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Raising Expectations

PSHEexpertPSHEexpert Posts: 131Member, Community advisor Chatterbox

Hello!  I’m Gill Leno - you might have seen me hanging around the sex and relationships forum under my Scope community alter ego @PSHEExpert.  Usually I am doing my best to answer questions or make suggestions in response to questions from other forum members, but when I was asked to write a guest blog I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about something which I have been thinking about a lot recently as I prepare for the new term.

My ‘day job’ is PSHE lead in a specialist college for young adults aged between 16 and 25 with complex needs – learning, sensory and physical disabilities as well as autism spectrum conditions.  As we are heading into the start of a new academic year, one of the more exciting challenges is the slew of new relationships which will inevitably start forming as everyone gets to know each other.  College is a very different experience to being at school; here we try to make sure that our students know we experience them as adults and treat them as such too, including offering support for the romantic and intimate relationships which often end up forming.

 

As the PSHE lead, I’m responsible for coordinating some of that support, as well as developing and delivering a curriculum around sex and relationships, so I am always trying to think of ways to make it meaningful.   Helpfully, the FPA’s Sexual Health Week takes place in September which gives me a relevant focus, and this year the topic is consent – great timing!  I say that because as I look around at all the new friendships and couples, the thing that keeps coming back to me about consent is how complex it can be.  It is something that everybody has to keep on learning about, for each and every situation and every person that we end up in a relationship with, for our whole lives.  We are all so different, and communicate our wishes and desires in so many different ways.  It can start to feel a bit overwhelming, but I feel sure that this is because there’s not enough included in sex and relationships education around knowing what your own boundaries and expectations are…and being included in a conversation about raising them.

Do you ever think about your rights (and responsibilities) around your relationships or sexual life?  We all have the same ones – as well as being able to choose who we want to be in a relationship with, regardless of gender, faith, background, race etc, everyone also has the same rights to have intimate lives and the privacy to enjoy them, the right to choose and to say yes as well as no, and to have access to the information, services and support to make our relationships enjoyable, nurturing, happy and safe.   Everyone has the same right to express their gender identity and their sexuality, and to be safe and supported in doing so.  I don’t think this is talked about openly and positively enough in sex and relationships education anywhere really, but from bitter experience out in the mainstream I feel sure that it’s often left off the agenda altogether for people who have disabilities.   

 

With that in mind, I am going to try and focus on raising expectations amongst my students – not that they will definitely find the loves of their lives here at college (and certainly not in their first week!), but that they will be supported in a respectful and equal way to express their sexuality and gender – and that this should continue in their lives after college too.  Within their relationships, I want to help them find their boundaries, supporting them to find their ‘yes’ as well as their ‘no’, and to expect respect, care, kindness and pleasure in their new relationships (as well as giving that out themselves).   When sex and intimacy are taught about as something dangerous or risky (or not really talked about at all!), it makes it very difficult to know when something isn’t right.  If that’s flipped on its head and everyone has the opportunity to be part of learning that relationships can (and should) be brilliant, fulfilling, happy, awkward, challenging, joyful, rewarding, intimate, sexy, that’s a much better way of building confidence and making sure that the expectation of being included is there.

Having an expectation of kindness and respect in relationships helps to open up the conversation for when things are not as they should be, without shame or awkwardness, but it can be challenging if it’s not something that’s been talked about properly before.  We need to change that by being open and positive and making everyone’s voices heard, and ensuring that educators, support staff, advocates and allies join in and shout about sex and relationships positively, too.


- Gill 

Replies

  • MarkmywordsMarkmywords Posts: 317Member Chatterbox
    I wholeheartedly support the intentions @PSHEexpert but using the words "Yes," "No," and "Rights" is risky.
    No-one has any "right" to a relationship, any sort of touching, or intimacy.
    However, if someone else is interested then the only "right" is for the parties to accept (on their own terms) or to decline.
    Also relationships must be a meeting between equals or else someone will get hurt emotionally or physically. Truth, openness and commitment are, in most cases, more important than the physical side too.
    Teaching people how to deal with a "no" is more important now than ever before given the dehumanising effects of modern lifestyles and technology.
  • PSHEexpertPSHEexpert Posts: 131Member, Community advisor Chatterbox
    Absolutely agree with what you're saying, hence the focus on consent and understanding how people communicate that with each other.  With regards intimate lives - I should be a bit clearer that I don't mean that needs to involve anyone else.  Unfortunately though I do work with people who aren't allowed the privacy to explore their own bodies, or given space to express their sexual needs and wants, and that is something we all have a right to (as in being recognised as having them, and needing a space to explore them however that may be).

