Young People with Intellectual Disability Talking About Sexuality Education and Information


When young people with intellectual disability (ID) begin to explore their sexuality they face a number of challenges accessing information and support. Unlike most of their non-disabled peers, young people with ID face the challenge of developing their sexuality and relationships within a narrow and regulated social and private life. For young men with ID their sexuality is often pathologised and for young women there is a focus on hygiene, self-protection, and pregnancy. For both young men and young women, their education is dominated by a biological focus and taught as ‘rules’. Mainstream sexuality education curriculum has progressed to a more holistic approach. This holistic approach is missing from programs experienced by young people with ID. In this study we spoke to young people with ID about their experiences and opinions of the effectiveness of sexuality education. Gender-specific focus groups were conducted with 14 young men and 11 young women with ID attending transition programs in Australia. Qualitative data were analysed using a constant comparative method informed by Grounded Theory and highlighted three issues: (1) the young people knew facts and rules but not the ‘how to’ of relationships and sex (2) access to information was limited and mediated by risk averse informants (3) the young people were full of unanswered questions - they wanted to know more and do more.

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This research was funded by the 2012 Australasian Society for Intellectual Disability (ASID) research prize. The views expressed herein are those of the authors.

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Correspondence to Patsie Frawley.

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Frawley, P., Wilson, N.J. Young People with Intellectual Disability Talking About Sexuality Education and Information. Sex Disabil 34, 469–484 (2016).

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  • Intellectual disability
  • Sexuality and relationships
  • Young people
  • Transition to
  • Adulthood
  • Sexuality education
  • Gender