Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy



Collaborative Specialization

Migration and Ethnic Relations


Lorraine Davies


Eighteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with cisgender women, age 20-40, and their shared experiences were compiled into two narrative composites. This study is informed by an intersectional-life course framework, exploring sexuality as a site of shifting power relations at the micro-, meso-, and macro-levels of participants' lives. This study identifies five predominant sexual constructions that South Asian Canadian women understand and experience over time. It also identifies five predominant strategies used by women to maintain a personally meaningful sexual life (sexual well-being). Participants’ fluctuating sexual well-being involving active negotiation of the relationship to one’s body, identities (including ethnoracial and religious identities), and interpersonal relationships. It finds that women’s sexuality is a site of power used to define and maintain boundaries of the imagined nation, in both South Asian and western spaces. Women’s sexuality is often tied to ideas of risk, and women are expected to perform ideal types in order to protect the status quo within their families and communities. The study finds that women learn to resist and transform external ideals about sexuality, often by leaning into their cultures and religions to negotiate tensions while remaining connected to their South Asian realities.

Summary for Lay Audience

This study explores how social messages about ideal sexuality impact South Asian Canadian women’s lives. This study is based on eighteen interviews with women between the ages of 20-40. They recounted their understanding or experience of aspects of sexuality, such as puberty, intercourse, and partnerships. Their responses have been recombined into two narrative composites, created based on participants ages, so that we can better understand the context and impacts of sexual constructions on women’s lives. The analysis of responses is framed by two main ideas: first, the ways we view and interact with our worlds are impacted by our identities and locations (and vice versa). Second, earlier events in our lives, family relationships, and broader social contexts all shape the way we experience later events in life. Given these two ideas, this study finds that factors like race, religion, migration, and socialisation at home or school all interact to shape the way women express sexuality. As they age, women encounter celebratory and stigmatising social messages (constructions) about sexuality. This study analyzes five messages which often reinforce ideal types of what being good, desirable, and valuable South Asian and western women look like or how they behave. The study argues that these messages matter because they can impact how women feel they can express their sexual identities, boundaries, and needs. They also matter because the messages are often used to maintain identity and group belonging. Women often find themselves learning how to manage their sexuality so that they feel accepted and validated by their families, religious or cultural communities, or western peers. This study also presents five strategies that women learn to use to live out their desired sexual lives (sexual well-being) as the constraints on their sexuality change over time. Despite women’s varying sexual identities, partner status, or sexual needs, the participants in this study tended to experience sexual well-being safe and connected to their body, identities, and to a wide range of interpersonal relationships.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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Sociology Commons