Attitudes and perceptions towards disability and sexuality

Esmail S, Darry K, Walter A, Knupp H.  Department of Occupational Therapy, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Disabil Rehabil. 2010;32(14):1148-55. doi: 10.3109/09638280903419277.

PURPOSE: To describe current societal perceptions and attitudes towards sexuality and disability and how social stigma differs between individuals living with visible and invisible disabilities.

METHOD: A qualitative approach was used to explore attitudes and perceptions towards sexuality and disability. Focus groups were conducted with the following groups: service providers, people with visible disabilities, people with invisible disabilities and the general public. The focus group participants viewed ‘Sexability’ a documentary film on sexuality and disability to stimulate discussion midway through the session.

RESULTS:  Findings suggest that individuals with disabilities are commonly viewed as asexual due to a predominant heteronormative idea of sex and what is considered natural. A lack of information and education on sexuality and disability was felt to be a major contributing factors towards the stigma attached to disability and sexuality.

CONCLUSIONS: Stigma can lead individuals to internalise concepts of asexuality and may negatively impact confidence, desire and ability to find a partner while distorting one’s overall sexual self-concept. Societal attitudes and perceptions are driven by education and knowledge, if there is no exposure to sexuality and disability, it follows suit that society would have a narrow understanding of these issues. Further research should focus on how best to educate and inform all members of society.