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Sexual Functioning Among Women with Physical Disabilities
 

Nosek MA, Rintala DH, Young ME, Howland CA, Foley CC, Rossi D, Chanpong G. Sexual functioning among women with physical disabilities. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 1996;77:107-15.
 

ABSTRACT

A three-year study examined sexual functioning among women with physical disabilities in comparison to women without disabilities. A questionnaire consisting of 311 items containing 1011 variables was mailed to approximately 1,150 women with physical disabilities recruited as volunteers or through independent living centers. Each woman was asked to give a second copy of the questionnaire to one of her able-bodied female friends. Responses were received from 506 women with disabilities and 434 women without disabilities, yielding a 45% response rate. Marital status findings confirm reports in the literature that women with disabilities are more likely to be single; however, difference in rates of marriage, living together with a significant other, and divorce in this study were not found to be as large as reported elsewhere. Women with disabilities were much less likely to have natural children. Rates of homosexuality were similar. Data were analyzed systematically using multivariate regression and analysis of variance. There were significant differences in level of sexuality, response, and satisfaction between women with and without disabilities. While no differences were found between the groups on sexual desire, women who had childhood onset of disability reported higher levels of sexual desire. Sexual desire among women with disabilities was most related to social status variables, including work status and age, and secondarily by perception of negative social stereotypes. the strongest predictor of sexual activity was whether or not the woman lived with a significant other. Secondary predictors were positive sexual self images and perceptions of being approachable by potential romantic partners. Severity of disability was not significantly related to level of sexual activity. The only significant relationship with sexual response was type of disability, with woman who have spinal cord injury and stroke reporting the lowest scores. Social status and psychological variables were the best predictors of sexual stisfaction. Women with disabilities who lived together with a significant other, and therefore had a higher level of sexual activity, also reported greater sexual satisfaction. Lower household income was positively associated with sexual satisfaction. Women who felt less sensitive about their use of assistive devices and who had never experienced sexual abuse reported higher levels of satisfaction. There is a strong need to investigate ways in which the social environment responds to disability, the effect this environment has on the development of self esteem and sexual self-image, and how these influences affect levels of sexual functioning in women with physical disabilities.


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