Sexuality and Intimacy for People with Congenital Physical and Communication Disabilities: Barriers and Facilitators: A Systematic Review


Barriers and facilitators affecting the social activities of people with congenital physical and communication disabilities are well documented. However, little is known of their experiences of developing sexual and intimate relationships. This study conducted a systematic review of the literature to address this gap in knowledge. Ten online databases were searched for relevant papers between 1990 and 2014. In addition, hand searches of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Journal and the Sexuality and Disability Journal were conducted. Fifteen papers were identified and appraised. The thematic coding approach identified six principal themes. However, the content analysis revealed that the majority of the literature focused on the social needs of people with physical and communication disabilities. Despite evidence that people with disabilities are sexually active, there is little focus on the experiences of people with disabilities developing intimacy and expressing sexuality. The few references to sexuality in the relevant literature focused on protection from abuse, though some researchers called for improved counseling on sexuality and relationships, and improved access to sexual health services. Further research is required to focus on practical and theoretical outcomes to enhance social relationships and sexuality, and offer lovers who use AAC real advice in their search for intimacy.

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The paper forms a part of the doctoral studies of the first author, under the primary supervision of the second author, and the secondary supervision of the third author. The authors extend their special thanks for the support of Raechel Damarell, Senior Liaison Librarian for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences of Flinders University for her expertise and time in the development of the search criteria. Thanks are also extended to Claire Hutchinson for her editorial and formatting assistance.

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Correspondence to Darryl Sellwood.

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Sellwood, D., Raghavendra, P. & Jewell, P. Sexuality and Intimacy for People with Congenital Physical and Communication Disabilities: Barriers and Facilitators: A Systematic Review. Sex Disabil 35, 227–244 (2017).

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  • Sexuality
  • Intimacy
  • Communication disability
  • Physical disability
  • Augmentative and alternative communication
  • Systematic review
  • Australia