Sexuality & Disability is a journal dedicated to the psychological study of sexuality and gender identity in persons with disabilities. In the most recent issue, a study appeared that aimed to examine the presence of sexual orientation and gender identity in people with developmental disabilities. Only a small group of individuals, 32, were surveyed, and it was not a representative group, since all participants had been referred to a clinic for behavioral or emotional problems. However, the study authors still say that their findings may provide insight that can be useful for further research into the sexual and gender identities of people with developmental disabilities.
The main findings of the study were that over 80% of study participants were heterosexual, followed by about 9% bisexual or questioning, and 3% homosexual. There were some discrepancies between the three different measures of sexual orientation – self-reporting, a questionnaire about current sexual fantasiess and desires, and a sexual history questionnaire. Specifically, there was a significant discrepancy between self-identification and current desires on the one hand and sexual history on the other. To me, this could indicate that people had established their sexual identity through experimenting.
Another interesting finding was the high prevalence of gender identity disorder among this group. Four of the 32 people surveyed, could be diagnosed with GID. Two of them were assigned female at birth, which the authors say signals that developmentally disabled persons may be more likely to be trans. Well, in fact, the authors say that GID may be more common among developmentally disabled people, as if that is something different from being trans. I am not sure whether that is Kenneth Zucker’s cissexism or simply the way medical journals word such things.
Of concern to the authors are factors that might influence sexual orientation in people with developmental disabilities, such as poor sex education and abuse. For example, on the sexual history questionnaire, individuals may have included abusive relationships when identifying their sexual encounters. Of course, it is important that abuse be identified and that people be educated adequately, but I am a little concerned about the possibility that it could be a way to influence people’s sexual self-identification, which would be erasing part of their identitities.
Bedard C, Lan Zhang H, Zucker KJ (2010), Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in People with Developmental Disabilities. Sexuality & Disability, 28(3):165-175. DOI: 10.1007/s11195-010-9155-7.