Intellectual Disability and Sexuality: What are the Tendencies and Perceptions?

Courtesy of Newgenics in Action

Courtesy of Newgenics in Action

A few months ago, I set out to review literature on intellectual disabilities (ID) and sexuality with the following five emphases.  The first aim was to describe attitudes and beliefs regarding sexuality and ID.  The second aim was to describe the issues surrounding feminine health.  The third aim was to describe the challenges of intimate relationships.  The fourth and fifth aim was to explore the sexual rights of this population and the current interventions that are in place to address the sexual issues.

I researched the following databases in order to find the most relevant articles: Pubmed (2000-2015), CINAHL (2000-2015), and PsycINFO (2000-2015) databases were searched for peer-reviewed articles using a systematic search strategy.  Articles published in English and reporting on the aforementioned foci were considered.

This is what I found: out of Eighty-two articles that were included in this review, the majority of the studies on attitudes and beliefs showed that everyone in society, including college students, still have reservations about the sexuality of individuals with ID.  That is, people are still uncomfortable about the topic.  There are many misconceptions about sex in this population, which includes the fact that people of this population are asexual, oversexed, sexually uncontrollable, sexually animalistic, subhuman, childlike, and breeders of offspring with disabilities–many studies have shown that this is far from the truth.

Across all of the studies that I reviewed regarding male sexual behavior, it was discovered that the most common outlet for males to express sexual predispositions was through masturbation, which is often done in public places.  Concisely, the most common types of inappropriate sexual conduct were the behaviors that occurred in public situations, involving self/others, and minors.  It looks like education about appropriate behavior is essential.

Regarding the matter of intimate relationships, all individuals with ID desired to be part of intimate relationships.  This would really make a positive impact on their mental health and well-being.  Feminine health issues such as regular health screenings that include breast and cervical exams is lacking in this population.  Finally, the majority of sexuality education/intervention programs were developed with no input from individuals with ID and most of them omitted topics about intimate relationships.

Here are my suggestions: attitudes and beliefs regarding sexuality and ID should be shifted.  Parents, caregivers, and society should embrace the sexuality of individuals with ID.  In the same way, regular health screenings should be conducted for both males and females of this population.  Moreover, policies that are favorable should be established and current tailored sexual education programs should be more thorough and all inclusive.

Although there aren’t many all-inclusive curricula and programs regarding sexuality and sexual health tailored to adults in the ID population, I found that the Public Health Department of Seattle & King County has develop a very helpful curriculum to address some sexual health topics tailored to school age students–Family Life And Sexual Health (F.L.A.S.H.) Curriculum.

Hopefully, we will see more curricula as well as more programs pertaining to sexuality and sexual health, especially regarding intimate relationships.  Individuals with ID has similar needs and desires about sexuality as individuals without ID, and it should be facilitated for them to experience and develop healthy relationships.  I will certainly do my best to personally develop a curriculum because I think that parents and caregivers want to know about how to help support their loved ones as they develop various types of meaningful relationships.

Please find the Family Life and Sexual Health (F.L.A.S.H.) Curriculum here:


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