Maturing Sexually as an Adolescent with a Brain Injury

Dr. Mariann Young talks about the importance of educating adolescents with TBI about sex when they are ready to hear it and understand that issues of sexuality and intimacy are not black and white.

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[Mariann Young, PhD] We're fortunate enough in our treatment center to have a transitional program. [Mariann Young, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Rainbow Rehabilitation Centers, Inc.] So we do see many children that come with us and then grow through adolescence, and then we also have a young adult program that includes a vocational workshop. In adolescence, they deal with sexuality. They deal with sex education. Because they're so vulnerable, they're at risk. They interpret someone as saying— this is an actual situation that occurred. We had a girl shopping at T.J. Maxx, and someone came up and said, "Oh, you're so pretty! You should be a model. "I'm a photographer, and I take pictures of models, and they become runway models." This girl was beautiful but wasn't your typical runway model, and clearly someone was hitting on her to take God knows what kind of pictures of her. So she came back to the treatment center, and we discussed this in the girls' group, and the group leaders stated to her that this person was trying to get you into a vulnerable position. In the meantime with the adolescent boys, they were discussing sexuality, and it's a guys' group, and it's all guys with male group leaders. And some of the absurd topics that came up were that— in looking at sex education, they knew how to test if someone had a sexually transmitted disease. And the way they tested this was if you took earwax out of your own ear and touched a girl's genitals and she screamed, that meant that she had an STD, so you shouldn't have sex. And it was reported to us that in this group, it was the one young man that brought it up and then looked across the room. They said, "Oh, yeah. My uncle told me that. My grandfather—" So again, you educate and try to change the thought processes of these kids because the big picture is you have a group of 16-, 17-year-old males that will go out with unprotected sex thinking that they know which girls have STDs by some nonsensical process. Across the hall, you have a group of girls that are so vulneralbe that they're at risk for nude modeling, having sex, and thinking it's okay because they dressed and— I hate to use this expression—but asked for it. Now fast forward to when the kids are 21, and they bring up to the group leader— we want to discuss sex education. We're all sexually active. We're concerned. What are the STDs? So the group leader goes to the CDC site, copies the information, and in every session they talk about a different sexually transmitted disease, because the kids then are understanding. They are mature. They're ready to receive the information. They initiate it, they want to know, and they want to be protected. And they want to be smart, but 5 years ago they're not able to, nor do they believe what you're saying. And I know it's a long illustration, but that's the kind of growth that you see, and that's in just one area. And you see it across—you see them gradually able to take in more of a big picture, that things aren't just that black and white, that they're not that concrete, that they're not— this is my egocentrism, this is my idea; therefore, it must be right, and I'm going to go with it.
Posted on BrainLine April 30, 2014.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Justin Rhodes, BrainLine.