So, what do teens really want to know about sex? Well, the answer is …pretty much everything! In his book, For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health, High school teacher Al Vernacchio, wants you to remember how weird it was to ask questions about sex as a teenager. This can especially be the case for teens with special needs. However, in his high school Sexuality and Society class, Vernacchio strives to breach this awkwardness in order to educate teens not just about human sexuality, but about intimacy, healthy relationships, and forming personal boundaries as well. To achieve an environment for healthy discussion, Vernacchio establishes two ground rules with his students:
1. “We won’t ask “personal history” questions”
2. “We’ll work to create a community of peers who care about and respect one another.”
Another highlight of his class is his well-known “Question Box.” So, what is in this treasure box? Many of the questions that appear on scraps of paper include anything from innocent to “downright technical.” A few examples Vernacchio’s provided in his ideas.ted.com talk include:
Vernacchio understands that these types of conversations can produce feelings of anxiety, guilt, fear, and embarrassment for everyone involved. Therefore, as parents and educators of teens with special needs, the best way to combat these inhibitions and reach a healthy dialogue about human sexuality is to feel empowered by information and create an ongoing conversation rather than a monumental instance of “The Talk.”
His advice? “Keep the long-term goal in mind.” He suggests asking ourselves “What is the long-term goal we want for our children in life?” Vernacchio’s long-term goal is to teach social relationships and boundaries to help create students who are “able to fall deeply in love with someone, feel comfortable expressing that love both physically and emotionally, and understand the responsibilities and the rewards of decisions they make about themselves as sexual beings.” This advice fits in perfectly with special education. Why? If we approach a conversation with teens about human sexuality keeping this in mind, we will be able to achieve comfortable dialogue that is centered on healthy sexuality, healthy relationships, and in turn, a more fulfilling life for our teens with special needs.
“Questions like “When is someone emotionally and physically ready for sex?” will never have a concrete answer…”
Speaking of healthy relationships, Vernacchio contends that questions like “When is someone emotionally and physically ready for sex?” will never have a concrete answer. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could say ‘The Thursday following your sixth date is the most appropriate day to start having sex’? Of course, that’s not the way it works,” he says. While there may not be a set “appropriate” day for being sexually active, Vernacchio teaches his students that it’s “inappropriate” until intimacy, commitment, and passion are established and “both people have pretty equal amounts of these feelings for each other.”
Teaching adolescents with special needs the weight of their decisions when it comes to dating, love, and sexuality is crucial. We need to use programs and curriculum that emphasize the nuances of social boundaries and romantic relationships, and allow students to consider & question their own dating standards, as well as their values towards love and sex. Whether you’re speaking to a high school classroom or teens with special needs, the focus should always be on making safe and responsible decisions for themselves.
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At James Stanfield, We Think You Should Know:
[/box] Sources 1 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/magazine/teaching-good-sex.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all 2 http://ideas.ted.com/what-teens-really-want-to-know-about-sex/ 3 http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/parents/1865-having-the-talks-without-fear
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.