Physical therapists' perceptions of sexual boundaries in clinical practice in the United States

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Background: Physical therapists' perceptions of sexual boundaries in clinic settings in the United States have not been studied. Given the magnitude of potential consequences of sexual boundary violations, examination of this topic is imperative. Objective: The purpose of this study was to describe the perceptions of sexual boundaries among licensed physical therapists in the United States. Methods: Licensed physical therapists from Arkansas, Kansas, Maine, Ohio, and Oregon were contacted by email and asked to complete a sexual boundaries questionnaire via Survey Monkey™; 967 surveys (7.3%) were returned. Results: While most physical therapists practice within the profession's Code of Ethics, there are practitioners who date current and former patients, and condone patients' sexual banter in the clinic. Almost half (42%) of the participants acknowledged feeling sexually attracted to a patient. While gender differences were seen throughout the analyses, generally, the demographic and professional variables did not account for meaningful variance. Results were similar to previous research on physiotherapists in other countries. Conclusions: Sexuality is part of the physical therapy practice environment and physical therapists' understanding of sexual boundaries is ambiguous. These data can inform professional conversation on sexual boundaries in physical therapy practice leading to greater understanding and decreased potential for violations.

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Physiotherapy Theory and Practice