Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 978–1009 | Cite as

So from Here Where Do We Go? A Focus on the Sexuality of Women with Disabilities in Africa: A Narrative Review

  • Christine PetaEmail author
  • Lieketseng Ned


This article is a narrative review of literature pertaining to the sexuality of women with disabilities in Africa. The review was undertaken through searching electronic databases namely, CINAHL, African e-Journals, MEDLINE, JSTOR, PubMed, and Web of Science; a general internet search was also undertaken. Focus was mainly on literature written in English over the past three decades (1987–2018), and search words that were used to draw publications included disability, disabled women, women with disabilities, disabled sexuality, disability and womanhood, gender and disability, sexuality, sexual experiences, womanhood, female sexuality, sexuality of disabled women in Africa, spinal cord injury, sexual health, psychosocial impairment, deaf women, blind women, women with albinism and women with epilepsy. The findings of the review indicate a paucity of literature on the subject, albeit a developing interest on the topic, particularly over the past decade. Furthermore, there is evidence that the intersection of disability, gender and culture adds a layer of disadvantage to the sexual experiences of women on the continent. In addition, heterosexuality is generally assumed for women with disabilities at the expense of different sexual orientations. Research that facilitates the voice of women with disabilities of all sexual orientations in Africa is likely to empower the women, to both independently and jointly redefine and affirm their sexuality in ways that promote their health and well-being.


