Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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“It’s not sexy” and “I can’t control it”: Young women's constructions of heterosex with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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posted on 2023-04-11, 06:27 authored by Boyle, Brianagh

An inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can negatively impact sex due to abdominal pain, faecal incontinence, symptom uncertainty and poor body image. The way women make meaning of heterosex is grounded in available cultural discourses associated with sexuality and femininity (Moran & Lee, 2014). Previous research on sexual intimacy experiences for women with IBD fails to consider the wider social and cultural environment these women are situated within. There is a need to understand how women negotiate and make meaning of heterosex in dating relationships with IBD. This study explored how young women with IBD constructed their experiences of heterosex in dating relationships. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten self-identified women who were single or dating men and between the ages of 18-35 who were diagnosed with IBD. I adopted a material-discursive theoretical framework underpinned by a critical realist epistemology. A reflexive thematic analysis was used to explore how these women constructed and navigated their IBD in relation to heterosex in dating relationships with men. From my analysis, I identified two overall themes in which women constructed heterosex regarding their IBD: disruption to the sexual youth, and the feminine sexual body. In the theme ‘disruption to the sexual youth’, women talked of how their IBD prevented them from being able to be young and sexually free. These women also positioned their IBD journey as a process of self-discovery, in which they discovered what they needed most at that point in their life. In the theme ‘the feminine sexual body’, women talked of having a failed feminine sexual body, positioning it as ‘dirty’ and ‘unpredictable’. These women talked about managing and preparing their bodies before and during sex. Finally, most women talked of reaching a point of self-acceptance with their IBD bodies. The findings of this study suggest that IBD can be seen to disrupt dominant discourses of sexuality and femininity in youth, in which young women were unable to achieve ideals around femininity, a sexual youth and heterosexual. These findings highlight the relevance and need for open conversations within research and health settings for women with IBD, to shift social taboos and ensure women have their sexual health needs met.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Health Psychology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Health Psychology

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

200407 Health status (incl. wellbeing); 200401 Behaviour and health

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

3 Applied research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Health


Parton, Chloe