Understanding FASD and sexual behaviour

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Without proper support, individuals with FASD can face a variety of difficulties. According to some caregivers, one especially concerning challenge relates to sexual behaviour. There is preliminary research to support these reports, suggesting that some individuals with FASD are at a higher risk of being involved in, and being the victim of, problematic sexual behaviour.

A number of possible reasons may explain this challenge. Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause changes to the developing brain, which can impact an individual’s cognitive skills and also their ability to regulate their behaviour and interpret social cues. Individuals with FASD may experience difficulties with comprehension, adaptive behaviour, social skills, understanding consequences, and impulsivity, all of which could impact interactions with others.

Inappropriate sexual behaviour may also be linked to experiences of victimization. In general, people who have experienced abuse and violence may be at increased risk for engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviours.

There is a significant lack of research in this area. More research is needed to understand healthy sexual development among people with FASD, to prevent and address inappropriate sexual behaviours, and to develop supports for individuals who experience victimization or abuse.

What can you do?

It can be challenging to talk about safe sex and sexual health due to stigma or embarrassment. However, it is important to provide opportunities for open conversations about healthy sexuality and sexual needs. It is also important to consider that the “inappropriateness” of a particular behaviour may reflect differences in development or maturation that occur for people with FASD. Exploring what healthy sexual development means for each individual with FASD can help to prevent misinterpretation and inform approaches for support.

For people with developmental disabilities, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that sexual health education be tailored to meet the person’s unique needs at different ages and life stages. Sexual health education should:

  • Increase the individual’s knowledge and understanding
  • Promote motivation and personal insight
  • Develop skills to support sexual health
  • Be offered in a safe environment conducive to optimal sexual health

Important topics of sexual health education include consent, avoiding risky situations, safe sex, healthy sexual relationships, and appropriate times for sexual behaviours.

Supporting sexual health for people with FASD should also take into account the specific needs of individuals who have experienced abuse. Additional considerations include the possibility of sexual exploitation, unplanned pregnancy, and potential involvement with the justice system due to inappropriate behaviours.

Tools and Resources

Friendship? Dating? Sex? Relationships in the Complex FASD World

Teaching Sexual Health

Safety Issues: FASD and Sexuality

Issue Paper: FASD and Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour

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