People with ID need to be supported to explore and express their sexuality

Claire L. Azzopardi-Lane, PhD
University of Malta

People with intellectual disability (ID) in Malta do not have many opportunities to talk about their own lives, especially about their sexuality. Very often the sexual identity of persons with ID is not granted much importance by the people around them.

What did you do in your research?
As co-researchers, we carried out four focus groups with a total of 40 self-advocacy group members with ID (ages early 20’s to late 50’s). The self-advocacy group members were then supported to hold a seminar where they discussed the findings. Lastly, this article was published, featuring study findings.

What did you find out?
The inclusive research process adopted in this study enabled a group of people with ID to discuss the important topic of sexuality, reflect on it, and to present their main findings to their family members and staff who work with them. We found that people with ID are articulate about their sexuality. Some of them adhere to cultural norms, which are influenced by Catholic teaching, while others challenge them. For example, some see sexual intercourse as being allowed only within marriage and speak of it as 'making babies', while others see it as natural behavior between two people who love each other.

What are the take-home messages?
Family members and staff should be attentive to the desires of people with ID to explore and express their sexuality. They should support them to do this, taking into account their individual wishes and needs. They should also be aware of cultural influences on the perceptions of the sexual identities of people with ID.

To learn more about these findings contact Claire Azzopardi-Lane.

Full Journal Article
Azzopardi-Lane, C., & Callus, A.-M. (2015). Constructing sexual identities: people with intellectual disability talking about sexuality. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 43(1), 32–37.