“The perfunctory vagina”: exploring the experiential discourses of sexuality and self-regulatory performances to invoke the appearance of ‘well-being’ with Karen, a mental health service user

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaper


“When you’re married well people suppose you want to do it and I don’t and I never have really. It must be like shagging a bag of potatoes really and I can’t even see what he gets out of it”. Here Karen, a 53 year old mental health service user, talks about her emotional and bodily indifference to vaginal penetration in terms of sexual relations with her husband. From a prima facie perspective, we are presented with the dominant cultural discourses of heterosexual marital rights and one woman’s lack of sexual desire, or frigidity. Nevertheless, Karen’s narratives are more complex than this and weave between the self-regulation of outward appearance to avoid the familial ‘gaze’ of certain behaviours imbued within her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and the submissive, ritualised bodily performance of allowing unwanted sexual intercourse to occur. Compliancy within the hegemonic parameters of sexuality and appearance however afford Karen to seek her own ways of achieving sexual satisfaction namely, in her secret acts of self-harming. In this way, her vagina functions as an apparatus to both stabilise her physical and emotional position of well-being as well as mediating her subversive hidden pleasures.


ConferencePsychology of Women Section (British Psychological Society)
Period1/07/07 → …
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