Sexuality and Teenagers with Visual Impairment

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Talking about physical differences between boys and girls and explaining the difference between public and private behavior are part of preparing a child for adolescence. Kids with visual impairments don't have the advantage of observing the changes their classmates are going through—girls developing breasts, boys sprouting facial hair. As children become sexually mature, they need frank, fairly detailed information to help them understand that what they're experiencing—or soon will be—is a normal part of growing up. You may be a little uncomfortable about discussing the emotional and physical aspects of the process, but you'll probably have to be the one to broach the subject.

Information Is the Key

Some parents are reluctant to discuss sexuality. Others are concerned that talking to teenagers about sexual behavior such as kissing, petting, and intercourse could encourage them to explore those activities. They might do that under any circumstances, but understanding the range of sexual behavior and its consequences gives them a chance to make informed decisions about their own behavior. Armed with knowledge, they'll be more confident and ultimately safer.

Your child's sighted classmates and friends gather a certain amount of sexual information through observation, and may have already shared their "knowledge" with your teenager. But the information your child gets in this way is probably fragmentary—some of it accurate and some way off the mark—so he or she really needs you to fill in the gaps and correct the inaccuracies. For example, if a teenage boy has a nocturnal emission—a "wet dream"—without any advance information, he might think something is very wrong with him but be too embarrassed to talk to an adult about it. He needs to know from a reliable source—you—that it's a natural part of a boy's physical development. Similarly, it would be essential to talk to a teenage girl about menstruation. Most important, your child needs to know that she can come to you with any questions and concerns—that you'll give straight answers and help her deal with any problems she might have.

Sex Education in School

Many school systems include sex education as part of the health education curriculum. If your teenager will be taking this course, ask the teacher of students with visual impairments to work closely with the health ed teacher to make sure your child has full access to the information. For example, your child may need to have access to anatomically correct models, practice using contraceptive devices on models, or have information explained in greater detail than a sighted teen would need. In school, the teacher of students with visual impairments is your child's major source of support to ensure that he fully grasps the material.

Masturbation

Masturbation is a normal part of sexual development. You may be uncomfortable about raising the subject, but it's important for your teenager to know it's a natural way that many boys and girls explore and satisfy their sexual urges. You can also help your child understand that it's an activity that's acceptable only in the privacy of her own bedroom or bathroom.

Self-Esteem and Sexuality

There's often a strong relationship between self-esteem and sexuality. If your teenager feels confident about his abilities and attractiveness, he will be less likely to think of sexual activity as something to brag about or to seek reassurance through intimacy with many different partners.

Dating

Asking someone for a date can be daunting for any teenager, whether sighted or visually impaired. The possibility of being rejected looms large. Role playing with you, or a sibling, or a trusted friend, is a good way for your teenager to get over the anxiety and become more poised about making social arrangements.

If your teenager can't drive, getting from one place to another can be a challenge. Talk about various ways to get to a movie, a restaurant, or a party. Taking a taxi is a possibility—but an expensive one. Traveling by bus might be the answer, or double dating with a friend who can drive. Or you might offer to be the chauffeur for the evening. With strong orientation and mobility skills and the ability to get around independently, he's likely to be more confident about managing the transportation challenges of dating, along with the social challenges as well.

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