Intimacy and Sexuality

In general, individuals with Down syndrome reach puberty and sexual maturation about the same time as their non-disabled peers. However, young women with Down syndrome who have hypothyroidism or a history of heart disease are more likely to have delayed onset of puberty. Most young women with Down syndrome have regular menses after menstruation occurs. Up to 40% of the young women with Down syndrome have a normal ovulation pattern, while 30% ovulate on a less predictable cycle. Women with Down syndrome can become pregnant, and at least 1/3 of their children will have Down syndrome. Menopause seems to occur at the same time and in the same pattern as it does in women at large. Men with Down syndrome are quite often infertile.

With community living arrangements and social interactions becoming more independent for adults with Down syndrome, there is an increased opportunity for intimacy and sexual relationships. Adults with Down syndrome need accurate information about intimacy and sexuality, presented in an open manner that is comprehensible and relevant for the individual. These individuals need the same type of information as their non-disabled peers about issues such as conception, contraception, sexually-transmitted disease, and sexual abuse. However, it’s important to tailor the information to the learning style of the adult with disabilities, and to allow opportunity for questioning and open discussion. Within the limitations and context of the adult’s living arrangement, decisions need to be made about the extent of intimate relationships.

Because adults with Down syndrome have at least some degree of mental retardation, sexual relationships are inappropriate.