SHORE’s Sex-Ability Program Sparks Conversation

The Sexual Health Options Resources and Education Center (SHORE) located downtown Kitchener, is home to the Sex-Ability program, where adults and youth with developmental disabilities can receive sexual health education through weekly workshops.

One of the educators of the Sex-Ability program is Brockenshire Lemiski, a sexual health educator at SHORE. Lemiski explained that sexual health education is essential for everyone and not just those who fit the characteristics of able-bodied heteronormativity.

According to the SHORE website, those with developmental disabilities experience a significantly higher rate of sexual assault, unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“We know that upwards of 75 per cent of women with developmental disabilities have experienced sexual assault and rates of both unplanned pregnancy and STI transmission are higher in those populations. The best way of combating that is comprehensive and inclusive sexual health education,” Lemiski said.

More often than not, individuals with developmental disabilities are left out of education surrounding sexual health, consent and relationships. Many individuals, according to Lemiski, may not have even had the chance to receive this type of education in school due to the stigma surrounding developmental disabilities.

“Sexual health education is important for everybody and we know that many people with developmental disabilities have been left out of the conversation about sexual health. They may not have even had [the chance to receive] the education in school,” Lemiski said.

Lemiski explained this is because oftentimes, those with developmental disabilities are viewed as not sexual or childlike.

“We know that people with developmental disabilities have the same diversity of behaviours [or] fantasy desires that exist across the spectrum of human experience and it makes a lot of sense to make sure that they are [receiving] comprehensive and inclusive education,” Lemiski said.

To receive comprehensive sexual health education, participants receive education surrounding various topics. These topics can vary depending on the needs and the wants of each group, according to their website. Lemiski explained that most topics talked about in Sex-Ability do not differ from any other sexual health education.

“We start with relationships because that is about knowing how to recognize healthy and unhealthy characteristics and establishing boundaries and how to recommunicate when we’re feeling unsafe, when we’re liking something and not liking something,” Lemiski said.

“Sometimes in conversations we have around sexual health and developmental disabilities, there’s a greater need to talk about boundaries in terms of which places are public and private places, which body parts can be public or private parts and really helping to establish those boundaries.”

Lemiski said they also address masturbation, birth control, pregnancy and safer sex supplies.

A typical Sex-Ability class may be anxiety-inducing for some folks. These courses often open with ice breaker games and questions rather than starting right away with the concept of birth control and STI’s.

“[We] start off with a lot of comfort building because we know that conversations around relationships and sexuality are … anxiety-inducing or just not something that people are into talking about,” Lemiski said.

In addition, Sex-Ability classes are an opportunity for individuals with developmental disabilities to also share their experiences surrounding sexual assault.

“We want to help normalize conversations around sexual assault. It doesn’t tend to be a lecture where I’m at the front and everyone is listening. [Everyone] sitting in a circle and we are holding space for conversation.”