Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Factors Involved in the Ineffective Dissemination of Sexuality Information to Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Factors Involved in the Ineffective Dissemination of Sexuality Information to Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Article excerpt

THE LAST 40 years of literature pertaining to sexuality and deaf individuals are reviewed. Current research, which establishes that people who are deaf do not have adequate information on sexuality issues, is examined, as well as some of the factors that play a role in the ineffective dissemination of sexuality information to this population. Parents, education (both in a historical and a contemporary light), peers, and the very acquisition of language are examined with regard to their contextualized part in the process of knowledge sharing. Historical paradigms are placed within Griffiths's "mythconceptions" framework (as discussed in Watson, 2002) in an effort to determine possible causative factors relating to deaf people's insufficient knowledge regarding sexuality.

It is a simple matter to state that sexuality education/counseling is needed, is important for the deaf. It is yet another thing to put those words into action. . . . We would ask: If not now, then when? If not us, then who? (M. Fitz-Gerald & D. R. Fitz-Gerald, 1978, p. 68)

An examination of recent studies pertaining to the information that individuals who are deaf have regarding sexuality issues establishes that the knowledge of sexuality among the deaf population is not at an acceptable level. Many factors may play a role in the ineffective dissemination of sexual facts. Parents often lack effective communication techniques, and schooling historically has been inactive regarding the transfer of sexual knowledge. The basic problem of insufficient language skills may also arise. In the present article, the dissemination of information on sexuality to people who are deaf or hard of hearing is examined, in support of the goal of giving this population greater access to this knowledge and, as a result, greater empowerment.

Recent Studies and Research Results

Little research on deaf adolescents (or adults, for that matter) exists. "It appears as if the sources and completeness of sexuality information have not changed over the decades" (Schirmer, 2001, p. 162; see also Joseph, Sawyer, & Desmond, 1995). The three most recent studies appear to be Luckner and Gonzales's 1993 study of deaf adolescents and AIDS, Swartz's 1993 study of deaf and hard of hearing college freshmen, and the 1995 study by Joseph and colleagues, which focused on deaf college students.

The study by Joseph and colleagues (1995) confirmed the lack of accurate sexual knowledge among deaf youth. More than 80% of the respondents affirmed being sexually active (11% claimed to have had 10 or more sexual partners); one third said they were sexually active before the age of 19 years and one tenth before the age of 14 years. Only one third of the college students reported using a condom during their most recent sexual encounter, and shockingly, most held the belief that having a regular sex partner obviated the need for birth control. The most commonly reported type of birth control was withdrawal, followed by condoms and oral contraception. The students were tested on their understanding of human sexuality and gave correct answers to approximately half of the questions regarding ovulation, HIV, reproduction, and the effectiveness of different birth control methods.

Swartz (1993) determined that a considerable gap persists between hearing and deaf college freshman students with regard to sexual knowledge, with this gap being widest in the areas of anatomy and physiology. Swartz attributed the disparity to several possible causes: a lack of proper instruction concerning anatomy and physiology; English language limitations that prevent students from seeking and obtaining information from texts; the lexicon of fingerspelled (as opposed to signed) words, especially for anatomy; and the lack of information gathering from everyday experiences such as watching television and listening to and overhearing peers. Lack of interpreter and educator signing skills may also be an issue. …

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