    Your point about needing how to learn to deal with a 'no' is a massive one - I really agree.  Being surrounded by teenagers navigating the online world as well as the immediate one, it's an ongoing, daily negotiation of really complex (and sometimes abstract) situations.  What strikes me is how challenging it is for those of us old enough to have grown up without the constant influence and demands of an online presence to manage having one, and how different it is for younger people who have never had the experience of managing their relationships without all of that.  It is seriously hard going!  The abstract concepts that might have been modelled more by the scenarios around us in real life are now often played out online in a way without context - it is SO confusing.  
    - Gill 
  • RapunzelRapunzel Posts: 9Member Listener
    Hi, 
    I have a teenage daughter with ADHD and Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder. She struggles in everyday situations, trying to understand and decode all the small subtleties being used. The one thing I can say is that she navigates and copes extremely well with the online world. Mainly because there is no body language to decipher and confuse her. She may have a few difficulties with sarcasm or general joking around but, it doesn't stop her making friends online. She has more online 'friends' than real, face to face, you're really real type of friends.
    As far as sex, sexuality, gender, relationships, consent and such are concerned, I have always been truthful, given accurate facts/figures and spoken about it openly since she was about 5 or 6, age appropriately of course. The concerning thing is as she struggles with body language and so on, would she be able to spot some of the subtleties that surround consent? Would she be able to convey clearly if she didnt consent or had changed her mind? 
    Thankfully she's a little naive and doesn't go out alone, so I have some time to try and teach her these things, as she won't learn them from life experience the same as her peers will.
    Rapunzel x
  • crackercracker Posts: 44Member Whisperer
    Can you give her a strict set of guidelines as to what to do and not to do> I sounds as if someone might take advantage of her. Might she call you if something starts up? Or could you give her a written card with instructions on it?

    These may seem like shallow suggestions, but I amt familiar with situations like yours.
  • mapchangemapchange Posts: 4Member Listener
    Rapunzel said:
    Hi, 
    I have a teenage daughter with ADHD and Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder. She struggles in everyday situations, trying to understand and decode all the small subtleties being used. The one thing I can say is that she navigates and copes extremely well with the online world. Mainly because there is no body language to decipher and confuse her. She may have a few difficulties with sarcasm or general joking around but, it doesn't stop her making friends online. She has more online 'friends' than real, face to face, you're really real type of friends.
    As far as sex, sexuality, gender, relationships, consent and such are concerned, I have always been truthful, given accurate facts/figures and spoken about it openly since she was about 5 or 6, age appropriately of course. The concerning thing is as she struggles with body language and so on, would she be able to spot some of the subtleties that surround consent? Would she be able to convey clearly if she didnt consent or had changed her mind? 
    Thankfully she's a little naive and doesn't go out alone, so I have some time to try and teach her these things, as she won't learn them from life experience the same as her peers will.
    Rapunzel x
    I'm a 21 year old autistic woman with PDA and speaking from experience, it'd be easier to try and get her a boyfriend who's also on the spectrum (or has ADHD or some other special need) so you know that she's not really gonna get taken advantage of. I'm in a relationship with a guy who has asperger's syndrome, OCD and in a wheelchair. It work's out nicely for us as we understand eachother and all our little quirks.

    In terms of what to actually tell her, let her know what's normal and what isn't in a relationship; make it clear about big red flags and if she spots any of them in a potential relationship then she should avoid that paticular person all together, **especially** if you've met the person and it looks like they're not gonna respect her boundaries. Also, try to talk to her about peer pressure and to not send nudes to anyone (or receive nudes) because it could get her in trouble so I guess you could also explain the consequences of that. 

    Also, when the time comes and she finally finds someone, teach her about her options re: protection, birth control, STIs, STD's etc. I'm gonna be honest with you, my high school didn't really give me much of a sex education other than "stay away from sex until after marriage" because it was a catholic school.

    Oh and I forgot to mention gender and sexuality. teach her a bit about that if you want to.

    good luck,
    mapchange .

  • RapunzelRapunzel Posts: 9Member Listener
    Thank you @mapchange.

    I'm really happy to hear a positive story surrounding relationships and early adulthood, like yours and your boyfriend's. You must know each other really well to know each others little "quirks". Just knowing my daughter, I'm certain you have enough on your own to fill a few notebooks, that's meant in a positive way. My daughter wouldn't be her, wouldn't be so unique, funny, intelligent and so on, I could bore you with everything, if she didn't have all those quirks. She drives me nuts some days, as you'd expect from a teenage girl, but for the most part I think she's fantastic, lol.

    I'll keep in mind everything you've mentioned. I'll keep reinforcing she is "normal" and so are all her feelings. I'll be sure to make a point of talking about all those "red flags" and that it's fine to say no at any time. 

    She has had a little more information around sex, relationships and growing up than you received at school but, I can't say it was much more than I myself received over 20 years ago. I think schools and the education system believe that the more information they are given the more likely they are to test it out. I've always tried to teach my daughter to gather as much information as possible and then to make an informed and educated decision. 

    As far as gender and sexuality are concerned I've always been open and honest, that each and every person is normal. We may look, sound or behave in different ways but, that's life and wouldn't it be a terrible bore if we were all exactly the same? She is very accepting of everyone, so much so I think she could be talking to a purple alien one day and never bat eyelid about their colour or country of origin, lol.

    Again, thank you for your response and thank you for being so open and honest, it's helped a lot.

    Rapunzel x
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