Sexuality and Disability

, 23:227 | Cite as

“I Thought I was Less Worthy”: Low Sexual and Body Esteem and Increased Vulnerability to Intimate Partner Abuse in Women with Physical Disabilities

  • Dena Hassouneh-Phillips
  • Elizabeth McNeff


Several studies have documented disproportionately low sexual and body esteem in women with high degrees of physical impairment. Moreover, other studies have begun to examine the problem of intimate partner and other forms of abuse in women with physical disabilities. In this article we examine the link between low sexual and body esteem and intimate partner abuse in women with physical disabilities based on findings obtained from an in-depth qualitative study. Findings indicate that women with high degrees of physical impairment are more likely to perceive themselves as sexually inadequate and unattractive than women with mild impairment. These negative perceptions, when combined with a strong desire to be partnered, increased women’s vulnerability to getting into and staying in abusive relationships over time. Major themes presented in the article include: societal devaluation, low sexual and body esteem, preference for non-disabled men, desire to be partnered, and relationship decision-making. We depict the relationships between each of these themes in a simple model to further aid the reader’s understanding.


intimate partner violence sexual esteem body esteem women with physical disabilities 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of NursingOregon Health Science UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.Regional Research Institute Portland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  3. 3.School of NursingOregon Health Science UniversityPortlandUSA

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