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Every person has the right to information on sexual health
Observer-Reporter - 12/7/2017
Q.I met you at an Arc convention several years ago and kept your card. I don't know if you remember. My 42-year-old daughter is intellectually disabled and lives with me and my husband. She's a wonderful person. She really liked your workshop about sex ed for people with disabilities. We spoke a long time after your session. When I went home, I shared what I'd learned with my husband. He seemed to agree, but it really didn't matter much then, because our daughter never seemed to find anyone she was interested in dating. Now, suddenly, she says she's in love! My husband is against her even dating. Can you help me convince my husband that she can date and kiss and maybe even get married? In his mind, I think she's his little girl, but I told him he'd never hold her back if she was a typical 42-year-old daughter. Thanks. I hope you can help.
-Parent who is still learning
Mary Jo's response: I'm thrilled you remembered our conversation. I do remember you and your daughter. I remember her willingness to communicate openly with you. You've done a great job parenting and preparing her for life.
Your husband's intentions are probably good. It's complicated. He wants to protect your daughter. Relationships can be frightening, especially when parents know their children are vulnerable. I remember discussing vulnerability with you. Loving someone means we often want to spare them harm. Relationships can end poorly, leaving a person with emotional pain.
I suggest a gentle conversation to encourage your husband. The first step is acknowledging your daughter as a full person with sexual desires and the need for education. Myths about sexuality and people of different abilities are many and often contradictory. One myth says individuals like your daughter are always childlike and asexual. Asexual refers to a person who is not interested in sex. Another myth posits individuals with disabilities as oversexed and potential predators. Neither myth is accurate. Like all people, individuals with disabilities are unique. Some aren't interested in sexual touch, but would like a romantic partner. Others are interested in kissing, and consider a kiss the full sexual experience. Still others are interested in intercourse. Generalizing this group of people isn't wise; one wouldn't generalize all typical 42-year-olds as interested in the same type of relationships.
Please show your husband this column and ask him to consider his feelings honestly.
Is he afraid your daughter will be hurt? If his fear limits her ability to live her life to the fullest, his protection, though well intentioned, is holding her back.Does your daughter have information on her body? I will be happy to send you some activities to help teach her about sexuality. She may have questions; as her parents, you can answer them and convey your values to her.Have you asked your daughter what she wants? She says she's in love. What does being in love mean to her? Do you think she understands the idea of lust? Does she want a date for the movies or a sexual partner?Can a date with someone be supervised? Making sure she's safe doesn't mean you need to be with her every moment, but it may mean dropping her off at the movies or dinner, and remaining nearby for support.
I remember another conversation from the Arc convention. A self-advocate told me, "I had a boyfriend once, but my mom told me people like me can't have boyfriends. I guess I'll be alone forever." Her words and her sorrowful expression haunt me. Consider your daughter's feelings and listen to her needs.
Every person, regardless of ability, has the right to information on sexual health. If your daughter wants a partner, consider this a life experience and guide her through it, just as you would any life experience. I'm sure your support will empower her to feel confident if she decides to date.
Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski's email at firstname.lastname@example.org.