Through a different lens: examining commonality and divergence in constructions and depictions of the sexuality of persons with physical disabilities in South Africa

Hunt, Xanthe (2018-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Historically, people with disabilities have been held in contempt or pitied by the non-disabled members of the communities in which they live, and by society as a whole. One area in which people with disabilities have been excluded and discriminated against is that of sexuality. Sexuality has been deemed the purview of the non-disabled. The societal inability, or disinclination, to reconcile sexuality and disability has had damaging consequences for people with disabilities who have variously been infantilised, and treated as asexual. The international literature suggests that this stereotype of asexuality has been more widely applied to individuals with physical disabilities than to those with other disabilities. In low- and middle-income countries there is a gap in the state of knowledge concerning a. the attitudes of non-disabled people towards the sexuality of people with physical disabilities; and b. the experiences of sexuality (including sexual and reproductive health, relationships and sexual activity) of people with physical disabilities. In this dissertation, I survey the attitudes of some South Africans, from different backgrounds, with different levels of education, knowledge about, and exposure to, people with physical disabilities, towards the sexuality of people with physical disabilities. Secondly, I present and discuss accounts of lived experience – as gathered in a photovoice study – of sexuality and of sexual and reproductive health care amongst people with physical disabilities. I propose photovoice and self-representation as means by which the narratives illuminated in answer the second question, may be presented and made “real”. In the survey segment of the study, I found that non-disabled South Africans perceive people with physical disabilities to be less sexual than they are. This appears to be underpinned not only by a belief that people with physical disabilities are less sexual than non-disabled people, but also by non-disabled people’s active desexualisation of people with physical disabilities in interactions, and negation of the gender of people with physical disabilities. In the photovoice segment of the study, I found that a sample of South Africans with physical disabilities were concerned with their sexual fitness – their suitability as sexual subjects. This originated in their ideas about how non-disabled people might view their different-than-average embodiment, or how they viewed their embodiment as measured against internalized non-disabled norms. I reflect on the value of photovoice as methodology, and the value of self-generated images of the sexuality of people with physical disabilities in challenging societal representations. These images go some way to right the wrong of past misrepresentation which parallels and perpetuates the exclusion of people with physical disabilities from sexual life. I discuss future directions for inquiry into physical disability and sexuality, with a special interest in the global south context.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Geskiedkundig is mense met gestremdhede in minagting of verontwaardiging gehou deur die nie-gestremde lede van die gemeenskappe waarin hulle woon, asook deur die samelewing as geheel. Een gebied waar persone met gestremdhede uitgesluit en teen gediskrimineer is, is seksualiteit. Seksualiteit word beskou as die oogmerk van die nie-gestremde. Die samelewingsonvermoë, of ongerymdheid, om seksualiteit en gestremdheid te versoen, het skadelike gevolge vir gestremde persone wat beide kinderloos bevind word, en as aseksueel beskou word. Die internasionale literatuur dui daarop dat hierdie stereotipe aseksualiteit meer toegepas word op individue met fisieke gestremdhede. In lae- en middelinkomste lande is daar 'n leemte tussen so 'n teorie en die stand van kennis aangaande a. die houdings van nie-gestremde persone teenoor die seksualiteit van mense met fisieke gestremdhede; en b. die ervarings van seksualiteit (insluitend seksuele en reproduktiewe gesondheid, verhoudings en seksuele aktiwiteit) van mense met fisieke gestremdhede. In hierdie proefskrif ondersoek ek die houdings van sommige Suid-Afrikaners, van verskillende agtergronde, met verskillende vlakke van opvoeding, kennis oor en blootstelling aan mense met fisieke gestremdhede, teenoor die seksualiteit van mense met fisieke gestremdhede. Tweedens, bied ek aan en bespreek ek die beleefde ondervinding – soos ingesamel in 'n fotovoltaïese studie - van seksualiteit en seksuele en reproduktiewe gesondheidsorg onder mense met fisieke gestremdhede. Ek stel fotovolusie en selfverteenwoordiging voor as middel waarmee die vertellings wat verlig word in antwoord op die tweede vraag, voorgestel en gemaak kan word. In die opnamesegment van die studie het ek bevind dat nie-gestremde Suid-Afrikaners mense met fisieke gestremdhede beskou as minder seksueel as wat hulle is. Dit blyk nie net deur die oortuiging dat mense met liggaamlike gestremdhede minder seksueel as nie-gestremde mense is nie, maar ook deur nie-gestremde persone se aktiewe ontseksualisering van mense met fisiese gestremdhede in interaksies en negasie van die geslag van mense met fisiese gestremdhede. In die fotovoltaeksegment van die studie het ek bevind dat 'n steekproef van Suid-Afrikaners met fisieke gestremdhede bemoeid was met hul seksuele fiksheid - hul geskiktheid as seksuele voorwerpe. Dit het ontstaan in hul idees oor hoe nie-gestremde mense hul anders-as-gemiddelde beliggaming sien, of hoe hulle hul beliggaming beskou het soos bepaal word deur geïnternaliseerde nie-gestremde norme. Ek besin oor die waarde van fotovolusie as metodologie en die waarde van selfgegenereerde beelde van die seksualiteit van mense met fisieke gestremdhede in uitdagende samelewingsvoorstellings. Hierdie beelde bied een of ander manier aan om die verkeerde wanvoorstelling van die verlede, wat die uitsluiting van mense met fisiese gestremdhede uit die seksuele lewe voortduur, reg te stel. Ek bespreek toekomstige aanwysings vir ondersoek na fisieke gestremdheid en seksualiteit.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/104824
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