JMU News

Program addresses sex ed for youth with disabilities


Shenandoah Valley parent Lynda Chandler has firsthand knowledge of how children with disabilities can fall through the cracks when it comes to sex education in school. Her son, who is on the autism spectrum, was excused from sex education classes. 

Former sex education teacher Kristi Van Sickle also knows and said schools did not always have enough resources to support students with disabilities in the ways they deserved or were federally mandated. Unsure of where else to place them, schools would assign many students with disabilities to four or five physical education classes per day, she said. 

With $2.87 million from the U.S. Office of Population Affairs, the SexEdVA Program, part of James Madison University's Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services, will coordinate a network of Virginia-based partners to address such issues. 

Called the Disability-inclusive Sexual Health Network, the partners will develop and test interventions to improve optimal health, prevent teen pregnancy and address sexually transmitted infections among youth with disabilities. 

Taking a positive sexual health approach, DSHN encourages interventions to uplift people with disabilities as agents rather than objects and to discuss mutually respectful, equitable, happy, healthy, positive, pleasurable relationships so that students may understand what those look like, rather than focusing only on what they do not want or what to say "no" to. This approach is proven to reduce feelings of pressure to have sex, increase the likelihood of leaving and getting help for abusive relationships, and increase the use of protection against STIs and pregnancy.


About IIHHS:

Founded in 2003, the Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services (IIHHS) is a community-engaged center of learning, scholarship and mutual support between James Madison University and the community of Harrisonburg, surrounding counties and the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. IIHHS has more than 28 programs and is housed within JMU’s College of Health and Behavioral Studies. IIHHS programs strive to build on the strengths of communities and step into the gaps in a way that helps them thrive. 


Media contact: Eric Gorton, 



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Published: Monday, December 7, 2020

Last Updated: Monday, December 7, 2020

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