Adolescents with ID have poor sexual knowledge

By Andrew Jahoda, PhD
Institute on Health and Wellbeing
University of Glasgow

Young people with intellectual disabilities (ID) can face challenges in learning about sex and relationships. The young people's difficulties with learning and communicating are barriers to learning about sex. However, sometimes these difficulties mean that researchers fail to pay enough attention to other reasons why people might fail to get access to proper information.

What did you do in your research?
We spoke with 30 adolescents with ID and 30 other adolescents who did not have a disability. We asked them about their understanding of sexual matters and also about where they got information about sexual matters.

What did you find out?
The adolescents with an ID had poorer sexual knowledge than those without a disability. However, it was not just cognitive difficulties that seemed to contribute to a lack of sexual understanding. While most of the young people without a disability said they talked about sexual matters with friends and family, a minority of those with ID said they talked with family and friends. There was also a striking gender difference between the two groups. While the young women without a disability had a better understanding of sexual matters than the young men, the opposite was the case for those with ID.

What are the take-home messages?
Young people with ID don't have the same opportunities to talk about sexual matters with friends and family, perhaps adding to their fears and misunderstandings.  It is believed that knowledge can help to keep people safe, and yet young women with ID appear to find it most difficult to access the information they need. We should build the confidence of family and others to help them be more open about sexual matters with young people with ID, especially young women.

To learn more about these findings contact Andrew Jahoda.

Full Journal Article
Jahoda, A., & Pownall, J. (2014). Sexual understanding, sources of information and social networks; the reports of young people with intellectual disabilities and their non-disabled peers. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 58, 430–441.