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

Carter, A. and Greene, S. and Money, D. and Sanchez, M. and Webster, K. and Nicholson, V. and Whitbread, J. and Salters, K. and Patterson, S. and Loutfy, M. and Pick, N. and Brotto, L.A. and Hankins, C. and Kaida, A. (2017) The Problematization of Sexuality among Women Living with HIV and a New Feminist Approach for Understanding and Enhancing Women’s Sexual Lives. Sex Roles, 77 (11-12). pp. 779-800. ISSN 0360-0025

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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.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Sex Roles
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The final publication is available at Springer via
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? womensexualityhivfeminismquantitative researchreviewsocial psychologygender studiesdevelopmental and educational psychology ??
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Deposited On:
02 Jun 2021 12:10
Last Modified:
28 Jun 2024 01:55