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J Sex Res. 2005 Feb;42(1):3-12.

"You cannot do nothing in this damn place": sex and intimacy among couples with an incarcerated male partner.

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Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA.


In an effort to deepen our understanding of how circumstances of forced separation and the interdiction of physical contact affect women's sexual behavior, we investigated the development and maintenance of heterosexual couples' intimacy when the male partner is incarcerated. As HIV-prevention scientists who work with women visiting men at a California state prison, we recognize that correctional control extends to these women's bodies, both when they are within the facility's walls visiting their mates and when they are at home striving to remain connected to absent men. This paper analyzes the impact of a peculiar public "place", a penitentiary, on couples' romantic and sexual interactions, drawing out the implications of imprisonment for relationship decision making, sexual health, and HIV risk. Using qualitative interviews with 20 women who visit their incarcerated partners and 13 correctional officers who interact with prison visitors, we examined how institutional constraints such as the regulation of women's apparel, the prohibition of physical contact, and the lack of forums for privacy result in couples forging alternative "spaces" in which their relationships occur. We describe how romantic scripts, the build-up of sexual tension during the incarceration period, and conditions of parole promote unprotected sexual intercourse and other HIV/STD risk behavior following release from prison.

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