Creating Conversations About Healthy Relationships & Sexuality
One of the most important parts of life is the connections we make with others. Our family, friends, teachers, co-workers, and neighbors are just some of the people who may impact us in a positive way. A connection that is often not talked about enough, or not talked about in a healthy way (particularly when it comes to the disability community) is romantic relationships and sexual partners.
Discussions About Healthy Relationships and Sexuality Are Important
At our area agency, we are putting effort into educating those with disabilities, their parents/guardians, and advocates on what a healthy relationship is and what it is not. Service Coordinator Crystal Napoli said there are barriers between people with disabilities receiving the healthcare and education they deserve and because of that, she and other Community Crossroads employees are beginning to have conversations about how to support those we serve around healthy relationships and sexuality. “The biggest reason these barriers exist is because of misconceptions about people with disabilities. Some people assume those with disabilities are asexual, over-sexual, or have no interest in a romantic relationship.” She explained that in reality, people with disabilities are no different from those without when it comes to wanting relationships. “People with disabilities are self-advocates in so many areas of life, and sexuality is no exception. Take the Green Mountain Self Advocates group for example – members of this group have spoken up to say that people with disabilities need sexuality education so that they may get correct information, pick the right partner, know their rights, explore their desires, and be safe.” Check out the following link where you will find a cool interview with self-advocates: Self-Advocates Speak Up About Sex – Elevatus Training. Crystal said, “People with developmental disabilities and brain disorders have the right to a healthy relationship if they are interested, and as service providers, we need to address this.”
Crystal has recently taken part in the Elevatus Training Program. The program focuses on public vs private displays of affection (what and where certain activities are socially acceptable), consent, identifying what constitutes a healthy and unhealthy relationship, boundaries, identifying biological body parts, empowering people, consent, how to move from friends to a relationship, and social media/the internet. As a result of completing the program, Crystal is now certified to host workshops for both those who have a disability and parents/Direct Support Professionals. Crystal is working with others at Community Crossroads to develop a plan for the first workshop and additional information will be made available as things develop. While the conversations with people who have disabilities vs. conversations with parents and caregivers are similar in terms of topics, they differ in terms of the questions asked and some of the concerns. Crystal said that parents are often worried about their child entering a romantic relationship and want to know “is this okay?” and she hopes that these conversations will showcase to both individuals with disabilities and their parents/guardians that a healthy relationship is not only okay – but encouraged. By showcasing what a healthy relationship is – we are also having discussions about what an unhealthy relationship is.
Media Representation of Healthy Relationships For People With Disabilities
The portrayal of people with disabilities in the media can often impact the ways people view someone with a disability. Earlier this year, we highlighted ‘The Importance of Disability Representation In The Media’ and just one aspect of this representation is the way someone with a disability is viewed in a TV show or movie in regards to a romantic relationship. The Netflix series, ‘Love On The Spectrum’ features young adults who are on the autism spectrum trying to look for love. According to TIME Magazine, the series “has the potential to open minds, foster genuine empathy for its stars, and spark interest in more stories focused on autism”. The series not only educates viewers who don’t have autism – but it also aims to showcase to people with autism (and other disabilities) what a healthy relationship looks like and eliminate some misconceptions.
The purpose of showcasing healthy relationships in the media and workshops such as the ones Crystal and others in our area agency will be presenting, is to educate, empower, and help prevent unhealthy relationships. While this objective is still new to our area agency we recognize its importance in supporting individuals served by Community Crossroads to lead full and meaningful lives.