Entering the Seventies: Sexual Revolution and Sexual Rights
Finally, the long silence about sexuality was broken–not only for people
with disabilities, but also for the general population. Many of us slowly tried to
overcome our own anxiety and guilt about sexuality, which had kept us from
talking about it and also kept our clients imprisoned in their own ignorance and
The increasing sexual openness was fostered both by the youth revolution
of the time and by scientific research about sexuality, pioneered by Alfred
Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, and John Money. Many innovative publications
for the general public appeared, such as Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex, which
popularized talk about quality and variety in sexual practice (18). More schools
began offering some form of “family life education” in spite of the foreverongoing
controversy surrounding it. The 1970 Presidential Pornography Commission
recommended repeal of all legislation covering the sale of sexually
explicit materials to adults. This freedom has proved invaluable to sex educators
and therapists working with clients who need concrete imagery in order to
understand sexual matters.
Normalization, deinstitutionalization, civil rights, the sexual revolution,
school sex education, birth control–all these changes involving the sexuality
of people with intellectual disabilities led to special challenges to help them that
cried out for action at this time.
Meeting the NeedsmEarly 1970s
In 1969, the senior author joined the group of pioneers that were responding
to these challenges. She had been called upon to help at former work sites
because her experience as psychologist, social worker, and educator uniquely
combined the fields of mental retardation, family planning, and sex education.
These monumental tasks faced them:
1. To help everyone–parents, professionals, all of society–accept the
fact that disabled people are sexual
2. To learn more about the sexuality of persons with disabilities and share
3. To define and advocate for their sexual rights
4. To convince professionals and parents of the importance of sex education
and training in social skills, defining responsible sexual expression
5. To develop training courses for those who would counsel or teach retarded
students about sexuality
6. To develop expertise in helping professionals and parents deal effectively
with the sexual behavior of their charges
7. To share, organize, and document successful experiences, evaluate resuits,
and constantly advocate more research
8. To develop special resources for training professionals and for them to
use in their teaching and counseling duties
Sexuality and People with Intellectual Disabilities 101
9. To help end the practice of nonconsentingsterilization and provide altemative
birth control services
Reviewing the above, one can understand that the small band of “experts”
felt overwhelmed by this formidable list. Consequently, one of their first tasks
during the early 1970s was to reach out for help by presenting these goals to
professionals and parents involved with disabled persons at specially planned
large meetings. They also presented their “cause” to members of various local
and national associations concerned with mental health/retardation and education.
Often there was standing room only in the largest rooms available, a
reassuring indication of the rapid spread of interest in the subject.
The principal goals outlined by the speakers were:
(a) to let this special group in on the “secrets” about sexuality
(b) to protect them from abuse and train them in social skills, which
would improve their self-esteem and enhance their relationships
(c) to help them express their sexual impulses appropriately, safely, and
Also, the speakers usually presented a list of sexual rights, of which there
were several versions. The senior author’s version comprises the rights to:
® receive training in social-sexual behavior that will open more doors for
social contact with people in the community
• have access to all the knowledge about sexuality they can comprehend
• enjoy loving and being loved by either sex, including sexual fulfillment
® express sexual impulses in the same forms that are acceptable to others
• many and have a voice in whether or not to have children
° have supportive services, as they are needed and feasible (1).
Early Training and Sex Education Programs
With thousands of people keenly alerted to the needs described above
came the outcry for persons who could teach and counsel the disabled about
their sexuality. Where were these trainers and teachers? There were scarcely
any documented precedents to follow. As in all training on the emotion-packed
subject of sexuality, we already knew that part of every training session,
whether two hours or two weeks in length, must include the raising of anxiety
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