Disability, facilitated sex and the role of the nurse


Sarah Earle, Centre for Healthcare Education, University College Northampton, Boughton Green Road, Park Campus, Northampton NN2 7AL, UK. E-mail: sarah.earle@tesco.net


Disability, facilitated sex and the role of the nurse

Aim. The aim of this paper is to explore the role that nurses can play in acknowledging and facilitating the sexual needs of disabled patients within an holistic framework of nursing care.

Background. Contemporary nursing claims to offer patient care within an holistic framework; this framework should encompass the biopsychosocial needs of patients, as defined by patients themselves. In spite of the importance of sexuality and sexual expression to the psychosocial welfare of patients, sexuality is often excluded from nursing practice.

Method. Literature is reviewed from nursing, disability studies, and a variety of social science disciplines.

Findings. The paper begins with a discussion of the concept of ‘holistic care’ and the ways in which this has been interpreted in the nursing literature. The biopsychosocial approach and the notion of ‘whole person’ holism seem particularly significant, although the lack of attention to patient sexuality is identified. Literature from the social sciences is used to explore the significance of sexuality to individual self-identity and psychosocial welfare. This literature also highlights the way in which the denial of sexual identity is a significant feature of power relations. The disability studies literature catalogues the way in which disabled people are generally infantilized by society and perceived as asexual. This literature also highlights the professional neglect of disabled sexual identities. Using a variety of literature, the concept of facilitated sex is explored as a continuum of activities and the role of nursing, within a holistic framework, is examined.

Conclusion. The paper concludes by arguing that an holistic approach to nursing care should include an appreciation of patient sexuality. In particular, it suggests that nurses can play an important role along the continuum of facilitated sex.