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Sexuality and Disability
Fact Sheet

All people are sexual beings and sexual expression is a natural and important part of life.  What is sexuality?  One's sexuality includes one's personality, thoughts, values, and feelings.  How we communicate and express ourselves in our relationships with others, as well as our individual sex drive and sexual activities are also an expression of our sexuality. 

  In today's society, sex is often associated with youth and physical fitness;  therefore, society often views a person with a disability as non-sexual.  Of course, this simply is not so -- a person with a disability is also a sexual being, regardless of their mental or physical limitations.  However, persons with disabilities have to overcome uninformed attitudes, as well as their own misconceptions and personal barriers regarding sexuality.    It is important that everyone, including persons with disabilities, be able to make conscious decisions about their sexuality from a position of information and understanding. 

  Disability may result in many changes:  movement problems, loss of sensation, communication problems, impaired bowel and bladder control, pain, fatigue, changes in behavior and thinking, changes in sexual functioning (erection, ejaculation, lubrication, orgasm) as well as role changes, and a change in body image.  Each of these changes may impact one's sexuality. Stress, fatigue, depression, pain and fear, which are often associated with the early stages of disability, may impact sexual desire.  Prescribed medications may affect sex drive and sexual function.  Of course, self- esteem (how one feels about oneself) is going to affect one's sexuality and sexual behavior. 

  As with other activities of daily living (ADL's) adaptations may have to be made.  For a person with a disability, sexual activity may be a less spontaneous, more planned activity in order to address issues of fatigue, pain and bowel and bladder routines.  Strategies may include trying different positions, or having a partner play a more active role.  Other forms of sexual expression may be used. This may call for experimentation and alternative methods of pleasuring.   Assistive devices may be used. 

  Communication is important in all relationships.  When a disability exists, it is very important  for partners to discuss their thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, and how they can mutually satisfy each other. 

  Persons with disabilities must also be responsible for their sexual health.  Healthy behaviors include: acting within one's own value system to prevent unplanned pregnancies, seeking early prenatal care, avoiding contracting or transmitting sexually transmitted disease, and avoiding sexual abuse. Health promoting behaviors such as self breast and testicular exam and regular check- ups are responsible ways to identify potential problems. 

  Sexuality is an intimate, personal area of our lives, one which may be difficult to talk about.  However, if you have concerns or questions regarding sexuality issues related to a disability, please ask one of your rehabilitation professionals.

Thanks to Lisa Peck RN, MS, BS, CRRN from MossRehab Hospital for providing this information.

reviewed November 2003

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