Sex and the Developmentally Disabled
On this episode, you will hear from Richelle Fribotta. Richelle discusses her work teaching people with developmental and intellectual disabilities about sex. While there are many misconceptions around whether people with DD are even able to understand or participate in sex, Richelle clears up these myths.
Compared to years ago, we learn that there is more activity around sexual education for DD people. Richelle works anywhere that has a need but her main visits currently are institutions.
Advice for Parents
For any parent trying to educate their kids about sex whether they suffer with DD or not, it can be a difficult journey. She approaches DD kids in a similar way to non DD kids, advising parents or caregivers to firstly open up and be approachable before trying to find a curriculum to share with their kids.
With many misconceptions out there, Richelle mentions just a few she comes across. Her work has led her to people who think sex ed cannot be taught to DD people and that people with an IQ under 70 are not sexual. Some she says, fear that broaching the topic would lead to people with DD looking to explore it in inappropriate ways.
Richelle points out her firm message around consent, age difference and sex with non humans, re-iterating that these are her hard lines and that she communicates this very clearly to her students. She also focuses on Increasing communication skills and how to say no, as well as prevention. For people that want to deliver sexual information to people with DD, she equips them with teaching methods.
What to leave out
According to Richelle, reading her students developmental age versus chronological age determines a lot of her content. Teaching where students are and reading them is a major part of her method. Richelle does not use lecture format and infuses pleasure into her lessons. There is no set prioritization in the order or learning as she deals with her students wherever they are.
Richelle has been a professional community-based Sexuality Educator since 1992 when she was employed at Planned Parenthood (Dayton, Ohio). First certified as a Sexuality Educator by the American Association of Sexuality Educator Counselors and Therapists in 1996, she is also a CSE Supervisor since its inception in 2014. She teaches a multitude of subjects that are human sexuality to many populations and in various venues: 4th – 12th graders, higher education institutions, public, private and non-profit organizations, faith communities, alcohol and drug rehabilitation facilities, jails…anywhere she is invited. When training colleagues and those working in human services, she emphasizes that sexuality education should be taught from a medically accurately and research-informed, compassionate, person-centred lens with methods that are developmentally relevant, culturally inclusive while grounded in social justice praxis and a code of ethics. She never forgets that teaching also means learning.
Richelle is most proud of her focus on individuals with divergent learning styles. She has authored curricula, trained staff, provided group education to parents, caregivers and self-advocates, and consultation services for folks in the Intellectual -Developmental Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, Autism Spectrum, and Traumatic Brain Injury communities. Most notably in 1997, she established a full-service sexuality education program for an Ohio County Board of DD. Richelle works with State of Ohio DODD, Council of Governments (COGs), Superintendents, and other invested professionals to offer multiple on-going education services throughout Ohio. Her most current work is with self-advocates in Oklahoma and training developmental center staff in Ohio. Both projects endeavor to establish local “sexperts” who co-author and train about quality of life and equity-based topics that are human sexuality.
Currently, Richelle occupies Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) where she is Coordinating the Dennis L. Carlson Sexuality Education Studies Center; Instructing in the Family Science and Social Work Department; and wrapping up her doctoral program, Leadership, Culture and Curriculum. Her 28+ years of experiences in providing education services informs her research. Richelle’s scholarship challenges contemporary sexuality education curriculum standards and teaching preparation practices. She prioritizes supporting those who want to be credentialed and trained in best practices pedagogy and praxis.
Richelle is an active volunteer member for AASECT having served on the Ethics Committee, the Board of Directors, Professional Education Steering Committee, and presented at numerous annual conferences over the last 25 years. She has been a board member for several prevention and diversity inclusion groups. She sings in classic rock bands for creative outlet, pleasure, and to blow off steam.
Raised in a traditional Catholic home and strongly influenced by education professionals who value the power of progressive teaching pedagogy, Richelle has a profound respect for diversity of all kinds, believes in prevention education and endeavours to empower people to make healthy choices for sexual pleasure, health, and wellness. Teaching about Human Sexuality is Richelle’s passion…she loves her work and can think of nothing else she’d rather do than talk about sexuality!
sex/ual/ity: a visual representation to remind that this word encompasses behaviors (sex), feelings and energy (sexual), and identities (sexuality)
Links and Resources