The Problematization of Sexuality among Women Living with HIV and a New Feminist Approach for Understanding and Enhancing Women’s Sexual Lives

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Scholarly level: 
Graduate student (PhD)
Final version published as: 

Forthcoming in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.

Date created: 
2017-09
Keywords: 
Women
Sexuality
HIV
Feminism
Quantitative research
Review
Abstract: 

In the context of HIV, women’s sexual rights and sexual autonomy are important but frequently overlooked and violated. Guided by community voices, feminist theories, and qualitative empirical research, we reviewed two decades of global quantitative research on sexuality among women living with HIV. In the 32 studies we found, conducted in 25 countries and composed mostly of cis-gender heterosexual women, sexuality was narrowly constructed as sexual behaviours involving risk (namely, penetration) and physiological dysfunctions relating to HIV illness, with far less attention given to the fullness of sexual lives in context, including more positive and rewarding experiences such as satisfaction and pleasure. Findings suggest that women experience declines in sexual activity, function, satisfaction, and pleasure following HIV diagnosis, at least for some period. The extent of such declines, however, is varied, with numerous contextual forces shaping women’s sexual well-being. Clinical markers of HIV (e.g., viral load, CD4 cell count) poorly predicted sexual outcomes, interrupting widely held assumptions about sexuality for women with HIV. Instead, the effects of HIV-related stigma intersecting with inequities related to trauma, violence, intimate relations, substance use, poverty, aging, and other social and cultural conditions primarily influenced the ways in which women experienced and enacted their sexuality. However, studies framed through a medical lens tended to pathologize outcomes as individual “problems,” whereas others driven by a public health agenda remained primarily preoccupied with protecting the public from HIV. In light of these findings, we present a new feminist approach for research, policy, and practice toward understanding and enhancing women’s sexual lives—one that affirms sexual diversity; engages deeply with society, politics, and history; and is grounded in women’s sexual rights.

Description: 

The fulltext of this paper will be available in early 2019 due to the embargo policies of Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. Contact summit@sfu.ca to enquire if the full text of the accepted manuscript can be made available to you.

Language: 
English
Document type: 
Article
Rights: 
Rights remain with the authors.
Sponsor(s): 
Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
Statistics: