Date of Award

Summer 8-21-2020

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interdisciplinary Program


Sandra Caron

Second Committee Member

Sandra Butler

Third Committee Member

Allison Carey

Additional Committee Members

Sarah Howorth

Daniel Puhlman


The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand how Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) view and support the sexuality of individuals with mild to moderate ID. Interviews with 24 DSPs (19 females, 5 males) working in Maine focused on several topic areas: sexual attitudes and experiences with consumers' sexuality issues, the factors that influence how they handle various situations, and the impact of gender on their response to consumers. DSPs were also asked to talk about suggestions they have for improving their work with consumers around sexuality. These in-depth, face-to-face interviews consisted of a series of open-ended questions. The participants were primarily recruited using a snowball sampling technique. Straussian grounded-theory method was used to guide the collecting and coding of interview data in order to identify emerging categories within the data. Sixteen themes emerged from the analysis of the interview transcripts and were organized under the topics of focus for the study. The 16 themes were organized according to the subresearch questions of this study and are the focus of this research, they are: attitudes and beliefs, experiences in sexuality, influencing factors, gender, and suggestions for sexually related issues. Three broad categories emerged from a further analysis of the 16 themes and include: My Hands are Tied, Isolation, and Champions for Sex. This study revealed that DSPs perceive constraints, limitations, and an inability to act freely when it comes to addressing their consumers’ sexuality issues and needs. They often find themselves alone to support their consumers’ sexual needs without much training or guidance from their agency. Despite these challenges and frustrations, the DSPs see themselves as the people on the front lines to support and advocate for their consumers’ sexuality issues. Implications of the study findings are discussed, including the need for agencies to have a clear policy around sexuality, the use of a team approach which includes the DSPs, and better sexuality training for DSPs and parents to ultimately improve the sexual lives of individuals with ID.