‘Veiling sexualities’: a grounded theory of mental health nurses responses to issues of sexuality


A. Higgins: e-mail: ahiggins@tcd.ie


Title. ‘Veiling sexualities’: a grounded theory of mental health nurses responses to issues of sexuality.

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to develop a grounded theory explaining how mental health nurses respond to issues of sexuality in clinical practice.

Background.  The history of sexuality and people with mental health problems has largely been a history shrouded in misunderstanding, stigma, myth and negativity. However, individuals with mental health problems may experience sexuality and relationship difficulties related to their life experiences, mental illness, or its treatment.

Methods.  Grounded theory was the methodology used for the study. Interviews were conducted in 2005–2006 with 27 mental health nurses working an urban area in the Republic of Ireland. Data were analysed using the concurrent processes of constant comparative analysis, data collection, theoretical sampling and memo writing.

Findings.  The core category to emerge from the data was ‘veiling sexualities’. This refers to participants’ accounts of how they responded to the sexuality dimension of clients’ lives. Participants’ main concerns about sexuality were related to feelings of personal and professional vulnerability, due to a lack of competence, comfort and confidence in this area. The theory highlights the manner in which nurses perpetuate practices that marginalize, discriminate and socially exclude clients as ‘sexual citizens’.

Conclusion.  The theory of Veiled Sexualities may facilitate acknowledgement of the presence of sexuality in all nurse–client encounters, and promote a discourse on the sexual rights of people experiencing mental distress among mental health nurses and all involved in the delivery of mental health services.