Heterosexual Romantic Relationships, Interpersonal Needs, and Quality of Life in Prison

By Carcedo, Rodrigo J.; Perlman, Daniel et al. | The Spanish Journal of Psychology, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Heterosexual Romantic Relationships, Interpersonal Needs, and Quality of Life in Prison


Carcedo, Rodrigo J., Perlman, Daniel, López, Félix, Orgaz, M. Begoña, The Spanish Journal of Psychology


The purpose of this study was to investigate the moderating effect of having vs. not having a heterosexual romantic partner inside the prison on the relationship between interpersonal needs and quality of life. In-person interviews were conducted with 55 male and 64 female inmates from the Topas Penitentiary (Spain). Higher levels of social loneliness and lower levels of sexual satisfaction were associated with lower levels of quality of life. In addition, the interaction between sexual satisfaction and romantic partner status was significant. Higher levels of sexual satisfaction were associated with higher levels of quality of life only for the group without a partner. These findings support a "bad is stronger than good" principle and indicate the detrimental aspects that can be associated with not having a satisfactory sexual life while incarcerated.

Keywords: prison, partner status, loneliness, sexual satisfaction, quality of life, ex post facto study.

El objetivo de estudio era investigar el efector moderador del hecho de tener una pareja heterosexual dentro de prisión vs. no tenerla sobre la relación entre las necesidades interpersonales y la calidad de vida. Se llevaron a cabo entrevistas personales con 55 presos varones y 64 mujeres del Centro Penitenciario de Topas (España). Niveles altos de soledad social y niveles bajos de satisfacción sexual se asociaron con niveles más bajos de calidad de vida. Asimismo, la interacción entre la satisfacción sexual y el estado de pareja fue significativa. Niveles más altos de satisfacción sexual se asociaron con niveles más altos de calidad de vida tan sólo en el grupo sin pareja. Estos hallazgos resaltan la importancia de permitir a los internos tener relaciones de pareja heterosexuales dentro de la misma prisión, así como favorecer el que puedan tener una vida sexual satisfactoria durante el tiempo que están encarcelados.

Palabras clave: prisión, estatus de pareja, soledad, satisfacción sexual, calidad de vida, estudio ex post facto.

The literature on prison inmates clearly attests to the difficulties these individuals have in fulfilling their interpersonal needs, although these needs are of paramount importance for inmates' well-being and psychological health (Biggam & Power, 1997; Carcedo, López, Orgaz, Toth, & Fernández-Rouco, 2008; Lindquist, 2000; Lindquist & Lindquist, 1997). This study has examined the association between inmates' interpersonal needs and their quality of life.

Most prisons around the world are designed either for men or for women only. Some countries, especially in Europe (International Center for Prison Studies, 2008; Quaker Council for European Affairs, 2007), incorporate a female wing into a male prison. Nevertheless, contact between men and women is not usually allowed. Exceptions to gender segregation policies do, however, exist: Some prisons in Spain house men and women in the same facility. These prisons allow inmates to share some activities and to start romantic relationships with one another. These romantic relationships between inmates have proven to be beneficial for the inmates' interpersonal and psychological state (Carcedo et al., 2011). In this study, we extended previous research by examining whether partner status plays a moderating role in the relationship between the inmates' fulfilment of interpersonal needs (as indexed by loneliness and sexual satisfaction) and their quality of life.

As a basis for predicting and explaining possible relationships among these variables, the basic interpersonal needs theory (BINT; López, 1997, 2008), the "bad is stronger than good" principle, and the hierarchicalcompensatory model of support (Cantor, 1979) will be utilized.

Inmates interpersonal relationships

The prison literature has highlighted the difficulties that prison inmates might encounter in trying to have satisfying romantic (Carcedo, 2005; Fishman, 1988) and sexual relations (Carcedo, 2005; Levenson, 1983; Maeve, 1999; Neuman, 1982) while imprisoned. …

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