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An initial exploration of community mental health nurses’ attitudes to and experience of sexuality-related issues in their work with people experiencing mental health problems


  • E. M. Cort msc rgn rmn dn cert ,

    1. Research Nurse, 222 Wanstead Park Road, Ilford, Essex 1GI 3TS,
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  • J. Attenborough msc ba (hons) pgce rmn ,

    1. Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing City University, St Bartholomew School of Nursing and Midwifery, Philpot Street, London E1 2EA, and
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  • J. P. Watson md frcp frcpsych

    1. Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ Schools of Medicine, Division of Psychological Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Guy’s Hospital Campus, London SE1 9RT, UK
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E. M. Cort Department of of Psychiatry 5th Floor Thomas Guy House Guy’s Hospital St Thomas Street London SE1 9RTUK


Human sexuality is a complex dynamic concept that escapes simple definition. Within nursing there seems to be a preference for broad holistic definitions that emphasize sexuality as an aspect of the unique human character. Whilst the nursing literature mostly portrays sexuality as wholesome and good, it also notes that sexuality can be a vehicle for the expression of power, hostility or hatred. In this study, the authors did not prescribe or limit the definition of ‘sexuality’. Rather the term ‘sexuality’ was used in a broad sense in order to embrace the range of variables within the concept and allow respondents to consider the issues according to their own perspective. Despite broad acceptance of sexuality as a legitimate focus of health care, clinicians remain ambivalent about actively broaching sexual issues and there is a potential for clients’ needs to go unmet. A number of intertwining variables can influence sexuality-related nursing practice. Nurses’ attitudes are regarded as major barriers that prevent open discussion on the topic. This study aims to explore a sample of community mental health nurses’ views on the topic of sexuality in relation to their work with clients. The authors adapted a sexual ideology scale previously used for the purposes of teaching students and promoting discussion. The questionnaire was distributed to nurse delegates at an annual CPNA conference. Two of the authors were available throughout the conference to discuss the study. Delegates were asked to recruit CMHN colleagues following the conference in order to increase the sample. The data are described and analysed using SPSS for Windows. Respondent characteristics have been cross-tabulated with item responses and analysed using chi-square and other statistical tests of association. The respondents (n = 122) confirmed sexuality as a relevant clinical issue and there was an overwhelming affirmation of people with mental health problems as sexual beings. Sixty-three per cent (n = 77) of respondents anticipated that people with mental health problems who are in relationships might experience sexual problems, and 52.4%(n = 64) agreed that a sexual history should be routinely included in assessment. Seventeen per cent (n = 21) had encountered clients becoming sexually aroused during the administration of a depot injection in the community. The authors identify this as an area of concern that warrants further investigation. The results indicate that although awareness of sexuality issues may be high there may be less agreement as to how such awareness should translate into CMHN practice.