Background: Sexual abuse and abusive relationships are known to be especially common in people with intellectual disability. This study explored how women with intellectual disability understand sex, relationships and sexual abuse, the effects of sexual abuse on their lives, and how successfully they protect themselves from abuse.
Methods: Semistructured narrative interviews with nine women with mild intellectual disability in Queensland, Australia. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, coded and analysed qualitatively.
Results: Major themes that emerged were: sexual knowledge and sources of knowledge; negotiating sexual relationships; declining unwanted sexual contact; self protection strategies; sexual abuse experiences; and sequelae of sexual abuse.
Discussion: Most participants reported unwanted or abusive sexual experiences. They described sequelae such as difficulties with sex and relationships, and anxiety and depression. They described themselves as having inadequate self protection skills and difficulty reporting abuse and obtaining appropriate support. Their understanding of sex was limited and they lacked the literacy and other skills to seek information independently. It is important for general practitioners to be aware of the possibility of sexual abuse against women with intellectual disability, and to offer appropriate interventions.