All persons are sexual beings and this doesn’t change just because someone has a FASD diagnosis. Individuals living with FASD have the right to express sexuality and affection and to all the information about sexuality he/she can understand. They will experience all the normal hormonal surges as any other developing young person, however, their social development and understanding may not match their biology.
Therefore it is important that we, whether caregivers, professionals, friends or family, are having open and honest conversations or we may be increasing their risk of engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviors and/or becoming, victims or perpetrators (or both). Below are some suggestions for how to prepare and have these conversations and what they should include. If you have more suggestions not mentioned here, please comment so others can learn from your experience!
1. There is no right or wrong person to have these conversations with them but someone should.
2. Get comfortable having the conversation. If they can’t talk to you, they will find someone to talk to about it. Talking about sex can be uncomfortable for many people, especially when it comes to having those conversations with our children (even if they’re adults!). If you’re uncomfortable though, they’ll be uncomfortable and you want to create an environment that allows them to speak openly and ask questions. Practice what you’ll say beforehand or roleplay the conversation with a friend or family member prior.
3. Practice things like how to shake hands, hug, and touch others respectfully.
4. Teach them to ask permission before touching.
5. Be internet savvy! There is a plethora of information online, not all of which is accurate or safe. Monitor what they are accessing on their phones/computers. Keep in mind however that, for teens and young adults especially, the internet is part of their social world and they will and should be taught how to do this safely.
6. Topics addressed should be appropriate for their chronological age but might include: body part identification, personal care and hygiene, healthy relationships, rights and responsibilities, assertiveness (right to say no for both parties), contraception and pregnancy (and options), childbirth, masturbation, sexual abuse/assault/harassment, puberty, menstruation, medical care.
7. Use specific, concrete language but also define common slang terms they may hear while with their peers. Making word charts with synonyms can be helpful to ensure the individual knows what is being talked about.
8. Discourage/cue inappropriate displays of affection and provide clear behavior expectations.
9. Provide clear descriptions of what is acceptable in private settings as opposed to public settings (eg. ‘making out’ in private vs. holding hands in public).
10. Allow them to practice with you, or someone else they can trust. Have them roleplay asking someone out on a date and receiving both a yes and no answer so they can learn how to respond appropriately to various, often unpredictable, scenarios.
11. Have them practice saying ‘yes’ outloud and waiting for the other person to say yes outloud as well. Verbal consent is more concrete and doesn’t require them to read social cues others might rely on.
12. Rules should be clear, simple and absolute. For example, teach that unprotected sex is never safe, always use a condom.
13. Provide age limits. Age of consent laws can be very confusing so giving concrete acceptable age ranges for who they can engage in sexual behavior with will help avoid conflicts.
14. Encourage multiple forms of protection in case one is used incorrectly or forgotten (e.g. birth control pills and condoms).
15. Provide concrete, hands-on demonstrations where available (e.g. how to put on a condom etc). Show them what birth control looks like, provide reminders/cues to take daily etc.
16. Depending on their age and ability, supervision is recommended. This does not always have to be you though – perhaps an older sibling or cousin could go on a double date with them.