Sexual functioning among women with physical disabilities

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Objective: Three a priori hypotheses were tested: (1) There are significant differences in sociosexual behaviors of women with physical disabilities compared with women without disabilities; (2) the sexual functioning of women with disabilities is significantly related to age at onset of disability; (3) psychological factors explain more of the variance in the sexual functioning of women with physical disabilities than do disability, social, or environmental factors. Design: Case-comparison study using written survey. Setting: General community. Participants: The questionnaire was mailed to 1,150 women with physical disabilities who were recruited as volunteers or through independent living centers. Each woman gave a second copy of the questionnaire to an able-bodied female friend, which comprised the comparison group. The response rate was 45%, with 475 cases and 425 comparisons eligible to participate. The most common disability type was spinal cord injury (24%), followed by polio (18%), muscular dystrophy (11%), cerebral palsy (11%), multiple sclerosis (10%), joint disorders (7%), and skeletal abnormalities (5%). Interventions: None. Main Outcome Measures: Sexual functioning, consisting of four factors: (1) sexual desire, (2) sexual activity, (3) sexual response, and (4) sexual satisfaction. Results: Highly significant differences were found in level of sexual activity (p = .000001), response (p = .000009), and satisfaction (p = .000001) between women with and without disabilities. No significant differences were found between groups on sexual desire. Severity of disability was not significantly related to level of sexual activity. Conclusion: Psychological and social factors exert a strong impact on the sexual functioning of women with physical disabilities. Further investigation is needed of the effect of social environment on development of self-esteem and sexual self-image, and how these influences affect levels of sexual functioning in women with physical disabilities.




Nosek, M. A., Rintala, D. H., Young, M. E., Howland, C. A., Foley, C. C., Rossi, D., & Chanpong, G. (1996). Sexual functioning among women with physical disabilities. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 77(2), 107–115.

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