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Women with learning disabilities often do not have say in contraception

03 October 2012 RCNi

A study of the families of women with learning disabilities and staff who work with them revealed the influences on their choice of contraceptive. Less than a third have formal assessments for mental capacity, and just under 40 per cent make the final choice about contraceptives themselves.

Women with learning disabilities who use contraceptives often don’t get the final say over the type of contraception they use and are often not sexually active, researchers have found.

The findings reported in this month’s Learning Disability Practice journal, include that formal assessments for mental capacity had been undertaken for only 32 per cent of women taking

Authors Sarah Earle, Liz Tilley and Jan Walmsley from the Open University in the UK write that the women had some say over the types of contraceptive they use.

‘Sixty two per cent had been involved in discussions, and 38 per cent had made the final decisions about contraceptive type,’ they said.

‘General practitioners were the most significant other final decision makers for 23 per cent of the women, and mothers were the second most influential decision makers for 16 per cent of the women. The input from the women’s fathers appears to have been negligible.’

The contraceptive implant was the most common form of contraception used, followed by the combined contraceptive pill.

However, only 28 percent of women were sexually active.

‘In 15 per cent of cases there was an expectation that the women would become sexually active, while a fear of pregnancy and need to manage menstruation were cited in 31 and 17 per cent of cases respectively,’ said the authors.

The qualitative study was undertaken among family members, advocates and staff who worked with the women . The women themselves were excluded because of plans to undertake a second, accessible version of the research to focus specifically on their experiences.

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