Sexual behaviours on acute inpatient psychiatric units



Accessible summary

  • We do not know very much about the sexual behaviours of adult psychiatric inpatients, or about the patients who engage in them and what other challenges they pose to the staff.
  • This was a large study of many patients in many different hospitals, based on information extracted from case records.
  • More than 1 in 10 patients engaged in some form of challenging sexual behaviour during the first 2 weeks of their admission.
  • There were no differences in the rates of sexual behaviours between mixed and singe gender wards, but men were more likely to touch another person sexually without their consent, or engage in masturbation in a public area.


The purpose of the study was to assess the types and frequency of sexual behaviours displayed by patients during the first 2 weeks of admission to acute psychiatric units and what relationship these have to other challenging patient behaviours. The method used was a survey of sexual behaviours, conflict and containment events carried out by 522 patients during the first 2 weeks of admission in 84 wards in 31 hospitals in the South East of England. Incidents of sexual behaviour were common, with 13% of patients responsible for at least one incident. Although exposure was the most frequent of these behaviours, non-consensual sexual touching, was instigated by 1 in 20 patients. There were no differences in the numbers of sexual events between single sex and mixed gender wards. Few associations were found with the demographic features of perpetrators, although all those engaging in public masturbation were male, and male patients were more likely to sexually touch another without their consent. Single sex wards do not seem to necessarily offer significant protection to potentially vulnerable victims. Perpetrators do not seem to be predictable in advance, nor was there any common set or pattern of disruptive behavioural events indicating that a sexual incident was about to occur.