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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.