Prison sexuality

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Prison sexuality (or prison sex or penitentiary sex) consists of sexual relationships between prisoners or between a prisoner and a prison employee or other persons to whom prisoners have access. Since prisons are usually separated by gender, most sexual activity is with a same-sex partner.[1] Exceptions to this consist of sex during conjugal visits and sex with an employee of the opposite sex.

Prison sexuality is an issue that has been commonly misunderstood and misrepresented due not only to the taboo nature of the subject, but also because of a lack of research.[2] The most common kind of sexual activity in prisons is consensual sex.[3]

A 2011 study developed a taxonomy for different types of sexual behaviors in women's prison. They include suppression, in which an inmate chooses celibacy (i.e. refrains from sexual activity while in prison, most commonly to stay loyal to a partner who is outside of prison); autoeroticism (i.e. masturbation); true homosexuality (consensual sex between inmates who were already homosexual before entering prison); situational homosexuality (consensual sex between inmates who have homosexual experiences for the first time in prison); and sexual violence (which can be between inmates, or between a staff member and an inmate. Sexual violence includes coercion, manipulation, and compliance. Manipulation is performed for power or some kind of reward. Compliance occurs to obtain safety, protection, or out of fear).[4]

In general, prisoner-prisoner relationships are same-sex relationships because prisons are generally segregated by sex. An example of an exception to this general rule took place in Canada at the Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines prison. There, two convicted killers of the opposite sex, Karla Homolka and Jean-Paul Gerbet, were able to engage in sexual activity through a chain-link fence, which was the only barrier separating men and women. This prison is Canada's highest security prison in which inmates of either sex may be sent if considered especially dangerous.[5]

Prisoner-prisoner relationships[edit]

Female prisoners[edit]

The first research done on prison sexuality was on women in 1913. In 1931, researcher Selling, found that different levels of relationships exist between females in prison (and female juvenile facilities), such as "friendship, pseudofamily membership, pseudohomosexuality, and overt homosexuality".[6] The forming of pseudofamilies have been more common in women prisons. These are families women create in prison that provide them support, bonds and relationships, like a traditional family would. Typically, only the main couple in the family has sexual relations. The women take on masculine and feminine roles to mimic a traditional heterosexual family. "Mammy" or "mumsy" is given to an older, maternal woman in the family, and "Popsy" is given to a dominant woman, who is least feminine. These "parents" are typically older and are seen as mentors to younger inmates. Roles within pseudofamilies are flexible and can change with time.[6]

In 1965, Ward and Kassebaum conducted research in Frontera through questionnaires and concluded from staff and inmates that "between 30% and 75% of the inmates had sexual affairs while in prison", 50% of those engaging in same-sex sexual activity. Sexual intercourse between these women were typically for fun and enjoyment, sometimes transitioning into a serious relationship. Furthermore, these relationships occurred between women who were housed together or between women of different races; same-race relations are not as typical. After a survey taken in a study conducted by Propper in 1976, his results for reasons for homosexual relationships include "game playing, economic manipulation, loneliness, the need for companionship, and genuine affection".[4] Researcher, Otis studied what was seen as "unnatural relationships" between interracial women.[6] In 2014, consensual sexual relationships between women in UK prisons were described as "commonplace" by The Daily Telegraph.[7][8]

In homosexual relationships, sexual types for women include: "butch" or “daddy" refers to the masculine female who is dominant. The "femme" or "mommy" is the submissive one. A "trick" is a girl who allows herself to be used by others. A "commissary hustler" is manipulative. "Cherries" have never had lesbian experiences and a "square" will not take part in homosexual acts.[4]

Male prisoners[edit]

Prison sexuality for males has been studied since the 1930s. Research is lacking on consensual sex because most research done has focused on coercion.[3] Sexual abuse is more common among male inmates. Men sexually abuse others to establish dominance, power and to maintain their masculinity.[6] Men who are physically weaker will offer consensual sex in exchange for protection, security, goods or support.[3]

Heterosexual men in prison view their homosexual acts as being "situation specific" and may not consider themselves bisexual. These men often describe how they imagine being with a woman while taking part in sexual activity with a male inmate. During masturbation, they picture past sexual experiences with women.[9] They take part in homosexual activity due to having no “heterosexual outlets”.[6]

A dominant sexual partner in prison is called "daddy" while their submissive partner is called "kid" or “girl”. The dominant partner has their mate take on the feminine role in order to feel more masculine and powerful.[10]

