Sex Education for Special Needs Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching students with special needs about sex does not have to be awkward, and it is very important! This lesson discusses special education in relation to students with diverse special needs.

Sex and Special Education

For the last few years, Barry has been teaching special education in a self contained elementary school setting. This year, he has moved to a high school, and he is excited to be working with an older group of students.

One of the things Barry is intimidated by, however, is the district-wide mandate that he incorporates sex education into his curriculum. Barry knows that it is important for students with special needs to learn about sex, bodies, and development. At the same time, he feels a bit uncertain about the best way to approach this topic.

Barry knows that it is normal for teachers to feel some conflicts about sex education, and in fact, many parents of students with special needs still see their children as too young to learn about sex. Yet Barry understands that it is his responsibility to teach his students what they need to know to feel safe and comfortable in their bodies and in relationships.

Knowing Your Students, Knowing Their Needs

First of all, Barry remembers that no two students with special needs are exactly alike. His students have different strengths and struggles, and their special needs manifest in different ways.

When Barry plans his approach to sex education, he thinks about his students and their different needs. Some of the issues he considers, for instance, are as follows:

  • His students with autism really struggle with social cues and thus, will need extra education about reading body language and what it means to get consent from someone else in a sexual situation.
  • His students with mental retardation are at especially high risk for being taken advantage of and will benefit from learning self-defense as part of their sex education.
  • His students with physical disabilities and medical vulnerabilities may need to learn about extra precautions they need to take in order to keep their bodies safe.

Barry thinks carefully about each of his students, their strengths as learners, and their areas of challenge and discomfort as he plans his curriculum.

Starting with Good Language

Next, Barry thinks about the kind of language he will use when teaching sex education to his students. He knows that many of his students have only been exposed to euphemisms and even infantile language for describing body parts and processes.

Barry thinks of his students as whole and complex people who deserve access to clear and scientific language for describing their bodies and sexuality. Though he knows it can be uncomfortable, he devotes lessons to vocabulary for sexual language, including anatomy as well as processes related to puberty and words for describing human relationships.

Barry uses images and diagrams to supplement his vocabulary teaching, thus appealing to the visual learners in his class and helping his students remember and increase their comfort with new terminology.

Safety and Health

Barry knows that safety and health are always an important part of sex education, and his students are often even more vulnerable to unsafe sexual encounters. A major part of his curriculum is around teaching his students what their rights are and how to say no to touch they do not want.

He also explicitly discusses their responsibilities for keeping other people safe, using social stories and scripts to discuss consent and mutual respect.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account