Hi, I’m Jessica – A Real Talk Comic Book

Jessica is navigating the world of dating, love, and sex. It can be tricky when her family and staff keep butting in, and when guys don’t always tell her the truth. Still, she’s found some resources that work for her – and she has big plans for the future. You can download a paper version of Jessica’s story here.

What we Talk About and Why

Safer Sex and Contraception

Some adults with cognitive disabilities are having sex. Some of them may be having consensual  sex that their support networks know about. Some may be having consensual sex that their support networks do not know about. Some may be experiencing sexual abuse.

People in each of these situations may have more options to prevent unplanned pregnancies or prevent STIs if they have information about contraception and safer sex. This information can save lives.

Providing a person with information about contraception and safer sex is not the same thing as recommending that they should have sex. Ideally a person should have information about contraception and safer sex long before they actually begin having sex. So even people with cognitive disabilities  who are NOT having sex can benefit from having information on contraception and safer sex.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

STIs are just a fact of life –  like getting the flu or an ear infection. They don’t have brains, so they don’t have any opinions on our sex lives. They’re not punishment for ‘bad behaviour’ any more than catching a cold is punishment for going out to a party where someone else has a cold. They’re just tiny viruses or bacteria that have evolved an ingenious way to pass from one person to another.

Nonetheless we may find them embarrassing, and not want to talk about them. Or we may exaggerate the dangers of STIs because we think it will scare people away from having sex and thus prevent them from ever catching one. (Statistics show this doesn’t work very well.)

If STIs go untreated, they can cause serious health problems. There are a number of reasons why people with cognitive disabilities may not get testing or treatment even if they are at risk:

  • They may not have information about STIs because their supporters aren’t talking about them.
  • They may know about them but feel ashamed to admit that they’ve caught one.
  • They may feel terrified because they’ve heard how dangerous STIs can be.
  • Their family or staff may not know that they’re having sex, so telling someone they want to get tested or treated means admitting they’re sexually active.

In our videos people give accurate medical information about STIs, and de-stigmatize them as simply a part of life. This can help people feel more comfortable to access any medical care they may need.

Pleasure and Sensuality

We can get so focused on talking about the risks of sex (like pregnancy or assault or STIs) that we forget that many people like to have sex (alone in masturbation or with others) because it feels pleasurable. Talking about pleasure in sex acknowledges one of the main reasons why people choose to have it.

People with cognitive disabilities are often denied information about how sex can be pleasurable. This can leave them with the impression that it’s a dangerous thing best left alone – thus denying them the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether sex is something they want to pursue.

Many people who are having partnered sex are discouraged from valuing their own pleasure. They may be having sex in ways that are pleasurable for the other person, but not for them. Talking about pleasure makes it a valid thing to want to get out of sex, and to negotiate for in sexual relationships.

There are lots of products out there like toys, lubricant, and erotica that many people use to increase their sexual pleasure (alone in masturbation or with others). People with cognitive disabilities who are having solo or partnered sex are often denied access to information about these products. This reduces their potential for pleasure. It can also lead to injury. For example, people sometimes injure their genitals by using slippery but caustic products as lubricants. (shampoos, detergents, chemically perfumed lotions etc.) Safer products specifically designed for this purpose are available, and people deserve to know about them so they don’t hurt themselves.

Our videos embrace sexual pleasure as valid and positive, but they also acknowledge that people have varied experiences with sex, and that there are many nonsexual ways people can experience pleasure and intimacy with their partners.

Where to Get Information About Sex

Sex education happens to everybody every day, whether we like it or not. We are bombarded with images, messages, and ideas about sex from our televisions, billboards, iPods, computers, and magazines. This ‘education’ is factually unreliable, and it often reinforces a particular value set. Some people are objectified. Others are ridiculed or erased. This ‘education’ is also a one-way monologue. It’s not a dialogue. There isn’t room for questioning or reflection.

In the midst of all this, we could all use someone reliable and trustworthy to talk to about sexuality. For people with cognitive disabilities, picking the right person is important. Our videos discuss what qualities to look for in a confidante. We also list services that provide accurate, agenda-free sexual health information. You can also find this information on our Resourcespage.

We also discuss who NOT to talk to about sex. (Strangers are usually a bad choice, for example.)

Rejection

Everyone experiences rejection. People with cognitive disabilities likely experience it more than most. They get turned down for dates. Staff who they are close to move on to other jobs. It can feel terrible. In our videos, people talk about their experiences of rejection, and their recovery from rejection. Hearing these stories can bring hope and build resilience.