Sexuality Disability Women with disabilities Africa 



  1. Ahumuza, S. E., Matovu, J. K., Ddamulira, J. B., & Muhanguzi, F. K. (2014). Challenges in accessing sexual and reproductive health services by people with physical disabilities in Kampala, Uganda. Reproductive Health, 11(1), 59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Albrecht, G. L., Seelman, K. D., & Bury, M. (2001). Handbook of disability studies. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Barigga, S. R. (2014). Unravelling the myth: People with disabilities do it too. Retrieved November 2, 2018, from
  4. Burke, E., Kébé, F., Flink, I., van Reeuwijk, M., & le May, A. (2017). A qualitative study to explore the barriers and enablers for young people with disabilities to access sexual and reproductive health services in Senegal. Reproductive Health Matters, 25(50), 43–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carew, M. T., Braathen, S. H., Swartz, L., Hunt, X., & Rohleder, P. (2017). The sexual lives of people with disabilities within low- and middle-income countries: A scoping study of studies published in English, Global Health Action.
  6. Chappell, P. (2014). How Zulu-speaking youth with physical and visual disabilities understand love and relationships in constructing their sexual identities. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 16(9), 1156–1168. Scholar
  7. Chappell, P. (2015). Queering the social emergence of disabled sexual identities: Linking queer theory with disability studies in the South African context. Agenda, 29(1), 54–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chappell, P. (2017). Dangerous girls and cheating boys: Zulu speaking disabled young people’s constructs of heterosexual relationships in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 19(5), 587–600. Scholar
  9. Choruma, T. (2007). The forgotten tribe: People with disabilities in Zimbabwe. Harare: Progressio.Google Scholar
  10. De Beaudrap, P., Beninguisse, G., Pasquier, E., Tchoumkeu, A., Touko, A., Essomba, F., … Mac-Seing, M. (2017). Prevalence of HIV infection among people with disabilities: a population-based observational study in Yaoundé, Cameroon (HandiVIH). The Lancet HIV, 4(4), e161–e168.Google Scholar
  11. Dotson, L. A., Stinson, J., & Christian, L. (2003). People tell me I can’t have sex: Womenwith disabilities share their personal perspectives on health care, sexuality and reproductive rights. In M. E. Banks & E. Kaschak (Eds.), Women with visible and invisible disabilities, multiple intersections, multiple issues, multiple therapies (pp. 490–507). New York: The Harworth Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  12. Epprecht, M. (2013). Hungochani: The history of a dissident sexuality in southern Africa (2nd ed.). Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s Press.Google Scholar
  13. European Expert Group on Sexuality Education. (2016). Sexuality education—What is it? Sex Education, 16(4), 427–431. Scholar
  14. Gomez, T. G. (2012). The S words: Sexuality, sensuality, sexual expression and people with intellectual disability. Sexuality and Disability, 30(2), 237–245. Scholar
  15. Groce, N. E., & Trasi, R. (2004). Rape of individuals with disability: AIDS and the folk belief of virgin cleansing. The Lancet, 363(9422), 1663–1664. Scholar
  16. Hammell, K. W. (2006). Perspectives on disability and rehabilitation: Contesting assumptions; challenging practice. Edinburgh: Elsevier Health Sciences.Google Scholar
  17. Hanass-Hancock, J. (2009a). Disability & HIV/AIDS—A systematic review of literature on Africa. Journal of the International AIDS Society, 12(34), 1–11. Scholar
  18. Hanass-Hancock, J. (2009b). Interweaving conceptualizations of gender and disability in the context of vulnerability to HIV/AIDS in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. Sexuality and Disability, 27, 35–47. Scholar
  19. Haram, L. (2005). AIDS and risk: The handling of uncertainty in northern Tanzania. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 7(1), 1–11. Scholar
  20. Hunt, X., Carew, M. T., Braathen, S. H., Swartz, L., Chiwaula, M., & Rohleder, P. (2017). The sexual and reproductive rights and benefit derived from sexual and reproductive health services of people with physical disabilities in South Africa: Beliefs of non-disabled people. Reproductive Health Matters, 25(50), 66–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hunt, X., Swartz, L., Carew, M. T., Braathen, S. H., Chiwaula, M., & Rohleder, P. (2018). Dating persons with physical disabilities: The perceptions of South Africans without disabilities. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 20(2), 141–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kalichman, S. C., Williams, E. A., Cherry, C., Belcher, L., & Nachimson, D. (1998). Sexual coercion, domestic violence, and negotiating condom use among low-income African American women. Journal of Women’s Health, 7(3), 371–378. Scholar
  23. Karimu, A. A. (2017). Exploring the sexual and reproductive health issues of visually impaired women in Ghana. Reproductive Health Matters, 50, 123–133.Google Scholar
  24. Kvam, M. H., & Braathen, S. H. (2008). “I thought… maybe this is my chance”: Sexual abuse against girls and women with disabilities in Malawi. Sexual Abuse, 20(1), 5–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Le Roux, M. (2008). Look at me. Cape Town: Genugtig Publishers.Google Scholar
  26. Leclerc-Madlala, S. (2003). Transactional sex and the pursuit of modernity. Social Dynamics, 29(2), 213–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Living Zimbabwe. (2008). The small house syndrome. Retrieved August 16, 2015 from
  28. Madunagu, B. E. (2007). Empowering youth through sexuality education: The challenges and opportunities. In E. Maticka-Tyndale, R. Tiemoko, & P. Makinwa-Adebusoye (Eds.), Human sexuality in Africa: Beyond reproduction (pp. 83–94). Auckland Park: Jacana Media.Google Scholar
  29. Majiet, S. (1996). Sexuality and disability. Agenda, 28, 77–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Makinwa-Adebusoye, P., & Tiemoko, R. (2007). Introduction: Healthy sexuality discourses in East, West, North and southern Africa. In E. Maticka-Tyndale, R. Tiemoko, & P. Makinwa-Adebusoye (Eds.), Human sexuality in Africa: Beyond reproduction (pp. 1–16). Auckland Park: Jacana Media.Google Scholar
