Prison sexuality

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"Prison sex" redirects here. For the song by Tool, see Prison Sex.

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

Prison sexuality is a topic in the criminal justice system that is unclear and misunderstood due to it being a taboo subject and one that hasn't been researched extensively.[2] There are rules in place to prevent sex in prison, but it still remains a very sexualized environment. Consensual sexual activity is most common in prisons.[3]

Prisoner-prisoner relationships[edit]

Female Prisoners[edit]

The first research done on prison sexuality was on women in 1913. Researcher, Otis studied what was seen as "unnatural relationships" between interracial women.[4] In 2014, consensual sexual relationships between women in UK prisons were described as "commonplace" by The Daily Telegraph.[5][6]

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".[4] The forming of pseudofamilies only occurs in women prisons. These are families women create in prison that provide them support, bonds and relationships, like a real family would. Typically, only the main couple in the family has sexual relations. The women take on masculine and feminine roles to mimic a real family. "Mammy" or "mumsy" is given to the older, maternal woman in the family. While "Popsy" is given to the 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 do change with time.[4]

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]

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 homosexuality acts.[7]

Sexual behaviors in prisons are grouped into five categories. The first one is suppression; with suppression inmates choose celibacy. This type is focused on staying loyal to one's partner outside of prison. Autoeroticism is taking part in masturbation and pleasuring oneself. This act is looked down upon in prison and is viewed as self-abuse. Homosexuality consist of two types, consensual true and consensual situation. Consensual true refers to those who were homosexual before prison and situation are those who have homosexual experiences for the first time in prison. Sexual violence includes coercion, manipulation and compliance. Manipulation is done for power or some kind of reward. Compliance is done for safety, protection or out of fear.[7]

Male Prisoners[edit]

Prison sexuality for males has been studied since the 1930's. Research is lacking on consensual sex because most research done has focused on coercion.[3] Sexual abuse is more common among male inmates. Although, the fear of sexual abuse is higher than the amount it actually happens. Men sexually abuse others for dominance, power and to maintain their masculinity.[4] Men who realize they are weaker will give consent for protection, security, goods or support.[3]

Straight men in prison, view their homosexual acts as being "situation specific" and do not consider themselves bisexual. These men 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.[8] They take part in homosexual activity due to having no “heterosexual outlets”.[4]

A dominant sexual partner in prison is called "daddy". Their mate is called "kid" or “girl” and is the submissive one. The dominant partner has their mate take on the feminine role in order to feel more masculine and powerful.[9]

Prisoner 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 behaviour, and in some jurisdictions this is only permitted for married couples, while others allow domestic partners.[10][11]

Relationships also occur between correctional staff and prisoners.[12] Prisoners and staff spend a great deal of time together, and much of the time the staff would be the only venue for sex with the opposite sex. This applies to security staff, teachers and counselors, medical workers, contractors and religious workers.

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.[13]

Potential for Rape Activity[edit]

According to a 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. HRW also stated that many studies report the prevalence of rape perpetrated by black prisoners against caucasian prisoners.[14]

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.[15] Slaves might not even see themselves as being coerced, if the enslavement is negotiated as repayment for a debt. Also, some consider themselves transformed into a homosexual.[16] The HRW report contains an account in which an inmate is coerced in this way.[17] It is argued that in prison, consent is inherently illusory.

In general, such prisoner-prisoner relationships would by necessity be same sex relationships, as prisons are generally segregated by gender. An exception to this general rule took place in Canada, where two convicted killers of the opposite sex, Karla Homolka and Jean-Paul Gerbet, were able to engage in touching that was sexual in nature through a chain-link fence. The fence was the only barrier separating men and women at Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines prison. The prison is Canada's highest security prison where especially dangerous inmates of either sex may be sent.[18]

In several surveys conducted by U.S. Department of Justice, Female rapes in prison are significantly higher than that of men. 36.7% of females under the age of 18 were sexually assaulted in some way before admission into the justice system. The number for males under 18 was 14.4%, which is less than half the amount as females. That same number skyrockets when all men and women are considered. 57.2% of all females and 16.1% of all males report to having experienced some form of sexual assault. When considering the relationship between the inmates and the predator, 95.4% of federal woman inmates and 86.3 male inmates report having known the suspect beforehand. The surveys also indicated that women were abused by family members and social acquaintances ,whereas men were mainly abused by family members alone.[19]

Inmate Contraceptive Access[edit]

The amount of STD's in prisons is higher than the general population among both males and females.[3]

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 (on 17 September 2013, the Californian Senate approved a bill for condom distribution inside the state's prisons, but the bill was not yet law at the time of approval).[20]

As of September 12, 2016, A bill passed stating that birth control and hygiene products are allowed for woman inmates to use if they are prescribed by their physician. All foms of birth control approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be made available to all inmates capable of becoming pregnant.[21]

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".[22] Additionally, he mentions that you cannot classify the prisoners 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".[23] 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.[23]

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. 
  3. ^ a b c d 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 c d e CHRISTOPHER HENSLEY, & RICHARD TEWKSBURY. (2002). Inmate-to-Inmate Prison Sexuality : A Review of Empirical Studies. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 3(3), 226-243. doi:10.1177/15248380020033005
  5. ^ Ava Vidal (26 February 2014). "Women prisoners: Sex in prison is commonplace, the male inmates just hide it more than girls". The Daily Telegraph. 
  6. ^ Kate Johns (6 May 2013). "Many prison inmates are 'gay for the stay'". Independent Voices (Opinion). 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Money, John; Boomer, Carol (1980). ""Prison Sexology: Two Personal Accounts of Masturbation, Homosexuality, and Rape."". The Journal of Sex Research. 16 (3). 
  9. ^ Coggeshall, John M. "'Ladies' Behind Bars: A Liminal Gender as Cultural Mirror." Anthropology Today 4.4 (1988): 6-8. Web.
  10. ^ Sanburn, J. (2014). Doing Harder Time. Time, 183(3), 15.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ "Women prisoners 'coerced into sex with staff'". BBC News. 25 February 2014. 
  14. ^ "No Escape: Male Rape in US Prisons". Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch. 2001. Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ "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. 
  17. ^ "Rape scenarios". No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons. Human Rights Watch. 2001. 
  18. ^ Mandel, Michele (14 January 2008). "Murder victim's sister fears killer will reunite with Karla Homolka". St. Catharines Standard. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  19. ^ "Prior Abuse Reported by Inmates and Probationers" (PDF). 
  20. ^ Holly Richmond (18 September 2013). "Everybody wants condom vending machines". Grist Magazine. Grist Magazine, Inc. Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  21. ^ "Bill Text - SB-1433 Incarcerated persons: contraceptive counseling and services.". Retrieved 2016-11-15. 
  22. ^ "The Social Construction of Sexuality in Prison". The Prison Journal. 93. 
  23. ^ a b Gibson L, Hensley C. The social construction of sexuality in prison. The Prison Journal [serial online]. September 2013;93(3):355-370. Available from: PsycINFO, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 30, 2016

Further reading[edit]