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Guide to sexuality awareness and management

Posted on July 27, 2019 by Ann

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John’s story

John is a 24 year old adult, with moderate intellectual disability. He attends the sheltered workshop for vocational training. One day, he was found missing from his work station for a long period of time. Later, he was found in a toilet cubicle undressed with another male friend. They were touching each others’ private parts. John’s parents told us he often surfs the internet at home and sometimes rubs his genitals against a pillow in his room. The parents and trainers at the centre have been very worried about John’s sexual behaviours which may affect his safety and that of those around him.

What is sexuality?

Sexuality is an integral part of our development. It reflects our basic physiological needs, our verbal and body language, the way we express ourselves and how we relate to others.

An individual with intellectual disability experiences biological and sexual development just as other adolescents do. Expression, display and management of sexuality however, may vary from the typical adolescent or adult.

How do I know if my child faces sexuality-related issues?

Generally, some of the common sexuality-related issues are:

  • Curiosity about others’ bodies
  • Inappropriate social boundaries such as touching, hugging and kissing others, being overly friendly with everyone, including strangers
  • Inappropriate social distance, such as standing or sitting too close to others
  • Giving out own address and phone numbers to people freely
  • Surfing the internet for pornographic websites
  • Experimenting with oral or penetrative sex with peers of the same or opposite gender

The above mentioned issues may increase your child’s vulnerability to abuse if not appropriately managed.

Why is my child doing this?

There are many possible reasons:

  • The onset of puberty together with the development of biological and sexual urges
  • Not engaging in meaningful and constructive activities
  • Lack of opportunities to socialise appropriately and the need for affection and physical touch
  • Negative peer influence

How do I manage my child with sexuality-related issues?

1. Teach your child about puberty

  • Buy sketches or visual charts to show what a male and female body looks like at different ages. Help your child to be aware of his or her body parts. Talk to your child about the functions of different body parts, including the sexual or reproductive organs.
  • When they are about to reach their teenage years, talk about the bodily changes during puberty. For example, appearance of body hair, development of breasts, and/or changing size of genitals.
  • Prepare the girls mentally for the onset of menstruation. Teach her menstrual care via small, simple steps to reduce anxiety.
  • Talk to your child about the concept of privacy. This will include talking about private body parts and private behaviours that should be done only at private places.

2. Encourage appropriate socialisation

• Teach your child about personal boundaries by letting your child imagine a hula-hoop ring around his or her body. This ring will signify the personal boundary or space which others should never cross. Similarly, the child should not enter other people’s personal space too.

•  Help your child differentiate between good touches and bad touches.

• Tell your child about both close and distant relationships. Inform your child that relationships with his or her immediate family members are close relationships while relationships with teachers, extended family members and friends are slightly less close relationships. Relationships with casual acquaintances, doctors and familiar shopkeepers are considered distant relationship.

• Teach your child how to greet people based on the closeness of the relationships. For instance, hugs are only for immediate family members. They can shake hands with their teachers, principal and extended relatives. High-fives are for friends and cousins of the similar age group. It is sufficient to simply wave for distant and casual acquaintances. With strangers, they should not engage in conversation but simply walk away.

• Encourage your child to remember the names of people he or she associates with every day, and the new people he or she is introduced to. Your child’s ability to remember names will help him or her give an accurate report of whether someone has behaved inappropriately or not.

• Encourage your child to practice describing different people by their ethnicity, race, gender, general appearance, clothes and other such descriptors. This would make them more observant about the new people they meet, and encourage accurate and consistent reporting of inappropriate behaviours.

• Teach them the NO-GO-TELL strategy, which they can adopt in an abusive situation. This means you teach them to say, “No” assertively, run away from the perpetrator, and go report to someone immediately.

• Teach them appropriate ways to express their sexuality

• Model appropriate behaviour for your child.

• The urge to masturbate is an expression of one’s sexual needs, which may be difficult to suppress. If we scold an adolescent or adult for masturbating, it actually creates in them confusion, curiosity and an increased desire to experiment. Educate your child that this is a private behaviour that needs to be done alone and behind closed doors.

• Emphasise privacy, cleanliness and safety aspects of masturbation. Talk to your child about the difference between liking someone and being in love. They need to understand that a romantic relationship implies a higher level of commitment, loyalty and the possibility of a long-term relationship such as marriage.

• Children and adults with special needs have a limited view on marriage and family life. They associate “getting married” with festivities, romance and celebration. Their perception of having a baby is more in line with having a baby to play with. Educating them about the responsibilities of family lives will help them to decide if this is really what they want.

• The subject of sexual intercourse has been a carefully avoided topic in our culture. We try to shield our children from this taboo subject as long as we can. However, educating the child about sex in a clean, healthy and scientific manner actually helps our children understand it in a more positive light. Discuss the risks of sexual behaviours with your growing child, such as the risks of pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDS.

John’s story (continued)

In John’s story above, John is a young man who is exploring his or her sexuality but is still unfamiliar with aspects of sexuality such as privacy, social boundaries, dangers of watching pornography and appropriate ways of dealing with his sexuality. All these can be gradually taught to him.

For more information and assistance with respect to Sexuality Education Programs for your child, please consult his teacher, training officer or psychologist.


MINDS is an All In Preferred Partner.

Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) is one of the largest Voluntary Welfare Organisations in Singapore, serving some 2,400 clients from past the age of six to their ripe old age. MINDS’ services include four special schools, three employment development centres, three day training and development centres, and one multi-service residential home.

This guide was originally published by MINDS’ Allied Health Professionals unit and republished with minor editorial amendments by All In.

All content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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