Life’s full of surprises, isn’t it? I mean, who can predict what will happen to you? It seems like only the other day we were toilet training, and now we’re teaching a grown man to masturbate. Who’d have thunk it?
Actually, we really should have thunk it. It stands to reason that since we had to painstakingly teach every other skill, this one should be no exception. It just isn’t something I ever saw myself doing.
But sorry, I do apologise, you’re probably still scraping your jaw off the floor. I didn’t mean to startle you. Let me give you a bit of background. If you’re not up for that, you can always close your browser now and come back next instalment where I’ll address a slightly less controversial topic (maybe).
Right, are you sitting comfortably? Let’s begin.
We probably all agree that the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure is a wonderful gift and one that shouldn’t be denied to anyone. It’s a basic human need. People with disabilities have as much right to explore their own sexuality as everyone else.
As our Happy Chin grew into a man, Mr August and I discussed what sex would look like for him. Although we’d have loved to be able to imagine a future with someone special in his life, we didn’t really think in the short term that he would develop cognitively to a level where he could manage the complexities of an intimate relationship with another, or that this was even something he would want.
We knew that this might change in the future, but we had more pressing concerns in the here and now. Sexual release was more important for our young man than pipe dreams. And therein lay the problem – Happy Chin is only able to achieve limited sexual pleasure by rocking on the floor on his stomach. This feels nice to him but doesn’t get the job done. Very frustrating for him, and probably an additional source of behaviour problems (like we really need anymore of those!)
Why not turn to a professional? We discussed the possibility of using sex workers fairly early on. But it seemed a huge step to take given that we had no idea whether our boy wanted to be touched. How could we assume that what would feel nice to us wouldn’t feel invasive or unwanted to him? I had the opportunity to explain this to a professional at a recent disability conference. She assured me that a trained sex worker could instruct rather than participate, but we felt that this might be a bit too much as a first step.
Maybe it was better to start with the basics, we reasoned. It made sense developmentally. I mean, you gotta crawl before you can walk, right? A teenaged boy needs to know how to masturbate.
Right, so. We’ll teach him.
A quick scan of the library shelves ruled out the possibility of a book on the subject. So we’ll make a book! At the time, HC was doing the So Safe program and we were teaching public and private behaviour, so a social story was produced about when and where it was OK to touch yourself, featuring Boardmaker illustrations (who knew they had an erect penis one?) and it proved highly effective. That is, it proved highly effective at teaching Happy Chin to shut the bedroom door. Unfortunately it didn’t provide any actual instructions on what to do once the bedroom door was shut.
Next step, DVDs. Now, before you think we were downloading porn for our teenage son, let me tell you about a film called Hand Made Love. Yes, really. It’s a helpful US production that features a male actor demonstrating how to masturbate to ejaculation (it also features some homo erotic pencil drawings of naked men with a tasteful acoustic guitar soundtrack at the beginning, which really added to the awkwardness of my viewing experience, but hey-ho). Family Planning had a copy they were willing to loan us. Hopefully if Mr A or a male carer watched it with HC he would get the idea.
So the DVD duly arrived in a plain brown envelope, which sat on our kitchen bench for a week. No one had had the time, opportunity or, let’s face it, inclination to watch it. It’s Friday night, what shall we watch to go with our takeaway pizza? I know! Yeah….no.
Then one day HC and I happened to be tidying his room. Since we were both there and the house was quiet I thought, why not? It might as well be me. So I opened the envelope. An extremely good looking shirtless man was on the front cover. Awkward! This was going to be even creepier than I thought. I was quite willing to woman up and watch a man masturbate, but a hot young man? With my son sitting right next to me? This was getting into a level of wrongness I was struggling to cope with.
This is not about you, this is not about you, I repeated to myself as I slid the DVD into the player.
Well, luckily it turned out to be a different guy. A perfectly normal looking, ordinary guy who helpfully explained (and demonstrated) the entire process. It was very well made, taking care to point out the importance of being private, of feeling safe, of pleasure as a positive and natural thing. The tone was soothing and educational without being voyeurish.
And what did Happy Chin think of it? He couldn’t have been less interested. All he wanted to do was put his shoes on and go in the car.
Of course, I may have put him off a bit by making comments like:
‘Oh look, he’s using a magazine, you could do that’ while handing him a copy of Vogue.
And, ‘See how he’s cleaning himself up after, you could use your tissue box right here for that.’
And so on.
Dad duly had his turn and one of the male carers also volunteered, but no luck.
Unsurprising really, HC just doesn’t learn by watching others. We know that. He needs step by step instruction, preferably with visual aids. Expecting him to learn to masturbate by watching an actor doing it would be like expecting me to be able to fly a plane after watching a Tom Hanks movie.
So, back to the social story. All we needed to do, we reasoned, was make a social story with actual pictures demonstrating in great detail exactly what to do (Boardmaker images not being anatomical enough for the purpose). So our Coordinator of Supports, who is an absolute godsend when it comes to social stories, went on an internet search for said images, much to the amusement of her co-workers (work tip – don’t get onto Google images and type in ‘erect penis.’ Apparently her strangled cries caused her colleagues to think she was having a heart attack.)
Across town in my office, I received emails from her asking me what I thought of the attached images. Well, thank god for firewalls is all I can say. Really hope my work IT department don’t decide to have a close look at my browser history anytime soon.
The social story idea was beginning to feel like a bad one. You can’t really ask people to go trawling through porn on your child’s behalf. Plus, what if the pictures we chose didn’t look anything like HC? I mean, they come in all shapes and sizes, don’t they? Would it even really matter? So many questions you can’t ask your mother!
So technology to the rescue again! Apparently there is a shower device you can buy which fits around the object in question and….well, I don’t actually know what it does. I assume it’s a kind of male vibrator. I couldn’t open the link because I was at work. I have no idea how expensive it is, which should lead to a very interesting conversation with the NDIS. Followed by another interesting conversation in which I ask if there’s any funding for a larger hot water system to be installed at HC’s home, seeing as how we know where he’ll be spending all of his time.
Seriously wonder if they make a hot water heater with that kind of capacity. Should lead to another interesting conversation with Rheem.