Date of Award
Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology
Social sciences, Psychology, Autism, Disability, Intimate relationships, Sexual citizenship, Sexuality
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Work on sexual citizenship, or the imbrication of citizenship and sexuality, has traditionally focused on the role of heteronormativity in social organization and the impacts of that organization on the lives of LGBTQ persons. Little work has examined the utility of this framework for understanding the experiences and positioning of persons with cognitive (dis)abilities, though they too have a long history of sexual oppression and civic disenfranchisement. In addition, few studies have empirically investigated the sexual and gender identities or intimate lives of this population. This study sought to fill these gaps in basic and theoretical understanding through in-depth, Internet facilitated interviews with 24 adults on the autism spectrum. Autism Spectrum Disorder is characterized by differences in social communication and unusual behaviours or interests, as well as sensory differences. Two levels of thematic analysis were conducted on interview data. A semantic analysis of participants' intimate experiences and sexual-gender identities demonstrates that participants were successful at developing satisfying relationships and using intimate and genital touch for self-regulation. On the other hand, participants struggled with sensory-based barriers to sexual satisfaction, courtship difficulties, and experiences of intimate violence and betrayal. This analysis also substantiates previous research indicating a propensity toward gender and sexual non-conformity among persons on the spectrum, as well as delayed sexual milestones. A latent analysis connecting participants' everyday experiences with structural processes demonstrates that participants were positioned as marginal citizens through the workings of ability and (hetero)sexual normativity in their everyday lives. Participants' sexual citizenship was limited by the operation of these normativities evident in experiences of structural and cultural ableism, as well as heteronormativity and the primacy of monogamous sexual relationships. Participants also enacted and enhanced their sexual citizenship through the sexual economy and (hetero)sexual normalization, as well as social support, an Autistic identity, and the deployment of proactive strategies for managing (dis)ability. Finally, participants articulated new gender, sexual, and ability normativities that better facilitated their access to sexual citizenship. These analyses illustrate how normative sexuality is predicated on typical ability. Further, they show how ability and sexuality separately and in their entwined aspect mediate access to full citizenship.
Barnett, Jessica Penwell, "Sexual Citizenship on the Autism Spectrum" (2014). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 5101.