Sexual education

Love, sexuality, eroticism, sensuality and physicality are all vital forms of expression and impressions in human life, which embody enjoyment, exchange and vitality. To suppress, forget or to ignore these feelings, is to sever a very important part of oneself. There are however people who find it difficult to fulfill their desires and needs of sexuality eroticism, tenderness and love. This is especially true for people with disabilities.

For people with a disability there is – as far as sexuality and eroticism is concerned – no social sense of orientation or positive role models. Eroticism seems to be only something for beautiful people with perfect figures.

The beauty standards and the related characterisation of eroticism through these representatives of standard beauty have strong segregating characteristics. Eroticism and sexuality are thus not intended for many groups of people: Overweight, elderly, sick, disabled and older women.

Better prerequisites

What are the general conditions that impede and sometimes even fully prevent the normal development and evolvement of sexuality in people with disabilities? Political and social structures are one of the main problems: disrespect, rejection, exclusion, and discussions on values and dignity of life. Cost-benefit considerations and debates on euthanasia are not a good foundation to nurture discussions on sexuality and disability. This is not a case of mutually enriching one another; it is a case of survival and on questions on the right exist. Love, sexuality and eroticism exist only through mutual respect, openness and mutual understanding. This can not flourish in a repressive situation. The idea of sexuality also has a strange aftertaste in a social structure where the perception of disabled people is reduced to the category of useless, burdensome and sorry creatures,

Better support for parents

If the parents of a disabled child experience social ostracism and incomprehension, this leads to the parents displaying other behaviours and feelings than if they were supported and encouraged and had positive role models. Upbringing, which is underlined with feelings of failure, fear, guilt and the shame of parents in relation to their disabled child, has an impact on the emotional and sexual development of the child.

If the disability in the family is seen as something threatening and unacceptable, then has in any case an impact on the self-image of the disabled adolescent. The affected sees him/herself as something unbearable to others. This leads to insecurity which in turn leads to a fear of new experiences and trying new things out. The earlier the problematic experience, that a disabled child makes in connection with his disability in the family, the worse it affects the self-image and the ability to make contact with other people, to get involved and to accept their own body. One of the key development tasks in adolescence and early adulthood is the acquisition of "sexual language", which means: The adolescents or young adults must learn to interpret strangers’ signals of approach or defense, but also to express themselves.

Ones’ own body schema

An important aspect here is to break through the cycle of limiting attributions. From childhood on, a disabled child is judged and handled especially in regard of its shortcomings. The parents ask themselves, friends and acquaintances ask why this child was born with this disability; everything could have been so wonderful. Disabled people are often a mirror of the vulnerability of their own parents, but also of other people. Sometimes just the sight of a disabled person, and all notions of suffering, pain, despair, etc. come into motion and are projected to this person, without knowing how that person feels themselves. While at the same time the body schema of a person who is disabled from birth is fully in order. It is after all the body it has grown up in; it feels consistent and intact. The verbal and nonverbal responses, ratings, attitudes and, of course, the comparisons with other people, which also lead to other reactions, which cause the collapse of ones self-perception and to an "adjustment" in accordance with the demands of so-called reality. Internalisations are valuations and dogmas, which have been internalized and are even harder to tackle than environmental attributions. They are omnipresent. They often lead to disabled people acting against themselves and judging themselves as unattractive and pitiful in reflection of their environment.

Source: INFORUM 1/98, Inge Plangger / Renate Geifrig, The article appeared originally in the magazine «Gemeinsam leben» (Living together), 3/96
Translation: PmcC, MyH – 6/2008

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