Sexual Activity of Young Adults Who Are Visually Impaired and the Need for Effective Sex Education

By Kelly, Stacy M.; Kapperman, Gaylen | Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Sexual Activity of Young Adults Who Are Visually Impaired and the Need for Effective Sex Education


Kelly, Stacy M., Kapperman, Gaylen, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness


Abstract: Introduction: Little research has been reported on all aspects of sexuality as it pertains to individuals with visual impairments. This article analyzes data on the sexual experiences of young adults who are visually impaired and young adults without disabilities. Methods: The authors conducted a secondary analysis of the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) federal database and assessed a nationally representative sample of transition-aged young adults with visual impairments. During the same period as the NLTS2, identical survey questions were asked of young adults without disabilities who participated in survey research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC survey sample included young adults who were two to three years younger than the participants in the NLTS2 sample. The descriptive analysis presents estimates of the sexual activity and use of contraception by both samples. Results: Of the transition-aged young adults with visual impairments, 57% reported having sexual intercourse, and of the transition-aged young adults without disabilities, 65% reported having sexual intercourse. Likewise, nearly 40% of the young adults with visual impairments and approximately 50% of those without disabilities reported having had sexual intercourse in the three months before the survey. The use of condoms was also similar (64% of those with visual impairments and 54% of those without disabilities) even though the use of contraceptives other than condoms varied between the samples. Discussion: The transition-aged young adults with visual impairments reported having similar rates of sexual experiences as their sighted counterparts, except two to three years later. Implications for Practitioners: The researchers concluded that there is a need to provide effective instruction in sexual health that incorporates meaningful methods and materials that are designed specifically to meet the unique needs of young adults who are visually impaired.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2007), youths and young adults (that is, those aged 15-24) have the highest rates of various sexually transmitted infections (STIs) of any group of sexually active Americans. "Compared to older adults, sexually-active [sic] adolescents 15 to 19 years of age and young adults 20 to 24 years of age are at higher risk for acquiring STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] for a combination of behavioral, biological, and cultural reasons.... Recent estimates suggest that while representing 25% of the ever sexually active population, 15 to 24 year-olds acquire nearly half of all new STDs" (CDC, 2007, p. 65). The results of the 2007 CDC survey indicated that young women aged 15 to 24 have the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea of all groups and that young men aged 15 to 24 have the second highest rates of these STIs.

We contend that young adults who are visually impaired (that is, those who are blind or have low vision) may experience similar rates of infections. At this point, we want to emphasize that there are no reliable data to support this claim. We make this assumption on the basis of the results of our analysis, which showed that young adults with visual impairments report having similar rates of sexual experiences as their sighted counterparts except that they do so two to three years later. There is no established evidence that young adults who are visually impaired exercise greater regard for safer sex practices than do sighted young adults.

The major point of the study presented here, then, is that young adults who are visually impaired engage in sexual activity at approximately the same rates as those of their sighted peers, but two to three years later. Because the results of the analysis of the data in the study support our claim, we posit that the rates of STIs among young adults who are visually impaired may mirror those of their sighted counterparts. …

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