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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
K Mayers D Heller J. Heller (2003) ArticleTitleDamaged sexual self-esteem: a kind of disability Sex Disabil. 21 269–282
J Mayer M. Eisenberg (1988) ArticleTitleMental representation of the body: stability and change in response to illness and disability Rehabilit Psychol. 33 155–171
M McCabe G. Taleporos (2003) ArticleTitleSexual esteem, sexual satisfaction, and sexual behavior among people with physical disability Arch Sex Behav. 32 359–369 Occurrence Handle10.1023/A:1024047100251 Occurrence Handle12856897
G Taleporos M. McCabe (2002) ArticleTitleDevelopment and validation of the physical disability sexual and body esteem scale Sex Disabil. 20 159–176
G Taleporos M. McCabe (2001) ArticleTitleThe impact of physical disability on body esteem Sex Disabil. 19 293–308
G Taleporos M. McCabe (2002) ArticleTitleThe impact of sexual esteem,body esteem, and sexual satisfaction on psychological well-being in people with physical disability Sex Disabil. 20 177–183
G Taleporos M. McCabe (2001) ArticleTitlePhysical disability and sexual esteem Sex Disabil. 19 131–148
G Taleporos M. McCabe (2003) ArticleTitleRelationships, sexuality and adjustment among people with physical disability Sex Relationship Therapy. 18 5–6
L Benrud-Larson L Heinberg C Boling J Reed B White F Wigley J. Haythornthwaite (2003) ArticleTitleBody image dissatisfaction among women with scleroderma: extent and relationship to psychosocial function Health Psychol. 22 130–139 Occurrence Handle12683733
P Kettl S. Zarefoss (1991) ArticleTitleFemale sexuality after spinal cord injury Sex Disabil. 9 287–295 Occurrence Handle10.1007/BF01102017
D Hassouneh-Phillips E. McNeff (2004) ArticleTitleUnderstanding and defining care-related violence against women with spinal cord injury J Spinal Cord Injury Nurs. 21 75–81
Gill C: Dating and relationship issues. In Women with Physical Disabilities – Achieving and Maintaining Health and Well-being, Krotoski M, Nosek M, Turk M. (eds.) Baltimore: Paul Brooks, 1996, pp. 117–124.
D Rintala C Howland M Nosek J Bennett M Young C Foley G. RossiC Chanpong (1997) ArticleTitleDating issues for women with physical disabilities Sex Disabil. 15 219–242 Occurrence Handle10.1023/A:1024717313923
R. Basson (1998) ArticleTitleSexual health of women with disabilities Can Med J. 159 359–362
R. Chance (2002) ArticleTitleTo love and be loved: sexuality and people with physical disabilities J Psychol Theol. 30 195–208
M Nosek D Rintala M Young C Howland C Foley C Rossi G. Chanpong (1996) ArticleTitleSexual functioning among women with physical disabilities Arch Phys Med Rehabilit. 77 107–115
A Vansteenwegen I Jans A. Revell (2003) ArticleTitleSexual experience of women with a physical disability: a comparative study Sex Disabil. 21 283–290 Occurrence Handle10.1023/B:SEDI.0000010070.46481.17
B. Lawrence (1991) ArticleTitleSelf concept formation and physical handicap: some educational implications for integration Disabil, Handicap Soc. 6 139–146
S. Wendell (1996) The Rejected Body – Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability. Routledge New York.
Jans L, Stoddard S: Chartbook on Women and Disability in the United States. An Info-use Report. Washington DC: National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research, 1999.
MA Curry D Hassouneh-Phillips A. Johnston-Silverberg (2001) ArticleTitleAbuse of women with disabilities: an ecological model and review Violence Against Women – An Int Interdisciplin J. 7 60–79
D Hassouneh-Phillips MA. Curry (2002) ArticleTitleAbuse of women with disabilities: state of the science Rehabilit Counsel Bull. 45 96–104
E Young M Nosek C Howland G Changpon D. Rintala (1997) ArticleTitlePrevalence of abuse of women with physical disabilities Arch Phys Med Rehabilit Special Issue. 78 S34–S38
Nosek M, Howland C, Rintala D, Young E, Changpon G: National Study of Women with Physical Disabilities: Final Report. Houston, TX: Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, 1997.
