Dating and intimacy

 Having “someone special” and dating can be exciting.  Experiencing new emotions and feelings towards others is a big part of puberty and growing up.

TASCC dating and intimacy
It is normal for youth to want to have a dating relationship, but it is important for them to realize that some people don’t date during their teen years and some people never date at all. 


It is possible to have good friendships without dating.

There are no rules that say one must date, but some youth will feel pressure from their friends or the media. Others feel that dating will make them happier.


All Ali can talk about at dinner is Juan! She is absolutely and completely head over heels crushing on her classmate at school. They are both in the same senior high program and also ride the bus to school together. Ali’s family wonders if this is just a phase. There is a school dance coming up for Halloween and Ali says that this will be the night they kiss. Does Juan feel the same way about Ali? Does Ali know that kissing is only ok if the other person wants to do it too? Dating is serious stuff and Ali’s family doesn’t know where to start.

Parent Tip

It is normal for parents to feel protective of their children and nervous about the idea of dating. Parents may feel that their children are too young to date and will try to shelter them. A Swedish study of youth with intellectual disabilities found that they want to learn about relationships, love, friendships, how to establish an intimate relationship and how to find a boyfriend or girlfriend1. Share your concerns with your child and set boundaries and expectations. Some families do not allow dating and others set age limits. Choose what you feel is right for your family and share this with your child.


Many youth have crushes where they develop strong romantic feelings for someone. It can be fun to have a crush, such as a celebrity crush for someone on TV or in a band.

If the crush is on someone known by the youth, explain that the feelings do not need to be acted upon. It is ok to admire someone from a distance and simply dream of what it would be like to be with that person.

It is important to teach that even when youth ask someone for a date, that person may say no. Be prepared to comfort your child/youth if they are rejected, and explain that dating is a choice and this is part of growing up and learning about relationships.

Dating Relationships

Parents and families may set rules for dating and it is important for them to share these rules with their children. These rules can provide some boundaries for safety (e.g., only date in a public place) and may reflect family values (e.g., only date someone the family knows).

Some families may want to chaperone the couple by supervising them on their date. Service providers can encourage discussions about dating and relationships by asking youth if they know what their families believe about dating.

Just like friendships, dating relationships should be healthy. Youth can learn about what makes a relationship healthy by watching the relationships around them. Healthy dating relationships should be fun and positive, building self-esteem and confidence. If a relationship is unhealthy, youth may need support to recognize that the relationship is having a negative effect on them. They may need some help to end the relationship because they do not know what to say or are fearful. 

To learn more about healthy and unhealthy relationships, click here 


Parents and service providers can use books, TV shows and movies to highlight examples of good dating relationships. Talk about how the characters treat each other. Be sure to point out when someone is not being a good date and how the relationship is not working. Highlight that a bad relationship can make someone very unhappy and sometimes the best thing is for that relationship to end.

Intimate Relationships

 Talking about sexuality with children and youth can be uncomfortable. Parents and service providers play an important role in helping them make healthy choices about sexuality.

Avoiding these discussions will not stop them from dating or being involved in an intimate relationship. Youth with disabilities report similar levels of sexual activity as those without disabilities and some studies suggest higher rates.2

Sex can mean different things to different people.

Do not assume that youth know what sex is.

Some may think that sex is kissing or when two people roll around on the bed. Sexual activities can range from kissing and touching to intercourse. Not having a clear understanding of what sex involves can put youth at risk as they may take part in activities without knowing the consequences.

Consequences of a sexual relationship can include pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), negative emotions, and changes in the way family and friends perceive someone’s reputation.

Here are some important teaching points for youth:

  • Sex is private and taking part in sexual activities in public is not only inappropriate, it is against the law.
  • Abstinence, the decision not to take part in sexual activities, is the safest option for many youth. However, if one chooses to be sexually active, using protection can reduce the risk of pregnancy and STIs. To learn about safer sex for youth with disabilities click here .
  • Every sexual activity should be consensual. Consent means both people give and get permission to take part in the sexual activity. Consent is not just verbal, body language can show someone that sex is unwanted (e.g., pushing someone away).
  • Everyone has the right to change their mind at any time. Sex without consent is sexual assault.

Good to know

 The age of consent to sexual activity in Canada is 16 except if the:
  • Other person is in a position of authority (e.g., teacher, coach, employer).
  • Sexual activity is exploitative (e.g., pornography, prostitution, trading sex for safety).
 Children under the age of 12 cannot give consent. Consent is needed for all sexual activity ranging from kissing and touching to intercourse. To learn more about consent, click here


If you suspect that a child or youth has been sexually assaulted, even if they are not able to explain or tell you clearly, there is help available. Call 811 or visit an urgent care center, emergency department, or see your doctor. It is important to listen, stress that you believe them, and offer support without judgment. If you or someone you know is experiencing or has questions about sexual abuse and sexual assault call the CONNECT Network: 403.237.5888 in Calgary or 1.877.237.5888 toll-free in Alberta.

1Frappier, J.Y., Kaufman, M., Baltzer, F., Elliott, A., Lane, M., Pinzon, J., & McDuff, P. (2008). Sex and sexual health: A survey of Canadian youth and mothers. Pediatrics & Child Health, 13(1), 25-30. 
2Saskatchewan Prevention Institute. (2017). Parents as sexual health educators for their children: A literature review. Retrieved from 
3Breuner, C. C., Mattson, G., & Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2016). Sexuality education for children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(2).