The Social Construction of ‘Sexual Other’
A Study of Sexual Politics in Special Hospital Settings
Robert Baxter Junior Research Fellow
University of Sheffield
Ten in-depth interviews were undertaken to explore practitioners’ own understandings of
patients’ sexual health, views around professional role as well as how these were incorporated
into health care strategies by nurses. Interviews were audio tape-recorded, transcribed and
coded and a grounded theory analysis of informants’ responses to patient sexual health was
induced. Membership categorisation analysis provided a more detailed view of the nature of
the values held by informants and the ways in which these affected their actions as staff.
The analysis demonstrates a disjunction between policy and practice. Informants consistently
find ‘good reasons’ to undermine permissive policy in order to justify non-individualised,
restrictive practices in relation to patient sexual expression and relationship formation. These
‘good reasons’ rely upon categorising patients as ‘other’, as ‘non-deserving’ or as ‘potential
abusers’ or as ‘vulnerable’. Staff actively play off one policy against another so that those
relating to sexuality are seen as of lesser standing. Staff therefore use artful interpretation to
sustain their own personal values in relation to sexuality at the expense of professional values
and stated policy whilst appearing to meet their professional duty of care.
The findings offer insights about deep-seated and persistent values towards the criminal and
the mentally ill, a perspective about professional values, socialisation processes and the
origin, existence and repair of the theory-practice gap. Questions are posed about the extent to
which policy can be decisive in this area.