Jonathan Schwartz's research in the documentary Turned Out: Sexual Assault Behind Bars found that "in male prison populations where entitlement to (anal and oral) penetration (or perhaps possessing a 'wife') is the ultimate symbol of domination - [it is] part of the symbolic economy of an all-male, hyper-masculinist environment."[11]

Prisoners and other relationships[edit]

Around the world many prisons offer conjugal visits to the partners of inmates, in which prisoners are permitted to spend time in private rooms with their partners in a prison-facilitated environment. Conjugal visits are restricted to only inmates with good behavior, and in some jurisdictions this is only permitted for married couples, while others allow domestic partners.[12][13]

Relations also occur between correctional staff and inmates.[14] Due to the power dynamic of staff over the inmates, tight quarters and restriction of sexual relations, prisoners are in a vulnerable position to staff members. Personnel of the staff include: security staff, teachers and counselors, medical workers, contractors and religious workers. Although not allowed, many times this would be the only opportunity for inmates to engage in heterosexual relations. In some jurisdictions, sexual relations of prison staff with inmates are illegal regardless of consent.[15]

A government report in the UK in 2014 found that female prisoners in England and Wales have been coerced into sex with staff in exchange for alcohol and cigarettes.[16] Some sexbot manufacterers have argued that introducing sexbots into prisons will have the positive effect of reducing prison rapes and reducing sexual tension.[17]

Prison rape (UK)[edit]

Multiple types of forced sexual contact happen in prison. A few are: "Kids" are kept in servitude by an owner and are a sign of the owners prestige and power. "Gumps" are used as prostitutes by a gang or group of inmates who sell the gumps sexual favors for money and prison currency. Gumps tend to be in their position because they volunteered for it at one time for purposes of coming into their sexual orientation in prison or for survival in the incarceration system. Punks are individuals who hesitate to participate in homosexual behavior, but are turned over by coercion.[18]

Prison rape (US)[edit]

Prison is a community sexologically characterized by overt masturbation and by homosexual couplings that may be consensual, coercive or assaultive (rape).[19] Prison rape is defined differently from state to state but is understood to be non-consensual or unwanted sexual contact between individuals.[20] Prison rape can be between inmates or inmates and staff of the prison. This is a form of sexuality because these individuals use their capacity for sexual feelings to intimidate or control their victims which causes sociological properties of the prison to change.[21][clarification needed]

According to research done in 1980, prisoners have two overarching reasons to rape a victim, one is to satisfy their overt sexual and need based desires that self pleasure can not. The second is to use the assault as a sort of intimidation factor to grant the rapist power in a place where these actions generally go unpunished. In prison, the phrase "booty bandit" is used to describe such an inmate that would rape another (in the male case). There seems to be no shown correlation that men who are abusive to their partners outside of prison are more likely to be rapist in prisons. Such men are not known to have history of sexual assault before prison.[19]

According to the 2001 Human Rights Watch report "No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons", sexual slavery is frequently posed as a consensual sexual relationship inside prisons. Rape victims are often intimidated into feigning consent to sexual activity, to the point of becoming "slaves" and the figurative property of their rapists. The potential for rape activity has been seen to be more prevalent across race lines. HRW also stated that many studies report the prevalence of rape perpetrated by black prisoners against Caucasian prisoners.[22]

Prospective slaveholders will sometimes use intimidating innuendo, as opposed to overt threats of violence, which the prospective slave unwillingly accepts, thereby disguising the coercive nature of the sexual activity from even the enslaver.[23] Victims might not even see themselves as being coerced, if the abuse is negotiated as repayment for a debt. The trauma of the sexual violations often affects men as it threatens their sense of masculinity, gender identity and sexual orientation.[24] The HRW report contains an account in which an inmate is feeling this way.[25] It is argued that in prison, consent is inherently illusory.

In 2003, for the first time ever, the United States government moved to protect prisoners from sexual violence. With pressure from human rights groups, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to protect prisoners from sexual violence.[21]

In news media[edit]

The printed news media in the historical era emphasized the issue of prison rape by establishing a social problem and blaming the U.S. correction system. According to major newspapers, the U.S. correction system not only involved the correctional personnel but the inmates who engaged in homosexuality.[26] Later in the contemporary era, print news media shifted the United States' focus on prison rape from a framed-problem perspective to a political rights and civil rights issue within the U.S. correction system.[26]

The issue of prison rape gained national attention in the press thus creating an open door for new perspectives on how to understand and eliminate the issue. News media contributed to the U.S. government's initiative to intervene in the matter.[26]

Inmate contraceptive access[edit]

