Prison Sexuality

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Prison sexuality 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 prisons are separated by gender, most sexual activity is conducted with a same-sex partner, often in contradiction to a person’s normal social sexual orientation. Exceptions to this are sex with an employee of the opposite sex, as well as conjugal visits.

According to ‘Human Rights Watch’ 2001 report ‘No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons,’ sexual slavery frequently poses as a consensual sexual relationship. Rape victims are often intimidated into feigning consent to sexual activity, to the point of becoming ‘slaves’ and the figurative property of their rapists. This occurs in both male and female prisons.

Prospective slaveholders will sometimes use intimidating innuendo, as opposed to overt threats of violence, which the prospective slave unwillingly accepts, thereby disguising even from the enslaver the coercive nature of the sexual activity. 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. The report tells the story of an inmate coerced in this way. It is argued that in prison, consent is inherently illusory.

Prison sexuality, often viewed as facultative (discretionary) or situational, shows quite similar dominance traits to those of apes, revealing similar relationship structures. Such animal-like behaviors are widely regarded as an inherent part of human nature. Hence sexual relationships tend to follow universal archetypes, which appear in all aspects of human culture and behavior. In many cases among men, the partner who penetrates another sexually is not regarded as homosexual among fellow inmates, and the receptive partner (who may or may not be consenting) is called a ‘woman,’ a ‘bitch,’ a ‘punk,’ or a ‘prag,’ and is regarded as homosexual, even when he is not.

In the United States in particular, rape in prisons is a major problem. According to one study, 22.3% of male U.S. prison inmates had reported being a victim of prison rape. Although the rapist or the male who coerces sex with another male has clearly chosen (and apparently desires) to have sex with another male, other prisoners will view the male who has been raped or coerced as homosexual if he is unwilling to kill or die to protect himself from rape or is willing to negotiate a relationship to protect himself from attack by multiple rapists, while the perpetrator is not similarly labeled. This encourages and perpetuates sexual violence in an atmosphere where power and the perception thereof is regarded as paramount.

Among men, the receptive partner may be protected by the dominant partner from rape and violence, and some physically weaker heterosexuals enter relationships for this reason. This practice of taking on a dominant partner to protect oneself from more forcible rape and violence is sometimes referred to as ‘protective pairing.’ Stephen Donaldson, founder of the organization now known as ‘Just Detention International’ describes this process in his article ‘Hooking Up: Protective Pairing for Punks.’ Such men are said to be ‘riding with’ their respective dominant partners. The same can be seen in female prisons, where an unwilling woman who normally would not engage in sex with another woman would do so for the sake of protection.

In almost all prison relationships, with few exceptions, in both female and male prisons, one participant is dominant and the other is submissive. However, there are variations of this scenario, obscured by the fact that self-described ‘heterosexual’ prisoners who enter into a sexual relationship with each other will frequently conceal the nature of their homosexual relationship from others. This is known to occur in prisons where cells are shared. Homosexual and bisexual prisoners who describe themselves as heterosexual — and who deny being homosexual or bisexual — are known to sometimes begin sexual relations with each other when confined together for long periods of time and, in these situations, sexual activity is ostensibly negotiated in a spirit of mutual respect and equality, lacking any opposite sex partners.

Relationships also occur between correctional staff and prisoners. 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.

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