The sexual experiences and sexual abuse of women with learning disabilities in institutional and community settings
Using in-depth interviews with seventeen women with leaming disabilities this research focuses on how the women experienced their sexuality. Attention is paid both to their consented sexual experiences and sexual abuse, as well as to other related matters such as contraception and sexual health. The main findings of this research are that only a small minority of the women were very positive about their sexual lives. The majority lacked control in terms of deciding for themselves what they wanted to do, with whom, when and how. Most of the women experienced exclusively or predominantly penetrative sex. A lack of sexual pleasure generally, and orgasm specifically was reported by all the women. In addition very high levels of sexual abuse were reported. The findings of this research are discussed in the context of other related work in the learning disability field, and other research on the sexuality and sexual abuse of non-disabled women. One of the most important findings is that, with a few exceptions, there were very few differences in the experiences of women who lived, or had lived in hospitals compared to women who lived in community settings. The quality of the womens experiences were more directly determined by the nature of the relationships they had with men whether men were abusive or aggressive towards them; the women's levels of self-esteem and assertiveness then availability of sex education and support. Policy and practice recommendations are made which relate to increasing women's sexual safety in learning disability services achieving justice if they have been abused changing the content of sex education to include much more of an emphasis on women's sexual pleasure, choices and consent. Recommendations are also made for supporting men in their sexual relationships with women.