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.
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
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.
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