L Powers MA Curry M Oschwald M Saxton K. Eckels (2002) ArticleTitleBarriers and strategies in addressing abuse: a survey of disabled women’s experiences J Rehabilitat. 68 4–13
S Milberger N Israel B LeRoy A Martin L Potter P. Patchak-Schuster (2003) ArticleTitleViolence against women with physical disabilities Violence Vict. 18 581–591 Occurrence Handle14695023
Riddington J: “Beating the Odds”: Violence and Women with Disabilities (position paper 2). Vancouver, B.C.: DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada, 1989.
Berkeley Planning Associates. Priorities for future research: results of BPA’s Delphi survey of disabled women. Oakland, California: Berkeley Planning Associates, 1996.
M Nosek C Foley R Hughes C. Howland (2001) ArticleTitleVulnerabilities for abuse among women with disabilities Sex Disabil. 19 177–189
Mertens D: Mixed methods and the politics of human research: the transformative-emancipatory perspective. In Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioral Research, Tashakkori A, Teddlie C. (eds.) Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003, pp. 135–164.
I. Seidman (1991) Interviewing as Qualitative Research: A Guide for Researchers in Education and the Social Sciences Teachers College Press New York.
Benner P: The tradition and skill of interpretive phenomenology in studying health, illness, and caring practices. In Interpretive Phenomenology: Embodiment, Caring, and Ethics in Health and Illness, Benner P. (ed.) Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1994, pp. 99–128.
QSR Ltd. NVivo 2.0. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003.
B Parker Y Ulrich L Bullock D Campbell J Cambell C King K Laudenburger J McFarlane J Ryan D Sheridan L Smith-McKenna S. Torres (1990) ArticleTitleA protocol of research on abuse of women Nurs Res. 39 248–250 Occurrence Handle2367208
Creswell J: Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Traditions. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1998.
Y Lincoln E. Guba (1985) Naturalistic Inquiry Thousand Oaks Sage.
C. Tilley (1996) ArticleTitleSexuality in women with physical disabilities: a social justice or health issue? Sex Disabil. 14 139–151
Campbell J: Making the health care system an empowerment zone for battered women: health consequences, policy recommendations, introduction, and overview. In Empowering Survivors of Abuse: Health Care for Battered Women and Their Children, Campbell J, (ed.) Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1998, pp.3–22.
JC Campbell D Webster J Koziol-McLain C Block D Campbell MA Curry F Gary N Glass J McFarlane C Sachs P Sharps Y Ulrich SA Wilt J Manganello X Xu J Schollenberger V Frye K. Laughon (2003) ArticleTitleRisk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study Am J Public Health. 93 1089–1097 Occurrence Handle12835191 Occurrence Handle10.2105/AJPH.93.7.1089
CB Cunradi R Caetano J. Schafer (2002) ArticleTitleAlcohol-related problems, drug use, and male intimate partner violence severity among US couples Alcoholism: Clin Exp Res. 26 493–500
A Stark E. Flitcraft (1995) ArticleTitleKilling the beast within: woman battering and female suicidality Int J Health Serv. 25 43–64 Occurrence Handle7729966
Sutherland C, Bybee D, Sullivan C: The long-term effects of battering on women’s health. World Health Res Gen Behav Pol, 1998.
B Walton-Moss C Morrison T Yeo K Woodruff N Woods JC Campbell J Kub C Dennison M. McCaul (2003) ArticleTitleInterrelationships of violence and psychiatric symptoms in women with substance use disorders J Addict Nurs. 14 193–200 Occurrence Handle10.1080/jan.18.104.22.168
CG Watson M Barnett L Nikunen C Schultz T Randolph-Elgin CM. Mendez (1997) ArticleTitleLifetime prevalences of nine commonpsychiatric/personality disorders in female domestic abuse survivors J Nerv Mental Dis. 185 645–647
About this article
Cite this article
Hassouneh-Phillips, D., McNeff, E. “I Thought I was Less Worthy”: Low Sexual and Body Esteem and Increased Vulnerability to Intimate Partner Abuse in Women with Physical Disabilities. Sex Disabil 23, 227 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11195-005-8930-3
- intimate partner violence
- sexual esteem
- body esteem
- women with physical disabilities