Let’s talk about sex: How people with intellectual disability in Australia engage with online social media and intimate relationships

Vol.11,No.1(2017)
Special issue: Internet use and disability

Abstract

People with intellectual disability often experience repression and control of their sexuality as they have historically been perceived as being childlike and asexual by members of society.  Such acts can be seen to contravene their Human Rights under The Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (CRPD), which endorses the rights of people with intellectual disability to fully express their sexuality.
The purpose of this study was to explore if people with intellectual disability access internet based social media, and if so, if they use it to form relationships that express their sexuality.
Using an interpretative phenomenological approach, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 adults with an intellectual disability (22 males, 8 females), aged between 20 to 66 years. Participants were purposely sampled though disability #organisations.
Three themes emerged from the data: creating new friendships, maintaining existing friendships, exploring and expressing sexuality.  People with intellectual disability used a variety of personal electronic devices to access internet based social media to be socially and sexually active. Facebook was accessed to make contact with existing platonic friends, peers and interest groups to meet socially. Sexually explicit material was viewed using the internet, either as an individual activity or by couples in monogamous relationships. 
This study adds to the paucity of research examining the use of internet based social media by people with intellectual disability for sexual expression. This research revealed the people with intellectual disability exercised cyber safe practices without any explicit formal education and conducted themselves in a respectful manner.  Few participants acted in a manner that appeared to put them at risk of exploitation.


Keywords:
intellectual disability, internet based social media, relationships, sexuality, Gatekeeper
Author biographies

Judith Darragh

Judith Darragh is a PhD Candidate with degrees in Behavioural Science (Psych), Disability Studies Honours (First Class) and Master of Social work, all from Flinders University, Adelaide. Judith is undertaking this study around sexual expression and social media access for people living with intellectual disability. Judith works as a tutor in the Bachelor of Disability and Development Education.

Louise Reynolds

Dr Louise Reynolds is an independent researcher whose publications, teaching and professional involvement involve interests in disability, Australian Health Care System, pre-hospital care and qualitative methodologies.

Caroline Ellison

Assoc. Prof Caroline Ellison is an Associate Professor in Disability and Community Inclusion, School of Health Sciences, Flinders University and the Assistant Dean of International for the School of Health Science. Her research, publications, teaching and professional involvement are in areas such as sexuality and Disability, Community Inclusion, Person Centred Active Support, and Leisure, Arts and Sport.

Michelle Bellon

Dr Michelle Bellon is a Senior Lecturer in Disability and Community Inclusion, School of Health Sciences, Flinders University. Her research, publications, teaching and professional involvement combine interests in epilepsy, acquired brain injury, community integration and family/care-giver supports.

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