Sexual esteem, perceptions of pregnancy, and maternal confidence in women with and without physical disabilities
Disability remains a stigmatized identity in the United States. Individuals with both visible and invisible physical disabilities face negative attitudes and stereotypes. Women with physical disabilities may experience negative attitudes regarding their sexuality and reproduction as well as societal and environmental barriers during pregnancy and motherhood. The purpose of this study was to explore sexual esteem, perceptions of pregnancy, and maternal confidence in women with and without physical disabilities. Among women with disabilities, it was hypothesized that low sexual esteem would predict low levels of maternal confidence and that severity of disability would predict lower sexual esteem and lower maternal confidence. It was also hypothesized that able-bodied participants would endorse the highest levels of sexual esteem, maternal confidence, identification with pregnancy, and perceived societal support, followed by participants with invisible disabilities, participants with sometimes visible disabilities, and participants with visible disabilities. One hundred and fifty-four women ages 18-39 years old with and without physical disabilities participated in the study. Participants completed online surveys consisting of a demographics questionnaire, the Sexual Esteem subscale of the Sexuality Scale (Snell & Papini, 1989), an author-generated Perceptions of Pregnancy scale, and the Maternal Confidence subscales of the Childbearing Attitudes Questionnaire (CAQ; Ruble et al., 1990). Hypotheses were tested by utilizing hierarchical regression, linear regression, and one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA). Results supported the hypothesis that lower sexual esteem would predict lower maternal confidence. Significant differences were found between groups regarding maternal confidence; however, having a disability was correlated with higher maternal confidence. Participants with invisible disabilities reported the highest perceived societal support, followed by able-bodied participants, participants with sometimes visible disabilities, and participants with visible disabilities. Contrary to predictions, significant differences were not found between groups regarding reported sexual esteem or identification with pregnancy. Additionally, severity was not found to significantly impact sexual esteem or maternal confidence and these hypotheses were not supported. The study highlighted potential differences and similarities between women with and without physical disabilities regarding their expectations of pregnancy and motherhood and raised additional questions regarding potential protective factors that might impact women's sexual esteem and perceptions of pregnancy and motherhood.