Exploration of sexuality and the sexual lives of adults with intellectual disabilities using interpretative phenomenological analysis and thematic synthesis
Adults with intellectual disabilities have historically faced various challenges and barriers in developing romantic or sexual relationships despite expressing their desire to have these connections (Arias et al., 2009). Family members and staff play an instrumental role in enabling individuals with intellectual disabilities to have access to opportunities to meet others and impart sexual knowledge and help fulfill their sexual and romantic needs (Rushbrooke et al., 2014). The importance of the role of family members and staff has resulted in growing interest and body of research on their perceptions, attitudes, and views when supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities (Rushbrooke et al., 2014). As adults with intellectual disabilities often report feelings of loneliness and isolation, the internet is a powerful tool to meet others and fulfill sexual, romantic, and intimate needs. However, some individuals with intellectual disabilities may need support from family members or staff to access the internet. A systematic review was conducted to explore, collate, and critically apprise qualitative research regarding internet use for sexual purposes. Thematic synthesis (Thomas & Harden, 2008) was utilised to analyse the included studies. Three superordinate themes were identified: (a) ‘Navigating the online world: Norms and Netiquettes’, (b) ‘Exploring and expressing intimacy’, and (c) ‘My identity and the internet: The Digital Me’. The current literature is discussed alongside these findings. Recommendations are made for future clinical and research practice. The sexual lives of adults with intellectual disabilities who identify as LBGTQ+ were explored by understanding the perspectives, attitudes, and views of paid (support staff) and unpaid (family members) carers. The study interviewed six carers, with the data analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith & Osborne, 2008). Four themes were identified: (a) ‘Journey of coming out’, (b) ‘Minority in a minority, (c) ‘Protection and possibilities’, and (d) ‘Access to similar others’. The findings emphasised the importance of adults with intellectual disabilities having access to others with similar experiences and queer friendly spaces. The results highlighted the importance of sexual education for adults with intellectual disabilities around sexuality and identity, and training for both staff and family members to improve knowledge and confidence in supporting sexuality and sexual expression. Suggestions for future research are discussed alongside clinical implications, such as the impact of LGBTQ+ groups for adults with intellectual disabilities on psychological well-being and identity.