Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Sexual Health Education for Children with Visual Impairments: Talking about Sex Is Not Enough Chelsea Krupa, Shaniff Esmail

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Sexual Health Education for Children with Visual Impairments: Talking about Sex Is Not Enough Chelsea Krupa, Shaniff Esmail

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study investigated problems that children with visual impairments experience with sexual health education. The participants identified themes that affected their knowledge of sexual health and the need for sexual health education. Strategies that address sexual health issues for individuals with visual impairments are described.

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The views that individuals who are visually impaired are asexual, that sexual health education will promote inappropriate sexual behaviors, and that persons who are visually impaired will be unable to cope with their sexuality have led educators and families to withhold information regarding sexual health from individuals with visual impairment (Davies, 1996; Hicks, 1980). The World Health Organization (WHO, 2006, p. 3) defined sexual health as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." For the individual who is visually impaired, a proper understanding of sexual health, far from promoting inappropriate behaviors, may lead to better overall health and spiritual well-being.

A number of issues have been identified that influence the poor dissemination of information on sexual health for individuals who are visually impaired. These issues include the inability to acquire information through sight (Davies, 1996; Dodge, 1979; Duh, 2000; Hicks, 1980); societal norms that restrict tactile learning (Dodge, 1979; Hicks, 1980); the lack of appropriately packaged information (for example, the lack of literature on sexual health that is transcribed into braille) (Davies, 1996; Hicks, 1980); inadequate preparation and training of families, classroom teachers, and rehabilitation counselors (Hicks, 1980; Pava, 1994); and the lack of nonverbal communication skills in people with visual impairment (Duh, 2000; Hicks, 1980; Kef & Bos, 2006). The lack of attention to these issues may place persons with visual impairment at a potential physical, mental, and social risk.

The Canadian guidelines for sexual health education (Canadian National Institute for the Blind, CNIB, 2003) state that an awareness and acknowledgment of one's sexual health can improve one's quality of life and can prevent potential health-related problems. Without acknowledgment, these problems are often compounded when individuals are visually impaired (Hicks, 1980; Murphy & Young, 2005). Low self-esteem, unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual abuse may occur when individuals are misinformed or uneducated about sexual health (Murphy & Young, 2005; Neufeld, Klingbeil, Bryen, Silverman, & Thomas, 2002; Pava, 1994; WHO, 2006). Research has revealed evidence that current educational curricula may fail to disseminate information on sexual health effectively to persons who are visually impaired.

Review of the literature

Many books and movies portray characters who are visually impaired as asexual or hypersexual, unfit for parenthood or romantic love (Bolt, 2005). If people who are visually impaired accept these assumptions, they place their health at a considerable risk. Several authorities have stated that awareness and understanding of sexual health can improve a person's quality of life, preventing such problems as low self-esteem and sexual abuse (Health Canada, 2008; Murphy & Young, 2005; Neufeld et al., 2002; Pava, 1994; WHO, 2006).

Although students who are visually impaired feel confident that they understand sexual health processes, they experience areas of misunderstanding (Davies, 1996; Duh, 2000; Kef & Bos, 2006). Unlike a child who is sighted, a child who is visually impaired does not see the physical differences between a male and a female. Furthermore, the physical changes in a body during puberty, during pregnancy, and throughout the lifespan may not be noted (Hicks, 1980). This inability to identify the sexual features of a body may lead to significant misconceptions. …

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