Deprivation of heterosexual relationships.

Some researchers have suggested that male inmates undergo a reduction of the sexual drive and that the sexual frustrations of inmates are, therefore, less significant than might be expected. However, these reports were largely based on the accounts of men imprisoned in concentration camps or similar extreme situations where starvation, torture and physical exhaustion reduced life to a struggle for survival or left the captive deep in apathy (Sykes, 1966). In addition to the physiological effects of sexual frustration, Sykes cited possible psychological problems created by the lack of heterosexual relationships for male inmates. A society composed exclusively of men tends to generate anxieties in its members concerning their masculinity, regardless of whether or not they are coerced, bribed or seduced into an overt homosexual liaison. Latent homosexual tendencies may be activated in the individual without being translated into open behaviour and yet still arouse strong guilt feelings at either the conscious or unconscious level.

Sykes made an observation in his 1966 work which is of relevance in to our current understanding about male sexuality:

...[T]he deprivation of heterosexual relationships carries with it another threat to the prisoner's image of himself- more diffuse, perhaps, and more difficult to state precisely and yet no less disturbing. The inmate is shut off from the world of women which by its very polarity gives the male world much of its meaning. Like most men, the inmate must search for his identity not simply within himself but also in the picture of himself which he finds reflected in the eyes of others (Sykes, 1966, p. 72)

Paradoxically, many inmates who consider themselves to be heterosexual assert their masculinity not by suffering through the frustrations of abstinence, but by engaging in homosexual activities. In some institutions for male offenders, subcultural norms exist allowing "real men" to have homosexual relations without having their heterosexual identity challenged, as long as they always take the penetrative role. Receptive males, many of whom are unwilling participants in the sexual activity, are stigmatized and may be subject to prostitution and rape within the institution (Donaldson, 1990). The combination of sexual frustration and the need to maintain one's masculine image while facing a long period of incarceration with only members of the same sex leads many male inmates to acquire sexual gratification from other men through persuasion, bribery, coercion or force.

Homosexual relationships among female long term inmates emphasize the satisfaction of emotional needs in addition to the desire for sexual release. In a study of females sentenced to life in a British institution, Genders and Player found that "considerable consternation was expressed by the women about the lack of "normal contact" with men and the implication of such deprivation for their future sexual relationships" (1990, p. 124). Most female inmates do not consider themselves lesbian, but turn to other women because men are unavailable to fulfil their emotional and physical needs. This can lead to confusion and anxiety when they return to the outside world where men are available to them. According to one inmate in the study:

line

Back Table of Contents Next