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Sexuality-Related Behavior of Children With FASD

Younger children with FASD often may have no fear of danger, do not respond to verbal warnings, and have no stranger anxiety. Younger children are highly tactile and may explore their bodies at inappropriate times (for example, during class time). They may also be very curious about the opposite sex.

Older children with FASD may seek close personal contact with everyone, share inappropriate information, and have difficulty distinguishing how to talk to or what to talk about with strangers, professionals, family, neighbors, school staff, etc. They are sexually curious (as all older children and adolescents are) but they have difficulty interpreting social cues from the opposite sex (“He smiled at me, so he’s my boyfriend”).

Teenagers with FASD may have trouble remembering to use a condom every time they have sex, and can’t foresee pregnancy in order to take precautions every time.

Teaching Safe Behavior Around Sexuality for Children With FASD

Strategies for Younger Children With FASD

  • Practice constant supervision.
  • Teaching personal boundaries is very important and must be taught at a young age, and constantly reinforced.
  • Teach relationships at home and wherever you go. If your child approaches strangers, deal with it on the spot, in front of the stranger. Clearly state that this is not a familiar person. Say, “This is a stranger. You do not talk to strangers (unless I give you permission).” Or use a phrase such as “Stranger Danger.”
  • Teach “private bodies” rather than "private parts", so that children are not confused.
  • Teach the names of body parts.
  • Explain to your child that everyone must be an arm’s length away.
  • Ask your child's school about resources that teach “how to make a friend, how to be a friend.” Get the printouts and take them home to use.
  • Model social interactions step by step; for example, how to shake hands, and how to give or receive hugs. Watch to see if your child is understanding; if not, help her to see the connection. (Note: If your child is sensitive about touching, tell your relatives in advance what your child prefers.)

Strategies for Older Children and Teens With FASD

  • Supervise your child's outings and activities as much as possible.
  • Use of chairs with arms may help to delineate personal space.
  • Provide cues for boundaries such as masking tape on the floor and furniture.
  • Consider making some simple rules (for example, “Everyone has to be an arm’s length away.”).
  • Arrange a friendship as early as possible with a peer of your child who is responsible and who can act as a buddy when you are not around. Keep this person in mind to consider a friendship that can be taken into adulthood.
  • Educate your child’s peers about FASD, and educate your child about what is a safe and acceptable request from a friend.
  • Provide safe activity options for your teen to get involved in. (It’s not about what she can’t do; it’s what she can do).
  • Be aware of the grade in which sex education is taught.
  • Reassure your daughter that she will not get her period if she goes to school and learns about menstruation.
  • Be open and willing to talk about menstruation. Explain it in concrete ways your daughter will understand.
  • Let your daughter know that it’s okay to practice with panty liners months or years before her period begins.
  • Mark your daughter's period on a calendar. It will remind you and her.
  • Show your daughter strategies for treating menstrual cramps, like using a hot water bottle.
  • Be open and willing to talk about masturbation for pleasure and stress relief.
  • Keep books about sex education all around the house.
  • Practice with condoms and birth control months before required.
  • Give lessons in sex education regularly. These lessons should cover a variety of topics, at the level of your child's understanding, and in concrete terms:
    • Dating
    • Responsibilities of engaging in sexual behavior
    • Relationships
    • Assertiveness/the right to refuse to be touched and the right to refuse to have sex
    • Sexually transmitted infections
    • Pregnancy
    • Contraception strategies
    • Masturbation
    • Sexual abuse
    • Personal care and hygiene
    • Puberty changes/menstruation
    • Medical/gynecological examinations
  • Provide longer-acting birth control than the traditional daily pill (Depo-Provera, the Patch or, an IUD) for your daughter.
  • Discourage inappropriate displays of affection.
  • Express clear behavior expectations that conforms with family and societal standards. If your family values include "only married couples have sex", say so, and make sure your child knows what you mean by "sexual behaviors." (Many teenagers, for example, will argue that "oral sex" or "anal sex" is "not really sex"; so parents need to be very clear about their expectations.)
  • Recognize the importance of feelings.
  • Practice appropriate displays of affection. 
  • If possible, chaperone your child's dates, or have a responsible friend double-date with your child and his sweetheart.
  • Teach the difference between acceptable behaviors in a private setting and those which are acceptable in public.

Useful Links

Fetal Alcohol and the Rules for Sex
Healthy and Safe Sexuality for Teens and Adults with FASD
Working with Children Exhibiting Sexual Behavior Problems
Safety Issues: FASD and Sexuality
Marriage and Relationships
Valerie Lipow,
Jul 31, 2012, 3:55 PM