"الجنس حاجة طبيعية ولسنا ملائكة"... العلاقات الحميمية لذوي الاحتياجات الخاصة
Ismail did not understand the nature of the physical transformation as he turned of fourteen- he was going through puberty and didn’t understand it on the physical or psychological level so he did not discuss what was happening to him with his parents, although they were close to him and were very concerned with his wellbeing. He was not allowed to leave the house alone, in anticipation of any sexual threats he might encounter. They believed that he had entered a sensitive stage and needed to keep their eyes on him at all times, but they did not tell him why he was receiving this special attention and not his siblings.
This sparked a lot of questions to figure out the changes he was experiencing which caused him internal conflict, whether to stay under the wing of his parents who gave him a sense of safety or to go out and discover life without support, in a bid to change the stereotypes about people with special needs.
Ismail Youssef, 23, a young Algerian man with mobility disabilities and impaired vision since childhood due to a medical malpractice.
"My teen years were difficult - my friends both girls and boys often described me as an angel boy, guiltless, with nothing to repent for, an asexual without sexual desire. But that bothered me, it made feel different from them, which perhaps wasn’t their intention but it left its mark on me and created a barrier especially with the girls. And each time I showed interest in a girl, I would see pity in her eyes rather than anything else. There was a chasm between me and those around me. This is how Ismail described his teens.
Ismail added: "Society sees that people with special needs as helpless people, who have no primal needs, such as love and sex. This grows with them maybe because they were brought up in a culture where there is a gag on sex education, a sin and a taboo.”
Although Ismail chose to be independent and to depend on himself in his professional and social life, this did not empower him in society, which deprives him of his most basic rights, namely the formation of a family. And of course, his conservative family upbringing prohibits him from having any premarital illicit relationships in order to meet his sexual needs though marriage options for him are almost non-existent.
Bilal Ahmad Odeh, a psychologist, defines sex education in the first chapter of "Sexual Education for People with Special Needs" as a type of education that provides people with special needs with practical information, positive experiences and sound attitudes towards sexual issues, as much as their physical, physiological, mental, and emotional growth allows. This educational framework would enable them to make sound judgements in sexual situations and face sexual problems now and in the future in a realistic way which would lead to good mental health.
In the second chapter of the same book, Odeh noted that sex education for people with special needs is important, especially in adolescence, as sexual activity at this stage is at its highest peak.
Reem, a beautiful girl from Aleppo, now a refugee in Germany: The moment I buried my foot, I buried along with it my emotions, my dreams and my desires, and even the clothes I used to wear. I no longer needed them”. #ScarsFromSyria
Sex is unattainable to many in the Arab world on the basis of societal norms and religious spam: the vilification of contractual marriages for the purpose of sex. As such, special needs people are particularly affected and marginalised.
Odeh stressed that all people have the right to obtain accurate and correct information about the psychological development of human beings in all its manifestations and facets, and about the anatomy of the body, including the reproductive system its physiology and the blood chemistry associated with vital functions, including its sexual functions and the hormones associated with it. About masturbation, self-pleasuring, its forms and consequences. The concept of reproduction, parenting for both sexes, sexual responses, insight into relationships with the opposite sex and understanding their personal responsibilities in such relationships.
Odeh pointed out in the second chapter that people with special needs have a special psychological profile, as well as natural needs such as sleep, food, clothing, protection and warmth.
However, the psychological profile of the person may have an impact on the nature of their sexual needs and problems they would encounter and therefore there are different procedures for dealing with them in accordance with the profile.
Reem (pseudonym) chose to take refuge in Born, Germany three years ago,
The 35-year-old woman’s house in Aleppo, Syria, was hit by a shell, she lost her left foot and decided to escape from the darkness of her city to seek psychological treatment.
“The moment I buried my foot, I buried along with it my emotions, my dreams and my desires, and even my clothes, which I used to wear, I no longer needed them,” Reem told Raseef22. “I couldn’t fathom what had happened to me, I ended up in a wheelchair and I know what that means for an Arab girl my age. My livelihood was taken away from me and I went into shock that I didn’t really recover from until I had therapy in Germany.”
“After a significant amount of time spent in therapy I slowly resumed my normal life,” she said. “Until I met a young Iraqi man, which was a paradigm shift for me, for the first time I felt truly lucky, I met him at the centre where I was receiving therapy, I noticed that we were drawn to one another and got along, and after a short period of time he proposed to me, I should have felt happy at that moment like any girl but I had different feelings, neither happiness nor sadness”.
Reem realized that she had to get rid of the psychological and physical barriers that society had created for her.
“My marriage was the biggest challenge. I remember that the first night after my wedding I was in panic, I asked my husband to switch off the light so he wouldn’t see what my body looked like with one foot but he refused and maybe that encouraged me to have a sexual relationship spontaneously without any complications, the opposite to what I had thought this relationship would be like.”
Reem pointed out that myths created by society can impede people with special needs, most important of which is about sexual dysfunction but the situation varies from person to person, which is normal between two people who begin a sexual relationship.
In Palestine, specifically in the Gaza Strip, some consider the sexual desire of people with special needs to be a sort of luxury that they cannot demand even in marriage, for this is in the context of the crisis in the Gaza Strip, food, housing and minimum wages under the Palestinian Labour Law all collude against the weakest segments of society .
Karim Hassan, a 33-year-old Palestinian living in Gaza who is studying for a master's degree has not allowed a meningitis caused blindness to stop him from pursuing his education after separating from his wife.
"The blind person sees with his heart and can distinguish most things correctly. That would astonish my wife when I would describe how her body looked, the color of her hair, her clothes, many details from our marital life” He adds "Although my relationship with my wife in the first months of our marriage was good, she couldn't continue, because of the societal pressures we were exposed to, I heard relatives telling her- how can he see you? How did you manage to live with him and to have a sexual relationship, how can you feel secure?”
Karim points out that people with special needs can live and form a family normally, and this is dependent on how harmonious their relationship with their partner is and how understanding their partner is.
According to Stephanie Ghanem, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, sexuality remains one of the taboo subjects which Arab societies are forbidden from speak about. "Sexual education is seen as "sex", not a natural condition for humans. Which stops them from having healthy sexual relations, the risks of which are doubly evident for people with special needs, as they generate guilt, depression, isolation and aggression, and they may resort to unsafe means to meet their sexual needs, which may expose them to sexual exploitation or harassment. ''
Ghanem pointed out the need to involve people with special needs in society, which is the responsibility of the family first, and then schools, educational institutes and community rehabilitation centres, and this helps to create a nurturing environment that protects people with disabilities and increases their self-confidence and independence.
Ghanem concluded that the sexual abilities of people with special needs vary from case to case, according to the natural and psychological changes that occur to them, since there is a difference in their mental and physical abilities.