t realize what is happening with her, but later she started enjoying the sexual act. This was realized when she went outside secretly to seek sexual pleasure from others. When the family tried to protect/stop her, she got violent.”
The trainers made the participants realise that it was a pure case of abuse. The woman with deafblindness was sexually molested in the beginning. Even after liking the act, she was still vulnerable because she was not aware of what was happening with her body. She was enjoying the act to gain physical pleasure without having an understanding of the psychological and physiological aspect. Because of deafblindness, nobody educated her about the aspects of sex and sexuality, consent, and bodily autonomy. Therefore, this education is deeply necessary. Then the caregiver could proceed by observing her behaviour and providing her alternative therapy to calm her sexual urges down (like water therapy, households activity, walk etc.,) or to teach her the concept of privacy and when she can indulge in masturbation.
2. “A deafblind man acquired a habit of removing his pants and playing with private parts.”
Trainers suggested that one could provide him with adaptive clothing where it becomes difficult to remove his pants for e.g. putting a belt on his pants or attaching velcro to his pants. If he kept repeating the activity, then it needs to be explained to him that he should not do it in public space and a concept of privacy can be taught to him. Or, if an educator observes that it is beyond excitement, then he could be taken for a medical check-up in case he faces any itching or any other medical issues.
3. “A deafblind man would become aroused when he realized his female educator has come to teach him.”
Here, there are 4 possible solutions to deal with this:
a. It must be seen whether the educator is wearing some perfume which the deafblind man likes, causing arousal. If yes, then she should stop wearing fragrance.
b. If the educator has stopped wearing fragrance and deafblind man is experiencing arousal, then he might have acquired a habit where he wants to avoid his teacher and as an act whenever he understands his educator is visiting him, he is aroused.
c. A male educator should accompany the female educator for some time and start working together with the deafblind person. They should make the deafblind person understand and make a distinction between whom to approach and whom not to. Then gradually, release the support of male educator. Family members can also be the part of the learning process.
d. Education on sex and sexuality is a must.
On The Education of Sexual & Reproductive Health For Persons With Deafblindness
Days 3 and 4 were completely focused on disseminating knowledge on sexual and reproductive health issues and implementing them through designing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for persons with deafblindness while understanding the developmental milestones.
“Three to six year-old children with deafblindness should be taught about safe and unsafe touch” – Sachin Rizal, Trainer from Sense India
With the ideas of safe and unsafe touch, the discussion on SRH must begin from the age of three, following which an introduction to private and public spaces, puberty, and body parts must be given. From twelve years onwards, the emphasis must be on dealing with emotions, masturbation, sexual desires and sex.
“For six to twelve year-old children with deafblindness, it is important to discuss safe and unsafe spaces and beginning of puberty” – Smriti Dhingra, trainer from Sense India.
“We understand now that sex-education does not only inform one about the physical act of sex. It is more than that, it is about understanding one’s sexual and reproductive health issues and it should be discussed from the day one of birth of a child.” shared Mr. Masud, Special Educator, a participant.
Ms Rakhi Barua, Centre for Disability in Development (CDD), emphasized upon the importance of such workshops – not only for special educators working with persons with deafblindness but also for other rehabilitation professionals working in the field of disability. When organizations cater to only persons with disabilities, there is a gap left in these trainings – the education of educators. When an educator doesn’t realize the importance of discussions around SRH issues, the understanding of a person with disability on SRH issues would be futile as there will be nobody to discuss it with. The knowledge from this workshop will now aid these educators in developing IEPs keeping in mind the SRH domain at every developmental stage.
Smriti Dhingra is a researcher at Sense International India.