Purpose: To examine differences in some aspects of sexual behavior between physically disabled and nondisabled adolescents in the United States.
Methods: The 1994-1995 Wave I data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a stratified, multistage cluster, school-based sample of 7th to 12th graders, were used. Physical disabilities were measured in terms of functional limitation and activity restriction. A total of 1153 adolescents were identified as physically disabled, mainly with limb difficulties. We studied their exposure on school sex education, contraceptive knowledge, sex attitudes, and popularity. Their experiences in romantic attraction and sex were analyzed by multinomial logistic regression methods, controlling for age, pubertal development, and other sociodemographic variables.
Results: Although disabled adolescents are slower in pubertal development and more socially isolated, they are as sexually experienced as their nondisabled counterparts. Their exposure to school sex education is largely similar to that of the nondisabled, yet disabled boys are somewhat less knowledgeable about birth control. Severely disabled boys who are sexually active are popular among their same-sex peers, much like nondisabled boys. Although disabled adolescents are as sexually experienced, severely disabled boys and girls have less opposite-sex romantic attraction and are less sure about their sexual preference. Adolescents with mild disabilities have a higher tendency for same-sex attraction than do the nondisabled. Adolescent girls with physical disabilities consistently have higher odds of experiencing forced sex.
Conclusions: Physically disabled adolescents' sexual development and their specific needs for sex education and guidance should not be overlooked. More attention should be paid to protect physically disabled girls from sexual abuses and exploitations.