FASD and sexuality

This can be a tricky subject, but it's an extremely important one. It's very common for those affected by FASD to experience some complex issues around emerging sexuality which can become serious. It's essential for them to receive early, clear, repeated information around what is and what is not appropriate, alongside supervision where necessary. 

Schools present sex education lessons for adolescents and teens but these can be confusing to those with FASD. And because young people with FASD want to be included, they can be a target for sexual advances by others – or can become involved in coercion themselves. 

Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour (ISB) 

ISB can include inappropriate touching, promiscuous or dangerous sexual behaviour, sexual remarks, lack of physical boundary space, disrespect of privacy, masturbation in inappropriate settings, exposing ones’ self, voyeurism, and obscene or offensive language. Many of these problems can be mitigated by open discussion and clear boundaries which must be constantly reinforced as those with FASD transition into adulthood. 

Can-FASD research paper on ISB

CanFASD, the Canadian National FASD research agency, produced an issue paper in 2018 on ISB in those with FASD. The purpose of this was "to highlight an overview of the current existing research conducted in this area and offer implications for individuals, families, caregivers, and policy makers." It is important reading – here are a few samples of their finding. 

• Researchers estimated that ISBs are displayed by 45%-52% of adults with FASD. Rates of ISB associated with FASD appear to increase over the lifespan, with studies demonstrating the rates of ISB in children (ages 6-11) at 39%, 42% in adolescence (ages 12-20), and up to of 65% in adult males. The average age when ISB initially present is approximately 10 years old, although the age of emergence can vary.

• Individuals with developmental disabilities should receive sexual health education which is specifically informed by the person’s needs and disability.

• It is essential that FASD-informed approaches towards adopting healthy sexuality and properly addressing ISB are implemented to help individuals with FASD as part of holistic support. Individuals with FASD are sexual beings like everyone else and need to understand their sexuality and sexual needs in a healthy way.

The research concluded:

"ISB is frequently an adverse life outcome for individuals with FASD ... there is an obvious need for future research to address the significant gaps in this area. Future research should focus on investigations that better outline the cause of ISB in this population, as well as the assessment of FASD and ISB. Researchers also need to examine sex offender treatment programs for individuals with FASD and improve understanding about FASD amongst professionals addressing ISB, specifically those within legal settings contending with those experiencing trouble with the law as a result of ISB."

Click here to download and read this important paper. 

Family Planning NZ – The Colours of Sexuality brochure

Family Planning have created an excellent e-resource for those teaching or caring for intermediate and secondary students with learning disabilities, including FASD. The resource provides a framework to navigate Relationships and Sexuality Education with young people who may need extra support in understanding concepts in the standard curriculum.

Click here to go the website to download ($5).