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Women with Disabilities’ Perceptions of Sexuality, Sexual Abuse and Masturbation

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In today’s society, sexuality is recognized as a determining factor in everyone’s wellbeing. As such, it is undeniable that people with physical disabilities have the same affective and sexual needs as everyone else. Nevertheless, people with disabilities face more obstacles that can impair their sex lives. For example, the significant lack of intimacy due to the need for help manipulating personal hygiene products and the behavior of people around them (e.g., overprotection and desexualization) may make them more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Very little scientific and professional documentation or survey data documents their sex lives, and particularly the benefits of masturbation. The purpose of this article is to document the sexual experiences of women with disabilities, the sexual abuse they may suffer and the benefits of masturbation. To do so, a qualitative methodology was used, with eight participants with physical disabilities aged 18 years and over in semi-structured individual interviews. The results of these interviews show, among other things, that masturbation enabled participants to reconcile themselves to earlier negative experiences (e.g., sexual abuse) and to promote their sexual autonomy. Finally, a series of solutions must be applied to facilitate masturbation and protect these women from sexual violence (e.g., prevention programs in educational and hospital settings, better manuals, and training).

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This research project was carried out thanks to funding from the Fonds de recherche du Québec—Société et Culture granting program for “innovative projects.” The research team would also like to thank all of the participants who gave their time to answer questions during the interviews. The principal investigator would like to thank his colleagues for their expertise, support and suggestions during the study, particularily David Gotti for his enthusiastic work.

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Correspondence to Ernesto Morales.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional. To ensure ethical conduct, the study was submitted to and approved by the Institut de réadaptation en déficience physique de Québec IRDPQ’s research ethics committee. Participants’ names and dates of birth appear only on the consent form. All other information is in a separate database, identified by a participant code and kept locked up in a safe place.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this pilot study.

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Morales, E., Gauthier, V., Edwards, G. et al. Women with Disabilities’ Perceptions of Sexuality, Sexual Abuse and Masturbation. Sex Disabil 34, 303–314 (2016).

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