Disabled and positive?


The truth about STDs among people with disabilities

Perhaps despite perception, having a disability doesn’t mean you’re immune to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In fact, people with disabilities are more likely to get HIV or other STDs than the general population. The sexual experiences of people with disabilities also differ in other ways from non-disabled comparison groups.

For example, based on the analysis of national survey data – including the National Survey of Family Growth, the National Health Interview Survey, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Systempeople with disabilities experience more sexual abuse; have sex with more partners; and are more likely to have sex with someone of the same gender.

Specifically, women with disabilities are raped at greater than twice the rate of women without disabilities; and men with disabilities are forced to have anal or oral sex against their will at nearly twice the rate of men without disabilities. And both men and women with disabilities are significantly more likely to engage in same-sex behavior and to self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or something other than heterosexual. These factors, most notably forced sexual intercourse, play a role at putting disabled people at risk.

If disability status is not protective and, in fact, a risk factor contributing to sexual health disparities, what needs to be done? We can start by acknowledging that people with disabilities – whether physical, mental, sensory or other – are sexually active. From there flows the prescription for a “cure,” including:

  1. Easy access to sexual healthcare for people with disabilities, including screening, testing, treatment, care and counseling for HIV and other STDs
  2. Greater access to sexual health education and information for people with disabilities
  3. Education on sexuality and disabilities for physicians and other healthcare workers
  4. Acknowledgement of people with disabilities as a sexual health disparities population, and including them in all public health programs related to sexual activity and reproduction.

Bottom line: ignorance and neglect are unacceptable. What are your ideas to protect the sexual health of people with disabilities?

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Photo: Flickr user mrhayata, CC 2.0

Article by Lisa Oldson, MD

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