POWr Social Media Icons

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Why Dave Hingsburger Doesn't Do "Sex Education" for Disabled People

I put this video by world-famous disability advocate Dave Hingsburger on the Facebook page last night. Dave Hingsburger has been working with and advocating for intellectually disabled people for over thirty years. We read his books in my training to become a developmental services worker. He's highly respected in the field, and it's long been one of my goals to attend at least one of his workshops.

Dave Hingsburger has a great deal of experience with speaking to intellectually disabled people about sexuality. I'm so glad for this...regular readers will know how important I believe it is that intellectually disabled people get the chance to ask questions about sexuality and accurate information in response. I put this video up because I like the approach that Dave Hingsburger takes to it. See what you think.


Dave Hingsburger on "Sex Education"



Dave Hingsburger is correct: The term "sex education" does make parents, Boards (not to mention many teachers) nervous when it comes to intellectually disabled people. And yes, the only times I've really had to have a discussion about the mechanics of sex explicitly are when an issue has already come up (some sort of assault or abuse has happened, sexual safety within a relationship is a concern, someone's level of understanding about sex needs to be determined).

The rest of it, as Dave Hingsburger talks about, has been the sort of questions that you'd expect from people that have modeled to them that it's the norm to be in a relationship, to want to be a relationship...but that don't always have the skills required to negotiate relationships (which is a great deal of us, disabled and non-disabled).

I'm not crazy about the term "relationship training"..."training" leaves me cold...but I do like the concept, for a couple of reasons:

  • It gets around that  knee-jerk negative reaction that people have to sex education for intellectually disabled people. 

  • It reinforces to intellectually disabled people and to the people involved with them that it's healthy and natural for intellectually disabled people to want to be in relationships. It's their right, and an appropriate area in which to offer guidance should it be desired.

  • It normalizes a healthy need for education for *everybody* in this area. I can think of at least five non-disabled people off the top of my head who would likely take "relationship training" if they felt that it would increase their chances of finding a long-term partner. Hell, I'd benefit from it myself. It's not just intellectually disabled people who, for a variety of reasons and sometimes through no fault of their own, need to learn or improve upon relationship skills. In fact, I'd go as far to say that we all struggle at times with knowing and or/doing what it takes to be in a relationship - this isn't a "disability thing".

  • As Dave Hingsburger points out, it de-emphasizes sex. Sex is (usually) a part of a romantic relationship, but not all of it.

  • Lots of platonic relationships require negotiating as well, and some of the interpersonal skills that "relationship training" would teach are transferable to platonic relationships.

  • In both individual and groups contexts, it could address confusion about sexual orientation and different kinds of loving relationships in society.

I've not seen a "relationship training" curriculum of the sort that Dave Hingsburger describes, but I can certainly see how it would be useful, and much more expansive than a general sexual education curriculum.  

For staff and families, supporting intellectually disabled people as they learn relationship lessons can be a full-time job in itself (ask Linda Atwell at http://outoneear.com). We should make use of all the effective tools available. I like the idea of "relationship training" as a tool.

Now, if we could just do something about the name...

Thanks, Dave Hingsburger, for (as always), giving me plenty to think about.

Check out Dave Hingsburger's blog at http://www.davehingsburger.blogspot.co.uk/.



  1. Relationship "training" does sounds sort of blegh, though I get why it's more user friendly than "sex education." I don't get why he couldn't just blend the two together though, and stick with relationship education? It sounds more humanizing, with the education bit.

  2. Hey, thanks for letting me know about your post and I'm glad you like some of the concepts that I raised in the video. As to the name, when we were moving away from 'sex education' we consulted with our self advocate group regarding the name, they preferred relationship training - because they all wanted more relationships in their lives and they preferred training to education because many had had a difficult time in the education system and the idea of 'education' was intiminating. They thought training was more 'user friendly.' That's the history behind the 'name' of the classes. More and more I am (and we are) trying to consult with the people we serve about what we do, what we say and how we proceed. I'm guessing a different group of people with intellectual disabilities might make a different decision altogether.

  3. I figured that there was a good reason behind it, and should have said so. My apologies. It wasn't ultimately intended as criticism, and I hope that it doesn't take away from the post's overall message: that your approach to addressing relationships and sexuality addresses the needs of the whole person more effectively than that found in the traditional sex education format. It's always interesting (and often telling) to find out what words bring up negative associations for people...

  4. Hi Kels, thanks for your comment. Isn't it interesting that a word that left us cold was the preferred word when presented to the self-advocates at Dave's agency (over "education"?) Life experience is such a powerful thing when it comes to shaping what we think about different words...