Women with disabilities may not receive the same amount of sexuality and reproductive health information from the same sources as non-disabled women, and they obtain less of their education through sexual experience.
A study compared the sexual knowledge, feelings and needs of mostly women and some men with a physical and mild intellectual disability, to those of the general population and found that:
- People with physical disability had less sexual knowledge
- People with physical disability had less sexual experience
- People with physical disability had more negative attitudes toward sex
- Half of people with disabilities had never had any sex education
- People with disabilities were less likely to get sexual information from their family and friends
- People with disabilities were more likely to get sexual information from media, such as TV, magazines or formal classes.
A national study that focused only on how women with physical disabilities learn about sexuality also found that they were more likely to learn about sexual intercourse from college courses. However, they found that overall, women with disabilities received sexual information at the same age and from the same sources as women without disabilities.
Overprotective parents and caregivers may prevent teens with disabilities from learning about and experiencing sexuality. Studies indicate that women with disabilities have strong, often unmet needs to experience dating, intimacy, and sexual interaction, but they lack opportunity for sexual expression and lag behind their peers in sexual experience.
Health care providers, assuming that women with visible or disfiguring disabilities are not interested in sex or not sexually active, are less likely to offer information on birth control, safe sex practices, sexually transmitted disease and possible effects of their disabilities on sexual response, than they are to women without disabilities.
The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
Sexual health and well-being can play a positive role in a person’s life and overall health throughout all phases of life. Like many other aspects of our health and well-being, sexual health can be affected by disability and related secondary conditions. Sexual health is not just sexual functioning but also sexual esteem, healthy relationships, societal views of disability and sexuality, and so much more! Here we address just a few of the ways sexual health is affected in women with mobility impairments.
Sexual dysfunction has been studied in-depth in men and even in men with mobility impairments. Female sexual dysfunction been studied very little and almost no research exists on sexual dysfunction in women with mobility impairments. Visit our Sexual Functioning page for more detailed information.
Many people, including some medical providers assume women with mobility impairments are not or do not want to be sexually active. Here at CROWD, our findings indicate that is not true! Though sexual activity preferences may change with the onset or progression of a disability, women with disabilities can and do have healthy, active sex lives. See our Sexual Activity page for more information.
Using Your Health Care Team
Addressing sexual health problems, like other areas of pelvic health, may be done best by working with a health care team. Because sexual health problems may be caused by issues in multiple body systems, medications prescribed by different providers, and disability and/or secondary conditions, getting your health care team to work together can be helpful. Don't be afraid to encourage you providers to contact one another. You will probably have to give permission for them to speak with each other and access your records but remember, the primary goal of all providers should be to help you!