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Sexuality and Women with Learning Disabilities

Michelle McCarthy
Foreword by Hilary Brown
Jessica Kingsley
May 1999 224 pages ISBN 1 85302 730 8 pb 15.95

Michelle McCarthy is a lecturer in Learning Disability at the Tizard Centre, University of Kent. She was a founder member of the Sex Education Team (Horizon NHS Trust), and has worked and written on sexuality issues for women with learning disabilities for many years.


1. Introduction.
2. Contexts: perspectives on sexuality and violence.
3. Contexts: Learning disability - ideologies and sexuality.
4. Asking the right questions: research methodology.
5. The sexual lives of women with learning disabilities: Research findings.
6. What does it all mean? Analysis and discussion.
7. The way forward: Policy and practice recommendations.
8. Conclusion.
Appendix: Interview questions.
In this study of women with mild and moderate learning disabilities, Michelle McCarthy investigates how these women experience their sexual lives, basing her research on interviews with the women themselves. She argues the importance of informing the work of those responsible at research, practice and policy levels with the voices of people with learning disabilities. In the interviews, women talk openly about what form their sexual activity takes and what it means for them, the circumstances in which it occurs, and the pleasures (or lack thereof) associated with it. These interviews directly shape the policy and practice recommendations the author makes.

Michelle McCarthy's findings suggest that women with learning disabilities commonly find themselves engaged in sexual activity which is not to their liking and not of their choosing. A high level of sexual abuse was also reported. The author discusses this in relation to the cultural forces which have influenced Western perceptions of sexuality, feminism and theories and prejudices about learning disabilities. She also studied the impact of institutional and community settings on the sexuality of women with learning disabilities. In Sexuality and Women with Learning Disabilities, McCarthy makes recommendations for policy and practice which will protect this vulnerable group, and advises on education, support and seeking justice for abused women.

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