Why is this research important?

This study explored the impact formal sex education had on contraceptive use during first sexual intercourse for women with disabilities.  Data was used from the 2011-2017 National Survey of Family Growth. 2861 women participated. They were between the ages of 18-24 and experienced first voluntary sexual intercourse with a male partner. This data was used to estimate the indirect effect of formal education and contraceptive use at first intercourse.

Sexuality education provided by schools or in the community is considered a vital strategy to promote sexual and reproductive health. This includes using contraceptives. There are gaps in sexual education that exist for women living with disability, specifically intellectual disabilities (ID) thus creating barriers to contraceptive use.

Research Findings

The findings revealed:

Lack of formal sex education for women with disabilities

Women with ID received instruction on fewer sexual health topics (e.g., saying no to sex; birth control methods; access to birth control; using a condom; sexually transmitted infections; HIV prevention) overall in comparison to women without disabilities. It is clear that there are barriers to accessing formal sex education for women with ID.

Differences in contraception use at first intercourse

Adolescent women with ID are less likely to use contraceptives at first intercourse in comparison to adolescent women without ID.

Earlier first intercourse

It was found that adolescent women with an ID often experience first sexual intercourse earlier than their peers without ID. Intercourse was less likely to be with a steady romantic partner.

Practical Implications

Through this study it is clear that sexual health education programs must be assessed to determine if they are comprehensive and inclusive of all students including those with ID. Receiving formal sex education at an earlier age is important for individuals living with a disability because many will experience first sex at an earlier age than their peers. Additionally, given the relationship between the receipt of formal sex education and increased contraceptive use at first intercourse, ongoing efforts to increase access to formal sex education for adolescent women living with disabilities is crucial. It is evident that adult women living with a disability are more likely to experience involuntary first sexual intercourse, and it is often earlier. Therefore, it is important to strengthen opportunities and means of delivering formal sex education, including education in health care, community and school settings to teach about contraceptive use.


Namkung, E. H., Valentine, A., Warner, L., & Mitra, M. (2021). Contraceptive use at first sexual intercourse among adolescent and young adult women with disabilities: The role of formal sex education. Contraception, 103(3), 178-184. doi:10:1016/j.contraception.2020.12.007