Even though the state law prohibits all sex acts, sex still takes place in prison whether widely consensual or violently coerced. Health advocates believe that condoms should be available for everyone to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted infections and since sex is going to happen in the prisons, it should be safe.[27]

As of September 2013, condoms are available inside prisons in Canada, most of the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and the US state of Vermont.[28] In September 2014, a law was passed in California when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Assembly Bill 966 also known as the Prisoner Protections for Family and Community Health Act to require the state to hand out condoms and make them available to inmates in 34 of its prison facilities. This bill protects the prisoner's health as well while being cost effective. For the state, condom distribution is a low cost method to prevent the transmission of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases since individual HIV treatments are costly.[29]

As of September 12, 2016, a bill passed stating that birth control and hygiene products are allowed for women inmates to use if they are prescribed by their physician. All forms of birth control approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be made available to all inmates capable of becoming pregnant.[30]

HIV testing[edit]

The amount of STIs in prisons is 8-10 times higher than the general population among both males and females.[31]

Many of these incarcerated individuals with drug-related crime have participated in unsafe injection or have sexual risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted or infectious diseases. Even though correctional administrators deny it, sexual activity and drug use take place in prisons. HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections are transmitted by unprotected sex and sharing contaminated drug injection equipment in these correctional facilities. Many prisoners are infected while incarcerated which can affect their personal health, spread infectious diseases to other inmates, and eventually their sexual partner in the community. Because the rate of STI's is much higher in prison, some prisons provide voluntary HIV testing and counseling to educate and reduce HIV risk behavior.[32] Some prisoners refuse to voluntarily get tested for HIV because they fear their results will not remain confidential among the staff and that they will be discriminated.[33]

Health is a priority for many prisons, especially when prisoners return to their communities once their sentence is complete.[34]

Social constructionist approach[edit]

Some explanations for prison sexuality include the social constructionist theory by Groth. He implies that sexuality is not only an "inherent part" of a person but also that it may be a "construct of that person's society".[35] Additionally, he mentions that you cannot classify the prisoner's sexuality as heterosexual or homosexual during their prison time because it could not be accurate; their sexuality is on hold meanwhile because they act rather on personal needs than interpersonal needs. This, however does not fully conclude that this is the sole reason for prison relationships because they also feel the genuine connection that can turn into a serious relationship.

A similar perspective was penned by Donald Clemmer, who in 1940 theorized that inmates engaged in homosexual behavior partly as they "were deprived of a heteronormative sexual identity".[36] As sexuality has been historically separated into heterosexual or homosexual categories, this deprivation model of an inmate satisfying their needs at the cost of changing from heterosexual to homosexual fits with the social constructionist theory.[36]

In 1958, Gresham Sykes created the deprivation model. In this model, heterosexual inmates struggle with deprivation and create a prison subculture. Inmates are deprived of their sexual needs and desire some activity, resort to masturbation, consensual or coerced sex.[2]

