, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 167-176

Understanding of Sexuality and Reproductive Health Among Women With and Without Physical Disabilities

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This study compares differences in how women with disabilities and women without disabilities learned about their sexuality and reproductive functioning. A written questionnaire was sent to a national sample of women with disabilities and their non-disabled woman friends recruited through independent living centers and announcements in the media. Responses were received from 504 women with disabilities and 442 women without disabilities. Participants were asked how old they were when they first learned about the physical aspects of sexual intercourse. Women with disabilities learned about the physical aspects of sexual intercourse at about the same age (M = 13.16) as women without disabilities (M = 12.93). The most commonly reported sources for learning about sexuality and sexual functioning for both groups were books and other printed material, having sex, partners, friends, and teachers in primary school. More women with disabilities received information from a woman with a disability and a rehabilitation counselor. Women in both groups indicated that sex was never or seldom the subject of general family conversation. On average the women with physical disabilities had their first date at age 16.6, which is later than women without physical disabilities (M = 14.91). Women with physical disabilities who reported having acquired sexuality information at a later age reported having sexual intercourse at an older age (M = 20.37) than women without physical disabilities (M = 17.75). Age at acquiring sexuality information was neither associated with frequency of intimate touch nor frequency of sexual intercourse. The results of this study can be used to generate recommendations for health care professionals concerning ways to respond more effectively to the special needs for sexuality information of physically disabled women.