Mediated pathways, negotiated identities: a critical phenomenological analysis of the experience of sexuality in the context of intellectual disability

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Questions of sexuality and intellectual disability have now moved beyond the institutional era, and contemporary sexual health interventions have gradually been reconfigured in terms of social participation, partnership and normalising approaches. That being said, they also appear to be part of a complex negotiation process between support systems for individuals identified as having an intellectual disability. The aim of this study was to provide a better understanding of the experience of affective (sentimental and emotional) and sexual (identity and value-mediated) expression in the context of intellectual disability, as well as related factors of influence. Inspired by a critical theoretical framework and a phenomenological methodology, this research shows that these experiences are part of a negotiation process that is simultaneously systemic and intimate. It is systemic because it responds to knowledge systems specific to intellectual disability and sexuality, thus authorising a variety of interventions focused on normalising the individual. It is also intimate because these practices involve every axis of affective existence, from inhabiting restrictive spaces to reconfiguring people’s intimate relationships with themselves and others. Through these findings, nursing’s ability to recognise and advocate for this group’s sexual needs and rights is called into question.

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