The sexual lives of men with mild learning disability: a qualitative study



Accessible summary

  • • We talked to some men with learning disability about sex and relationships. Some people lived in the community, and some people lived in hospital.
  • • The men knew quite a lot about sex. Most people said they got good support from their keyworkers.
  • • Some people were asked for sex when they did not want it. Some people were made to have sex that was not safe.
  • • We have some ideas about how men with learning disabilities can speak up for themselves about sex and relationships.


We aimed to explore in detail the sexual lives and behaviour of men with mild learning disabilities living both in community and in secure hospital settings. We wanted to generate hypotheses about them and identify potential unmet needs. We used a narrative interview that focused on areas such as relationships, sex education, contraception and the attitudes of others towards the participants’ sexual lives and orientation. We used the constant comparative method to analyse transcribed interviews. Several clients reported engaging in unsafe practices despite being aware of the risks. Participants generally felt that services had shifted from a paternalistic to a more supportive approach towards their sexual lives and orientation. Experiences with other men were commonly reported. Several participants reported being pressurised into sex as adults. In our sample, sexual knowledge did not lead to safe sexual practices. The good rapport with services reported by the participants may be utilised to provide further education and empowerment to improve the safety of sexual practices in this group. Other ways of improved service delivery are suggested.