Disability, Sexuality, and Gender Role Beliefs

Gendered Ableism: Media Representations and Gender Role Beliefs’ Effect on Perceptions of Disability and Sexuality Alexandria Parsons, Arleigh J. Reichl, & Cory L. Pedersen

The primary purpose of this research was to determine how attitudes toward the sexuality of individuals with disabilities are affected by exposure to ads featuring images of individuals both with and without physical disabilities, gender role beliefs, and the gender of those with the disability. It was hypothesized that individuals with more traditional gender role beliefs will hold more negative attitudes than egalitarian individuals towards the sexual and reproductive rights of the disabled, and in particular toward women with physical disabilities due to their perceived inability to live up to societal expectations regarding femininity and motherhood. In addition, it was expected that ads featuring able bodied and disabled individuals would activate these beliefs and further increase the negative attitudes of participants with traditional gender role beliefs. In contrast, the authors hypothesized that the ads would have no impact on the attitudes of egalitarian participants, for whom equal rights are given higher priority.

The results of the study demonstrated that there exists a complex relationship between gender role beliefs and exposure to advertisements and the attitudes towards the sexuality of women and men with physical disabilities. Although ads created more positive attitudes under some conditions, this was more commonly the case for attitudes toward the sexuality of disabled men. In contrast, exposure to ads, particularly those featuring disabilities, tended to create more negative attitudes toward the sexuality of disabled women. This study also provided support for the hypothesis that the endorsement of traditional gender role beliefs is related to more negative attitudes towards the sexuality of women with physical disabilities.  Although not hypothesized, this study has also provided evidence that women are more accepting than men of individuals with disabilities engaging in a variety of sexual behaviours.

Poster presented at the Association for Psychological Sciences Annual Convention, San Francisco, 2014 and article published in the journal, Sexuality and Disability, doi: 10.1007/s11195-016-9464-6