During my counselling sessions with youth and adults with disabilities, I always came across a kind of commonality in concerns while discussing their sexual issues and it was their need of validation as unique sexual beings. Rather than asking mechanics of sex they needed accurate and correct information on sexual health and rights. They looked for reassurance and encouragement for sexual expression and exploration and lacked confidence to maintain sexual esteem. My interactions with them made me understand that labels and medical diagnosis can never determine sexual functioning.
Whenever sex and disability are discussed, it is very much in context of capacity, technique, and fertility with no reference to sexual feelings by ignoring aspects of sexuality, such as touching, affection, and emotions. For instance paraplegic and quadriplegic people, a loss of sexual function does not mean a corresponding loss of sexuality. Even after spinal cord injury, the spinal area for sexual function is generally intact; it is the communication from the brain to the spinal area that may be disrupted.
One can have sexual pleasure and orgasm even by stimulating the erogenous zones. The physical and emotional aspects of sexuality, despite the physical loss of function, continue to be just as important for disabled people as for non-disabled people.
In considering sexuality and disability, problems reflect attitudinal barriers are set up by our culture rather than actual physical limitations on sexual functioning.
Youth with disabilities are excluded from receiving such information and sexual health services because they are not supposed to be sexually active.
It can be a lot empowering to youth and adults with disabilities if they are given appropriate information and skills. Accurate and developmentally appropriate sexual health education is necessary for youngsters to learn about self, relationship safety, and responsibility. Young people with disabilities are far more vulnerable to sexual abuse than are their peers, especially those with developmental disabilities. Adults with chronic and acquired disabilities remain unsure and uncertain if they would be able to remain sexually active.
Learning about sexual health must be taken as a necessity rather than a luxury, for all of us. Right education and skill practice are significant in promoting healthy and mutually respectful behaviour.
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I decided to create a digital sexuality education environment that is realistic, emotionally agreeable, non-judgemental, and open to discussions. Though sexuality education courses are expected to be provided in educational institutions, in reality it is completely missing from the Indian scenario. And youth with disabilities are a completely a forgotten tribe. They are excluded from receiving such information and sexual health services because they are not supposed to be sexually active as per the sociocultural norms. Even if some information is available, it comes too late or in inaccessible formats.
I chose Information Communication Technology (ICT) as a platform because of its growing use. ICT has the advantage that scaling-up is easier than school-based methods. Online courses could compensate for educators’ potential discomfort with discussions of sexual health. Moreover the learners, especially women and girls, can get utmost personal privacy to learn and remain anonymous while learning. All this would facilitate learning better than the group setting of a classroom and I thought that it can reach umpteen numbers of them. Cost wise, using ICT is cheaper since I have kept this course free of any charges.
Being a self-paced course it is non-formal education system which acknowledges the importance of education, learning and training and takes place outside recognised educational institutions. It is relevant to the needs of disadvantaged groups and concerns specific categories of person.
Besides its central role in adolescent emotional development, sexuality education is also a crucial public health issue. A good and well-structured sexuality education can improve sexual health, prevent unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted infections. Moreover sexuality education for persons with disabilities mainly focuses on warnings about risks. It rarely offers any practical suggestions on how to give and receive pleasure, and how to engage in sexual relationships in ways that make them happy. With more than 500 hundred lessons, all in accessible formats, this course covers almost everything related to sexuality with many lessons covering specific disabilities.
To join the course one can download the mobile application named Courses at Cross the Hurdles-A Free Learning App is on Google Play store. It also has a desktop website. All you need to do is to be a registered user. Same registration works for desktop website and the Android App.
The curriculum and course content is based on best practices going on in Comprehensive Sexuality Education in various countries. The course includes textual discussions, PPTs, audio visual means to explain about sex, sexuality and easy-to-understand, science-based facts about sexual health with special focus on different disabilities.
Every one of us has the right to attain sexual health and life which would have safe, gratifying and pleasurable sexual life
For example, some people with Spina Bifida are allergic to latex, so they need to use non-latex condoms and dental dams for safer sex. Or if someone has poor circulation or mobility one may consult the doctor before taking contraceptive pills since there can be a higher risk of getting thrombosis (clotting of blood in the part of circulatory system).
Unfortunately in our country policymakers, researchers, practitioners and even families remain completely silent on sexuality and sexual health of persons with disabilities. We need to come of this tyranny of ignorance otherwise we won’t be able to reach the globally‑agreed goals. The Agenda 2030 now includes several goals and targets related to sexual and reproductive health and rights such as SDG 3 on health and SDG 5 on gender equality.
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We all have sexual rights, which mean that every one of us has the right to attain sexual health and life which would have safe, gratifying and pleasurable sexual life without any pressure, violence, and discrimination of any kind. We all have tight to control over and decide freely on matters related to sexuality, reproduction, sexual orientation, bodily integrity, choice of partner, and gender identity; and to the services, education, and information, including comprehensive sexuality education, necessary to do so.
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