Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Based on ethnographic research conducted with special educators in Mumbai and Kolkata in India, this paper explores the processes through which special educators perceive, regulate, and facilitate the sexuality of their students with intellectual and multiple disabilities. My findings suggest that special educators focus on observable bodily processes and behaviours. Thus, sexuality of disabled people is seen through the lens of either menstruation or masturbation. I argue that this is the case because the students, several of whom are adults, are considered to be incapable of nuanced sexual desires as they have intellectual disabilities. Within this framework of thinking, there is no room to consider the possibility that intellectually disabled people may have complex inner desires. Secondly, I also observed that the sexual capabilities and desires of the students were judged according to the degree of disability ascribed to them. The educators use the language of mild, moderate, or severe disabilities and people with mild disabilities are the only ones seen as being capable of desiring and establishing any meaningful sexual or romantic relationships with other people. What is the connection between sexual behaviours and inner sexual desires? How does one attempt to recuperate a complex sexuality for intellectually disabled people without necessarily having conventional channels of communication with them? With this paper, I wish to interrogate the connections between the perceived relationship between cognitive abilities and sexual capabilities and generate more collaborative theoretical and pragmatic approaches between the educators and students towards sexuality.