Emotional and sexual relationships among adults with ID are important

What is this research about?
The sexuality of persons with intellectual disability (ID) has been largely overlooked in academic contexts. Therefore it is important to better understand the desires and difficulties of relationships experienced by people with ID.

This study included interviews with 16 adult men and women with ID (between the ages of 18-39) from Spain. The goal of the study was to examine what areas of personal relationships are important to adults with ID.

What was discovered?
Most participants stated that sexual relations are important to them, which were associated with having and living with their partner as a couple. Participants also mentioned that they think it is easier for non-disabled individuals to find partners and engage in sexual relations than it is for disabled adults. Reasons for this include stereotypes of disabled persons and standards of beauty, which act as barriers. It was also discussed that having relationships and living with a partner are also seen as an accomplishment, or reward for reaching and surpassing certain challenges or tests (i.e. finding work and making a living).

Families were also mentioned as having the potential to serve as either barriers or facilitators of relationships. Some parents are supportive and encouraging, while others don’t “allow” their adult children with ID to have a partner. Finally, other barriers to relationships mentioned by people with ID include limited information and training about sexual relationships, lack of privacy, and the control that professionals with whom they work, exert over them.

What are the take-home messages?
This study highlights the importance of emotional and sexual relationships of adults with ID and points to the barriers that must be overcome so that persons with disability can have fulfilling personal lives. Change related to disability and sexuality needs to happen in our culture, policies, and practices.

Full Journal Article
Rojas, S., Haya, I., & Lázaro-Visa, S. (2016) ‘My great hope in life is to have a house, a family and a daughter’: Relationships and sexuality in intellectually disabled people. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44(1), 56–62. doi: 10.1111/bld.12110