Blog, The Sex and Disability Study

Prevalence of STIs.

This is the fourth of several posts containing portions of my feasibility study looking at the need for an independent sexuality and social skills agency serving teens and adults with ID/DD and their supporters.

Along with the abuse prevention aspect of sexuality education, there health implications inherent in refusing to teach people with disabilities. The total number of Americans who currently have an STI is 21%. In the general population, people with disabilities with an STI represent 6% of the population. When adjusted to represent the portion of the disabled community, STIs have a 38% prevalence.

Figure 4 (Census Bureau, CDC)

While there are no studies on the effects of comprehensive sexuality education and its benefits for people with disability, one can extrapolate an outcome from research surrounding the benefits of abstinence-only sexuality education for adolescents.

In the debates surrounding sexuality education and reproductive freedoms in the US, there are a number of claims and concerns that align with the struggle for sexuality education for people with disabilities: they won’t understand the consequences; they aren’t interested; if we teach them about it, they will do it; this doesn’t align with my values. While all of these are nice talking points in political discussions, research does not bear them out.

As shown in the Brunnberg study cited above and by a federally funded study of four abstinence-only education programs across the country—teens, with or without disabilities, are having sex whether they learn about it or not. The study of abstinence-only programs shows that the curricula only increase knowledge of STIs by a marginal amount (between 2-8%) in participants. (Trenholm).

With this gap in knowledge being clearly identified in the typical community, transferring the findings to people who have cognitive impairments that limit the amount of information that can be inferred from means other than specific sexuality education classes, the difference must be larger.