The Dynamics of Intimate Relations in Residential Settings for People with Intellectual Disabilities: Social Workers’ Perspective

Roni Holler*, Chen Bondorevsky-Heyman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Despite recent progressive changes in policy, practices, and discourse, when it comes to intimacy and sexuality, the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities remain unrealized. Drawing on interviews with Israeli social workers employed in residential settings, the study seeks to better understand mechanisms and factors behind this reality. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with fifteen Israeli licensed social workers employed in small and large group homes. All interviews were transcribed and analyzed thematically. Results: Using a temporal perspective, the identified themes are organized according to common, potential relationship stages: (a) forming a relationship; (b) practicalities of relationships: private and shared time; (c) dealing with relationship conflicts; (d) cohabitation; and (e) breakup. We trace the barriers experienced in each stage as well as the way social workers perceive both these barriers and their own role in overcoming them. Conclusions: We suggest four root causes that underlie the intimacy-challenged life of people with intellectual disabilities in residential settings: (a) the institutional nature of residential services; (b) organizational culture and practices; (c) limited resources; and (d) the human factor. Policy Implications: The current study suggests that to support individuals with intellectual disabilities in realizing their intimate citizenship, multilayered policy efforts are needed, requiring changes in the four root causes.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)422-435
Number of pages14
JournalSexuality Research and Social Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Individuals with intellectual disabilities
  • Intimacy
  • Residential settings
  • Sexuality, Social work


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