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Spotlight Series: HIV Stigma and Discrimination
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Learning Disabled May Engage in Unsafe Sex: Survey

March 30, 2009

Education alone may not be sufficient to prevent unsafe sex among people with learning disabilities, a new study suggests.

Dr. Evan Yacoub of London's Springfield Hospital and colleagues surveyed 17 adult men with mild learning impairments about their sexual knowledge and activity. The men had been identified by their service providers as individuals who would not be upset by questions about their sexual behavior and knowledge.

Ten of the participants, ages 29-65, lived in community settings, while seven, ages 19-49, resided in secure hospitals. In total, the men reported having zero to 40 partners. All were unmarried, though 14 had been in lengthy relationships and two were currently living with a partner.

Significant variations in the men's sex-related knowledge were observed. "Most had found out about sex between the ages of 10 and 16, from friends or school teachers," the researchers reported. Though the men in general gave accurate answers regarding the types and benefits of contraception, many seemed unsure about where to obtain contraceptives. Most gave accurate definitions of STDs and HIV/AIDS, though some thought HIV could be transmitted through a toilet or bath.

According to Yacoub and colleagues, a number of participants described being coerced into sex, highlighting the importance of further research into the sexual lives of people with learning disabilities "as they are a group of the population who may be vulnerable to exploitation and coercion."

The report, "The Sexual Lives of Men with Mild Learning Disability: A Qualitative Study," was published in the British Journal of Learning Disabilities (2009;37(1):5-11).

Back to other news for March 2009

Adapted from:
Reuters Health
03.26.2009; Joene Hendry

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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