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Several studies have explored the issues that people with disabilities face in relation to sexuality, with most of them emerging from other people’s attitudes towards their sexual behavior. One of the major issues is connected to the world’s perceived inappropriateness of sexual expression by individuals struggling with developmental delays, which results in involuntary sterilization. This is based on the belief that developmentally disabled individuals would pass their cognitive limitations to their offspring (Di Giulio, 2003). Secondly, they are constantly infantilized, based on the belief that they lack the capacity to express their sexuality responsibly because they are considered children with adult sexual urges they cannot handle appropriately (Di Giulio, 2003). Lastly, people with developmental disabilities often struggle to develop a sexual identity, function, desire, confidence, or find a partner. They, therefore, lack the appropriate channels to express their sexuality and develop inhibited sexual self-image.
One of the major barriers to sexual health in this population is that they do not have enough opportunities to learn about sexuality, resulting in a demographic exhibiting low levels of knowledge about sexuality, and with less experience on sexual interaction, intimacy, or dating (Di Giulio, 2003). They are, therefore, more likely to engage in reckless sexual behavior that adversely affects their sexual health. Another barrier is their increased vulnerability to sexual abuse or harassment, with several studies reporting that nearly 80% of women with developmental disabilities report being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes (Murphy & Young, 2005). Moreover, children with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than those without (Murphy & Young, 2005). Third, the overall societal attitudes about people with developmental disabilities, including the belief that they are not developmentally equipped to engage in responsible sexual behaviors, is a major barrier to their sexual health; specifically, their respect, safety, and freedom from sexual discrimination and violence.
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