Sexuality Education for Individuals with Autism and Developmental Disabilities

Self-Exploration, Masturbation and Erotica

In this video, Dr. Achey discusses self-exploration, masturbation and erotica as they relate to children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities. Just a reminder, each of these training sessions are brief and should not be considered a comprehensive sourece on the specific topics covered. Each family is encouraged to determine what information and activities are appropriate for their child.

Children are encouraged to know about appropriate times and places for self-exploration. Each family will have their own preferences for whether self-exploration is appropriate or not. However, know this is typical behavior for children and the exploration may involve other children at times as they compare their own bodies to the bodies of others.

At a young age, a child touching their genitals is normal, and young children are not touching themselves to achieve orgasm. However, as a child matures they may choose to masturbate for the purpose of achieving an orgasm. This behavior may range by age and development for each child. It is important to discuss that masturbation should only be done in private. Masturbation is a healthy thing to do, it feels good and, if done in the absence of negative messages, it increases the likelihood that adolescents will become sexually healthier and happier adults.

Your child also needs to know that deciding whether or not to masturbate is a personal choice that may depend upon the values of their family. If you believe that masturbation is harmful, then let your child know that masturbation is not acceptable in your family. Try to do so without making your child feel guilty about their behavior. It is, after all, a normal behavior. Understand that your child will probably masturbate anyway.

Erotica is any sexually explicit, visual art. The average age of a child the first time they see internet erotica is 11 years old. When presented with the opportunity and such easy access, many are choosing to view erotica and doing it more than once. Children and adolescents are not developmentally able to handle the emotional or mental impact these graphic images contain. This is especially true for a child with an intellectual disability. The ability to process what is real or fictitious becomes distorted and will be especially confusing. 

Despite the discomfort of discussing this topic, it is important the risks of watching erotica be discussed as a family. Parents should talk to adolescents about pornography and continue the conversation. Look for teachable moments in the media and remind your child of your family values. Tell your children that erotica and pornography can be an online search result and what to do if they find it. Reassure them they will not be in trouble if they come to you. Teach them about responsible online behavior and rules, encourage them to turn it off and talk to a trusted adult. You may want to consider establishing family rules for the use of computers and other devices,  as well as putting parental controls on certain devices in your home. It is your responsibility as a parent to keep your children safe in the age of technology.