April 2011


Sex and intellectual disability

Dealing with sexual health issues

Volume 40, No.4, April 2011 Pages 188-191

Gillian Eastgate


Sexual health is a vital but often neglected aspect of healthcare for people with intellectual disability. It may initially be difficult for the general practitioner to raise sexuality issues with patients with intellectual disability, but there is potential for simple interventions that offer great benefit.


This article describes ways in which the GP may be able to assist people with an intellectual disability with their sexual health needs.


It is important to engage the person with intellectual disability directly, preferably alone. A person with intellectual disability is likely to have the same range of sexual and relationship needs as other adults. However, there may be multiple barriers to forming healthy, equal sexual relationships. Sexual abuse is widespread. Reporting abuse may be difficult for a person with limited verbal skills, and prevention and support services are limited. The GP is well placed to offer sexual health services such as information, contraception and cervical and sexually transmissible infection screening, and to discourage inappropriate treatments such as sterilisation for social rather than medical reasons, and androgen suppression.

A person with an intellectual disability, like any other person, is a sexual being. However, this is often not acknowledged or supported by those who support the person. While a person with intellectual disability may present to the general practitioner with multiple health needs, it is important to consider sexual health as one of these needs. It is also important for both carers and the GP to remain aware that a person with intellectual disability, like any other adult, has the right to make their own decisions.

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Correspondence afp@racgp.org.au

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