John Irwin & Donald Cressey created the importation model in 1962. With this model, inmates create a unique prison culture based on values from the outside. The social constructionist model is made up of social situations and values.[2]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Marcum, Catherine D.; Castle, Tammy L., eds. (2014). Sex in Prison: Myths and Realities (Excerpts) (PDF). Lynne Rienner Publishers. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 978-1-62637-030-2. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Gibson, Lauren E.; Hensley, Christopher (2013). "The Social Construction of Sexuality in Prison". The Prison Journal. 93 (3): 355–370. doi:10.1177/0032885513490503. S2CID 43006712.
  3. ^ a b c Ristroph, Alice. "Prison, Detention, and Correctional Institutions." Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Ed. Fedwa Malti-Douglas. Vol. 3. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 1196-1199. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 7 Oct. 2016.
  4. ^ a b Perdue, Angela; Arrigo, Bruce A.; Murphy, Daniel S. (2011). "Sex and Sexuality in Women's Prisons: A Preliminary Typological Investigation". The Prison Journal. 91 (3): 279–304. doi:10.1177/0032885511409869.
  5. ^ Mandel, Michele (14 January 2008). "Murder victim's sister fears killer will reunite with Karla Homolka". St. Catharines Standard. Archived from the original on 2 October 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e Hensley, Christopher; Tewksbury, Richard (2002). "Inmate-to-Inmate Prison Sexuality : A Review of Empirical Studies". Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 3 (3): 226–243. doi:10.1177/15248380020033005. S2CID 144144111.
  7. ^ Ava Vidal (26 February 2014). "Women prisoners: Sex in prison is commonplace, the male inmates just hide it more than girls". The Daily Telegraph.
  8. ^ Kate Johns (6 May 2013). "Many prison inmates are 'gay for the stay'". Independent Voices (Opinion).
  9. ^ Money, John; Boomer, Carol (1980). "Prison Sexology: Two Personal Accounts of Masturbation, Homosexuality, and Rape". The Journal of Sex Research. 16 (3): 258–266. doi:10.1080/00224498009551082.
  10. ^ Coggeshall, John M (1988). "'Ladies' Behind Bars: A Liminal Gender as Cultural Mirror". Anthropology Today. 4 (4): 6–8. doi:10.2307/3032988. JSTOR 3032988.
  11. ^ Sexual Abuse in Youth Sport: A sociocultural analysis
  12. ^ Sanburn, J (2014). "Doing Harder Time". Time. 183 (3): 15.
  13. ^ Einat, T.; Rabinovitz, S. (2013). "A Warm Touch in a Cold Cell: Inmates' Views on Conjugal Visits in a Maximum-Security Women's Prison in Israel". International Journal of Offender Therapy & Comparative Criminology. 57 (12): 1522–1545. doi:10.1177/0306624X12461475. PMID 23070953. S2CID 1272069.
  14. ^ Holland, Megan (11 April 2007). "Ex-Hiland Mountain prison guard charged with having sex with inmate". Anchorage Daily News. Archived from the original on 7 December 2008.
  15. ^ Santi, Alysia. "Preying on Prisoners: When Texas Guards Demand Sex". The Texas Tribune. Published June 17, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
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  20. ^ Capers, Bennett (2011). California Law Review. California Law Review, Inc. pp. 1259–1307.
  21. ^ a b Jackson, Jessi Lee (2013). SIgns. The University of Chicago Press. pp. 197–220.
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  23. ^ Goodmark, Leigh; Flores, Juanita; Goldscheid, Julie; Ritchie, Andrea; SpearIt (9 July 2015). "Plenary 2 -- Redefining Gender Violence -- Transcripts from Converge! Reimagining the Movement to End Gender Violence". Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. SSRN 2628984. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  24. ^ "Body And Soul: The Physical And Psychological Injury Of Prison Rape: Psychological Impact". No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons. Human Rights Watch. 2001.
  25. ^ "Rape scenarios". No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons. Human Rights Watch. 2001.
  26. ^ a b c Smyth, Michael A. (2011). Prison rape law, media, and meaning. El Paso [Tex.]: LFB Scholarly Pub. pp. 163–176. ISBN 9781593326920.
  27. ^ "California to Make Condoms Available in Prisons Statewide." FSRN. Free Speech Radio News, 4 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <>.
  28. ^ Holly Richmond (18 September 2013). "Everybody wants condom vending machines". Grist Magazine. Grist Magazine, Inc. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  29. ^ Sevcik, JC. "California Law to Provide Condoms to Inmates in State Prisons Passes." UPI. United Press International, 06 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <>.
  30. ^ "Bill Text – SB-1433 Incarcerated persons: contraceptive counseling and services". Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  31. ^ Grinstead, Olga; et al. (2003). "HIV And STD Testing In Prisons: Perspectives Of In-Prison Service Providers". AIDS Education and Prevention. 15 (6): 547–560. doi:10.1521/aeap.15.7.547.24045. PMID 14711167.
  32. ^ Valera P, Chang Y, Lian Z (December 2016). "HIV risk inside US prisons: A systematic review of risk reduction interventions conducted in US prisons". AIDS Care. 29 (8): 943–952. doi:10.1080/09540121.2016.1271102. PMC 5587216. PMID 28027663.
  33. ^ Hammett, Theodore M (2006). "HIV/AIDS and Other Infectious Diseases among Correctional Inmates: Transmission, Burden, and an Appropriate Response". American Journal of Public Health. 96 (6): 974–978. doi:10.2105/ajph.2005.066993. PMC 1470637. PMID 16449578.
  34. ^ Kinner, Stuart A; Wang, Emily A (2014). "The Case for Improving the Health of Ex-Prisoners". American Journal of Public Health. 104 (8): 1352–1355. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.301883. PMC 4103236. PMID 24922122.
  35. ^ "The Social Construction of Sexuality in Prison". The Prison Journal. 93.
  36. ^ a b Gibson, L; Hensley, C (2013). "The social construction of sexuality in prison". The Prison Journal. 93 (3): 355–370. doi:10.1177/0032885513490503. S2CID 43006712.
  37. ^ "SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research". doi:10.1177/0032885500080004002. S2CID 145364536. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

Further reading[edit]