Learning Disabled Teens May Engage in Unsafe Sex

Adult men with mild learning disabilities may engage in unsafe sex even though they understand the associated risks, survey findings suggest.

Dr. Evan Yacoub, of Springfield Hospital in London, and colleagues questioned 17 adult men with mild learning disabilities to ascertain the men's knowledge of sex-related issues and to learn about their friendships and sexual encounters.

The men were recognized by their service providers as individuals who would not be upset by questions about their sexual knowledge and activity, the researchers report in the British Journal of Learning Disabilities.

Ten of the men, ages 29 to 65 years old, lived in community settings, while the remaining 7 men, aged 19 to 49 years old, lived in secure hospitals.

Overall, the men reported having 0 to 40 sexual partners. None were married, but 14 had been involved in lengthy relationships, and 2 were currently living with their partner.

The investigators found considerable variations in the men's sex-related knowledge. "Most had found out about sex between the ages of 10 and 16, from friends or school teachers," Yacoub and colleagues note.

Generally, the men gave accurate answers regarding the types and benefits of contraception, but many seemed unsure about where to obtain contraception.

Most of the men also gave accurate definitions of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, but some thought HIV transmissible through use of a toilet or a bath.

A number of participants in this study described being coerced into sex, Yacoub and colleagues note.

These findings highlight the importance of learning more about the sexual lives of people with learning disabilities, "as they are a group of the population who may be vulnerable to exploitation and coercion," Yacoub told Reuters Health.

Education alone may not be sufficient to prevent unsafe sexual practices among people with learning disabilities.

Yacoub and colleagues suggest that developing a good rapport with learning-disabled people may help empower them to use safe-sex practices.