UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Let's talk about sex : a narrative approach to disabled women's sexual lives MacKeigan, Tanya Elaine


This thesis examines the discourses at play that shape disabled women's sexual subjectivity. I wanted to see how disabled women's understanding of themselves as sexual is socially influenced. I come from a feminist critical disability studies theoretical position influenced by social constructionist thought. I held a focus group and individually interviewed five self-identified physically disabled women about their sexual lives and experiences. They shared stories of societal pressures and personal interactions. But, the way language works to shape meaning is complicated. Among these women there is a mix of visible and invisible disabilities and this affects how social understandings of disability, sexuality, and gender play out. Further, these women come from a variety of racial, socio-economic, and socio-cultural backgrounds. It was clear in the stories that not all disabled women are the same just because they are disabled women. That said, the main social understandings of disability and sexuality that were at work in the women’s stories were ableism, sexism, and resistance. The women spoke of feeling pressures that attempt to define them and who they should be. They pointed out with concern that ableist influences do not associate disability with sexuality. They also spoke about the emotional labour they are forced to take on in relationships influenced by both ableism and sexism: examples include, having to explain their disability, manage others' emotions around disability, or deal with the pressure to always put others' needs first. In response to these pressures, resistance discourses surfaced that challenge mainstream notions of disability and sexuality. The women stated that this resistance represents their reality. It represents strength, commitment, pride, and reclamation. This resistance makes space for the diversity of life and the expression of voice, confidence, liberation, and solidarity. It is a movement of people who no longer wish to subscribe to oppressive thought. The women spoke about feeling more empowered and autonomous in their sexual lives and feeling their self-worth rising. They spoke about the freedom they feel to express themselves now, to talk about their sexuality and to own that, and to claim their rights to pleasure and sexual citizenship.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International