Sexual health care in persons with intellectual disabilities


  • Laurent Servais

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Child Neurology, Queen Fabiola University Children Hospital, Free University of Brussels, Brussels, Belgium
    • Service de neurologie pediatrique, Hopital Universitaire des Enfants Reine Fabiola, 15 Avenue JJ Crocq, 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium
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In the past, preventive health concerning sexuality of people with intellectual disabilities was addressed through surgical sterilization as part of nationwide eugenic programs in many countries. For more than 30 years now, it has come progressively to light in the scientific literature that, besides major ethical and legal problems, these programs also failed to assess many of the individual's needs in sexual health. The fact that an increasing number of people with intellectual disabilities live in the community rather than in institutions has heightened public awareness that these individuals have sexual expectancies, desires, and needs that must be supported through both education and health services. The emergence of AIDS, including descriptions of cases among people with intellectual disabilities, has further demonstrated that surgical sterilization cannot be considered a global option to achieve preventive sexual health. The aim of this paper is to review scientific studies that have assessed the expectancies and support needs of persons with intellectual disabilities in terms of sexual health. These needs vary widely from one individual to another, according to life milieu, level of disability, and potential comorbidity. From this review, it appears that hygiene management, global gynecological care, and prevention of unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and abuse have been frequently identified as areas in which the presence of intellectual disability dictates specific support needs. Different approaches that have been evaluated to address these issues will also be discussed. MRDD Research Reviews 2006;12:48–56. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.