History of sexual development

A common approach to regarding sexuality is limited to things relating only to sexual intercourse. But with respect to the sexual development of people with intellectual disabilities, it is necessary to adopt a different approach since sexuality involves physicality, intimacy and gender.

Physicality relates to physical sensations and physical responsiveness. The central focus is on the experience of pleasure from and enjoyment of physical contact. Intimacy refers to the ability and the desire to enter into interpersonal relationships and contacts. Intimacy includes things like feeling affection for others, hugging, and feelings of security and emotional attachment. Gender includes the biological sex, gender identity and sexual preference.

In general, biological development accelerates during puberty. People get taller and heavier, and their skeletal and muscular systems develop. Sexual maturation also takes place, resulting in the development of gender characteristics: breasts, pubic hair, genital development, menarche and spermarche.

People with intellectual disabilities go through their own individual psycho-sexual development, in which there are three distinct processes:

  1. Development of the sexual role
    The sexual role includes the complex set of behaviours for boys and girls and it is highly culture-dependent. 
  2. Thinking, knowing and doing
    Thinking: what does the client think about sexuality?
    Knowing: what does the client know about sexuality?
    Doing: what sexual behaviour is seen in the client? Possible examples are flirting (does the client flirt and what form does this take), sexual history (what experience does the client have with sex and what is the significance of that experience) and serial monogamy (does the client have a permanent relationship and what is the significance).
  3. Development of a partner preference
    Does the client demonstrate a sexual preference?