Ignorance Is NOT Innocence: Sex Ed, Autism, and Reality


Question: (From an autism conference attendee) “My daughter has been diagnosed with Asperger’s.  She is 18 years old and will be going away to college this coming fall.  When should I start talking to her about sex?”

Answer:  An awful lot of parents have asked me similar questions over the years.  It’s tempting to say, “Well, you’re going to need a flux capacitor.”

(That’s a nerd joke.  The time machine in Back to the Future uses a flux capacitor.)

But I don’t say that.  Instead, I talk about the importance of starting sex-ed as early as possible, of making sure your child or teen has access to good information, and the vital difference between “innocence” and ignorance.

Our society often confuses the two.  It doesn’t help that the topic of teaching kids about sex is super-uncomfortable for parents.  But information doesn’t make a child less innocent.  It helps them understand themselves, take charge of their bodies, and understand other people – exactly the stuff we want kids on the spectrum to know.

And then there are the social aspects of sexual ignorance or naivety. Ignorance makes us targets for mockery and misinformation from our peers. Trust me, no child or teen, on or off of the spectrum, needs more peer-based hassling in their life.

We also simply deserve the kind of information that gives us the best understanding of ourselves and our bodies that we are capable of processing.   We deserve the kind of information that helps us to protect ourselves and make our own decisions instead of having them made for us.

There is also the very real power of victimization, sexual, social or otherwise.  The less we know, the more vulnerable we are.

Once we hit puberty, we need all of the info you can give us.

One of the most caring women I know told me, “Well, that’s all well and good, but my daughter is going through a very early puberty, so she just needs to know about the hygiene stuff.”

Um, no. If she looks older than she is, she can turn heads and get unwanted attention easily.  If she doesn’t know what that attention means, she could be in for a world of hurt and confusion.

When I was young and adorable, I had a world of problems with guys who tried to lead me into sexual activities with the most bogus little plans ever.  They’d make obvious ploys to try to “trick” me into sex acts or into allowing them to cop a feel.  They’d act like they had just thought of some activity that was old as they hills, and say, “We could do some stuff and you’ll still be a virgin, so it’s totally okay!” It was freakin’ hilarious!

But the reason it was freakin’ hilarious to me was that I knew a lot about sex.  When I was a tween, I read all about sex (hiding in the aisles of the library with my nose in a book),  everything from the Kinsey Report to Coming of Age in Samoa.

When a guy tried to oh-so-unsubtly move around my defenses (my defenses being that I didn’t want to sleep with him), it cracked me up because it was sooooo obvious.  A guy who pulled that stuff on me found himself on my “never to be seen” list darn fast.

Schoolhouse Rock was right: Knowledge is Power!

Meanwhile, I have talked to way too many intelligent young women with strict upbringings who were kept ignorant in an attempt to “protect” them.  They truly didn’t know when they were putting themselves in a predator’s hands.  They never would have guessed that there are males (and females) in this world who regard dating and sex as a way to “score,” in which the other person is a target, a goal, a marker of “winning,” rather than a person.

Even without all that, it’s pretty difficult to live in a changing body when autism makes the whole thing more complicated.  It takes years to get a handle on your new, puberty-clobbered body.  Confusion and ignorance about sex makes it way, way, way, way more stressful.  Cut your kid a break.

But where to start?  Well, if you have a kid on the autism spectrum, you might try reading Sarah Attwood’s book Making Sense of Sex.  It’s a book about puberty, relationships, sex, all the difficult stuff, written specifically with for kids on the spectrum by a sex-ed expert who happens to be married to Tony Attwood, the founder of the Brisbane Autism Research Centre [sic].

Making Sense of Sex presents information in a way that is insanely helpful and makes sense from an autistic point of view.  Get one copy now for you and one for your kid for whenever they hit puberty. Buy cheep used copies if you need to.  Leave it on the back of your toilet so you’ll find time to read at least a good deal of it.

For the younger kids there are picture books written for younger kids or kids who can’t read a lot of text. Start with Where Did I Come From? and later go on to What’s Happening to Me?, both by Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins.  Amazon has cheep used copies, and so does Bookfinder.

So now I’ve done my best to lead you down the primrose path to having conversations you’d rather skip and sharing books that make you uncomfortable with your child or teen.  Please don’t all thank me at once. 😉



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