Sexuality and intimacy among people living with serious mental illnesses: factors contributing to sexual activity

Kelsey A. Bonfils, Ruth L. Firmin, Michelle P. Salyers, Eric R. Wright

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    14 Scopus citations


    Objective: Limited research has focused on sexuality for those diagnosed with a severe mental illness. We aimed to extend existing work by exploring relationships between mastery (perception of control of one's life and future), sexual self-esteem (perceptions of one's capacity to engage in healthy sexual behavior), sexual attitudes (permissive ideas about sexuality), and perceived importance of relationships/ sexuality and number of sexual partners. Method: A secondary analysis of survey data from adult participants living with a severe mental illness (N = 401) in the Indiana Mental Health Services and HIV-Risk Study (Perry & Wright, 2006) was conducted. Analysis of covariance (controlling for marital status) compared those with 0 partners, 1 partner, or multiple partners over the past 3 months on the dependent variables of mastery, sexual self-esteem, sexual attitudes, and perceived importance. Results: Participants with more permissive attitudes, greater perceived importance, and higher mastery were more likely to be sexually active with multiple partners. Self-esteem did not differentiate groups. Conclusions and Implications for Practice: Given the key role of sexual satisfaction in quality of life and the high rates of sexual risk behavior in this population, it is important that clinicians systematically assess mastery, perceived importance, and attitudes about sexuality when working with consumers diagnosed with a severe mental illness. Individually tailoring existing interventions on the basis of consumers' levels of mastery, related to self-efficacy for implementing changes in life, could improve long-term outcomes for these programs. Future research should examine other constructs that may account for more variance in sexual activity, such as perceptions of risk, intentions for sexual safety, or romantic relationship functioning.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)249-255
    Number of pages7
    JournalPsychiatric rehabilitation journal
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


    • Mastery
    • Self-esteem
    • Severe mental illness
    • Sexual attitudes
    • Sexuality

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Health Professions (miscellaneous)
    • Rehabilitation
    • Psychiatry and Mental health

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