  31. Malacrida, C. (2009). Performing motherhood in a disablist world: Dilemmas of motherhood, femininity and disability. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 22(1), 99–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mama, A., Manuh, T., & Pereira, C. (2005). Editorial: Sexual cultures. Feminist Africa Sexual Cultures, 5, 1–8.Google Scholar
  33. Mavuso, S. S., & Maharaj, P. (2015). Access to sexual and reproductive health services: Experiences and perspectives of persons with disabilities in Durban, South Africa. Agenda, 29(2), 79–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McKenzie, J. A. (2013). Disabled people in rural South Africa talk about sexuality. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 15(3), 372–386. Scholar
  35. Mgwili, V. N., & Watermeyer, B. (2006). Physically disabled women and discrimination in reproductive health care: Psychoanalytic reflections. In B. Watermeyer, L. Swartz, T. Lorenzo, M. Schneider, & M. Priestley (Eds.), Disability and social change: A South African agenda (pp. 261–272). Cape Town: HSRC Press.Google Scholar
  36. Mpofu, E., & Harley, D. A. (2002). Disability and rehabilitation in Zimbabwe: Lessons and implications for rehabilitation practice in the US. Journal of Rehabilitation, 68(4), 26–33.Google Scholar
  37. Ndinda, C., Uzodike, U. O., Chimbwete, C., & Mgeyane, M. T. M. (2011). Gendered perceptions of sexual behaviour in rural South Africa. International Journal of Family Medicine. Scholar
  38. Nganda, S. (2007). Sex education: Do our teens need it? In E. Maticka-Tyndale, R. Tiemoko, & P. Makinwa-Adebusoye (Eds.), Human sexuality in Africa. Beyond reproduction (pp. 53–65). Auckland Park: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd.Google Scholar
  39. Okello, R. (2018). Cultural stigma and myth: Disabled women in Kenya are vulnerable to sexual abuse. Retrieved January 5, 2018, from
  40. Peta, C. (2017a). Disability and sexuality in Zimbabwe: Voices from the periphery. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Peta, C. (2017b). Gender based violence: A “thorn” in the experiences of sexuality of women with disability. Sexuality and Disability, 35(3), 371–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Peta, C. (2017c). Disability is not asexuality: The childbirth experiences and aspirations of disabled women in Zimbabwe. Reproductive Health Matters, 25(50), 9–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Peta, C. (2018a). Deafening silence on a vital issue: The World Health Organisation has forgotten the sexuality of persons with disabilities. African Journal of Disability, 7(474), 1–4.Google Scholar
  44. Peta, C. (2018b). Sexuality education: Why leave disabled girls and disabled women behind. In P. Chappell & M. De Beer (Eds.), Diverse voices of disabled sexualities in the Global South. London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  45. Peta, C., McKenzie, J., & Kathard, H. (2015). Voices from the periphery: A narrative study of the experiences of sexuality of disabled women in Zimbabwe. Agenda, 29(2), 66–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Peta, C., McKenzie, J., Kathard, H., & Africa, A. (2016). We are not asexual beings: Disabled women in Zimbabwe talk about their active sexuality. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 14(4), 410–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Phasha, T. N., & Nyokangi, D. (2012). School-based sexual violence among female learners with mild intellectual disability in South Africa. Violence Against Women, 18(3), 309–321. Scholar
  48. Rugoho, T., & Maphosa, F. (2017). Challenges faced by women with disabilities in accessing sexual and reproductive health in Zimbabwe: The case of Chitungwiza town. African Journal of Disability, 6, 252. Scholar
  49. Russo, N. F., & Pirlott, A. (2006). ‘Gender‐based violence’. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1087(1), 178–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Shakespeare, T. (2000). Disabled sexuality: Towards rights and recognition. Sexuality and Disability, 18(3), 159–166. Scholar
  51. Smith, E., Murray, S. F., Yousafzai, A. K., & Kasonka, L. (2004). Barriers to accessing safe motherhood and reproductive health services: The situation of women with disabilities in Lusaka, Zambia. Disability and Rehabilitation, 29(2), 121–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Staples, R. (2006). Exploring black sexuality. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc.Google Scholar
  53. Steyn, M., & van Zyl, M. (2009). The prize and the price. Shaping sexualities in Africa. Cape Town: HSRC Press.Google Scholar
  54. Stiker, H. J. (1999). A history of disability. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  55. Tamale, S. (2005). Eroticism, sensuality and “women’s secrets” among the Baganda: A critical analysis. Feminist Africa Sexual Cultures, 5, 9–35.Google Scholar
  56. Tamale, S. (2011). African sexualities: A reader. Oxford: Pambazuka Press.Google Scholar
  57. UNFPA. (2015). The evaluation of comprehensive sexuality education programmes: A focus on the gender and empowerment outcomes. New York: UNFPA.Google Scholar
  58. United Nations. (2006). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Retrieved November 2, 2018, from
  59. Van der Heijden, I., Harries, J., & Abrahams, N. (2018). In pursuit of intimacy: Disability stigma, womanhood and intimate partnerships in South Africa. Culture, Health & Sexuality. Scholar
  60. Wazakili, M., Mpofu, R., & Devlieger, P. (2006). Experiences and perceptions of sexuality and HIV/AIDS among young people with physical disabilities in a South African township: A Case study. Sexuality and Disability, 24(2), 77–88. Scholar
  61. Wilkerson, A. (2011). Disability, sex radicalism and political agency. In K. Hall (Ed.), Feminist disability studies (pp. 194–217). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Wood, K., & Jewkes, R. (1997). Violence, rape and sexual coercion. Everyday love in a South African township: An overview. Gender and Development, 5(2), 41–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. World Health Organization. (2018). Gender, equity and human rights. Retrieved November 2, 2018, from
  64. World Health Organization and World Bank. (2011). World report on disability. Malta: World Health Organisation. Retrieved December 21, 2013 from
  65. Zinanga, E. (1996). Sexuality, identity and change. Southern Africa Feminist Review, 2(1), 3–6.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stellenbosch UniversityCape TownSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations