Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Investigating the Sexuality of Disabled Japanese Women: Six Autobiographical Accounts

Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Investigating the Sexuality of Disabled Japanese Women: Six Autobiographical Accounts

Article excerpt


Social attitudes perpetuate the idea that disabled people's sexuality is privileged or disregarded based on the degree of social belongingness accorded to them. When social circumstances valorise the sexual needs of (non- disabled) men over the needs of (non-disabled) women, the right of disabled women to experience their sexuality can be harder to establish that the rights of disabled men. In Japan disabled women's freedom to express their sexuality is severely constrained. The struggle some have in experiencing their sexuality in a life-enhancing way is revealed through an examination of two themes emerging from six autobiographical accounts written by disabled women themselves. These show how the authors are able to successfully integrate their 'disabled' and 'sexual' identities. Yet integration comes after many experiences of humiliation and violence. Disabled Japanese women should be able to cultivate their capabilities in this area with joy and delight. However, overcoming discriminatory attitudes and practices through education and attitudinal change is necessary.

Key words

disability, sexuality, women, Japan, attitudes, rights, autobiographies

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)


Although now recognised as a basic human right, disabled people's sexuality is an issue that continues to be surrounded by significant degrees of discomfort and controversy (Begum, 1993, Shakespeare, 1997, Wilkerson 2002). Environmental barriers, including the minimal ex- pectation of disabled people as capable and desirable sexual beings, prevent many disabled men and women from being supported to express their sexual feelings (Shakespeare, 1997: Jeffreys, 2008: Hamilton, 2009). Wider social attitudes perpetuating the notion that disabled people's right to be 'seen as sexual' is ultimately privileged or disregarded based on the de- gree of belongingness accorded to them by society, further reinforce the barriers surrounding individual disabled people's access to this desirable life area. (Chance, 2002; Jeffreys, 2008; Shakespeare, 1997; Wilkerson, 2002: Wolfe, 1997). When disabled people's sexual needs are acknowledged, that 'need' could also include the notion of sexual pleasure is relegated to the bottom of the list of service agencies' support priorities (Tepper, 2000). When surrounding circumstances prioritise the sexual needs of (non-disabled) men over the needs of (non-dis- abled) women, the notion of supporting disabled women's 'right to be sexual' is even harder to establish (Fidduccia, 1999; Jeffrey, 2008), resulting in the loss of significant opportunities for disabled women to build and sustain meaningful long-term intimate relationships (Dotson, Stinson & Christian, 2003). Disabled women's right to full citizenship is now guaranteed by a number of international accords, including the United Nations Convention on the Elimination All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1981) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). Yet, is the spirit and intention of these important documents enough to successfully counter more traditional views that maintain the subordi- nate status of women's sexuality? For example, while the concept of full citizenship continues to reflect culturally traditional expressions of (non-disabled) male and female sexual engage- ment, enacting disabled women's rights in this area can result in a strengthened recognition of the right to participate in the process of childbearing, to the detriment of fostering the right to engage in sexually intimate behaviour purely for sexual pleasure (Helmius, 1999).

In Japan disabled women's freedom to express their sexual lives is severely limited (Osa- nai, 1989; Osanai 2002). Taking gender into account reveals that traditional understandings of both disability and femininity not only limit disabled Japanese women's life choices in this area, but could also be said to constitute an insult to their sexuality. …

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