Care and Sexuality in Disabled/Nondisabled Intimate Relationships
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Series/Report no.:2008 Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum. 22nd
In contemporary feminist research, the applied fields (e.g., rehabilitation and counseling), popular culture and the disability rights movement, “care” in nondisabled/disabled intimate relationships is often represented as a binary between care-givers and care-receivers. In other words, the disabled partner is represented as only a care-receiver and the nondisabled partner as only a care-giver. This dependency dynamic desexualizes nondisabled/disabled relationships and perpetuates stereotypes about disability and what it means to provide care. By turning to self-representations of people in disabled/nondisabled relationships, this project illuminates alternative understandings of care and sexuality. The author combines data from 1) focus groups conducted by the author, 2) disability autobiography, and 3) documentary films for a triangulated research methodology that seeks multiple meanings of care and sexuality in nondisabled/disabled relationships. Contrary to dominant representations of care in disabled/nondisabled relationships, the author finds that the boundary between caregiver and care-receiver is often blurred. That is, the disabled partner gives care and the nondisabled partner receives care and vise versa. The care relationship is characterized by reciprocity for these couples, echoing the philosophy of early feminist care ethicists like Nel Noddings. In addition, physical care is often part of sexual intimacy. Bathing, dressing, feeding and other personal care activities are eroticized, adding to the couples’ overall sexuality. In fact, many couples believe such a heightened level of intimacy makes them closer than couples without physical disability. This finding suggests disabled/nondisabled couples practice a non-normative sexuality that is often overlooked or dismissed. In sum, self-representations contradict the binary and asexual relationship between disabled and nondisabled partners popularized in academic research and mainstream media. Disabled/nondisabled couples emphasize reciprocity, mutuality, and eroticized daily care in their relationships. These findings help correct popular stereotypes and suggest that reciprocal relationships and alternative forms of sexuality should be considered in future research on care and disability.
Humanities: 2nd Place (The Ohio State University Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum)
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