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Prison sexuality deals with sexual relationships between confined individuals or those between a prisoner and a prison employee (or other persons to whom prisoners have access). Since prisons are separated by gender, most sexual activity is conducted with a same-sex partner, often in contradiction to a person's normal social sexual orientation. Exceptions to this are sex with an employee of the opposite sex, as well as conjugal visits.
According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) 2001 report "No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons", sexual slavery is frequently posed as a consensual sexual relationship inside prisons. Rape victims are often intimidated into feigning consent to sexual activity, to the point of becoming "slaves" and the figurative property of their rapists. HRW also stated that many studies report the prevalence of rape perpetrated by dark-skinned prisoners against light-skinned prisoners.
Prospective slaveholders will sometimes use intimidating innuendo, as opposed to overt threats of violence, which the prospective slave unwillingly accepts, thereby disguising the coercive nature of the sexual activity from even the enslaver. Slaves might not even see themselves as being coerced, if the enslavement is negotiated as repayment for a debt. Also, some consider themselves transformed into a homosexual. The HRW report contains an account in which an inmate is coerced in this way. It is argued that in prison, consent is inherently illusory.
In many cases among men, the partner who penetrates another sexually is not regarded as homosexual among fellow inmates, and the receptive partner (who may or may not be consenting) is called a "woman", a "bitch", a "punk", or a "prag", and is regarded as homosexual, even when he is not.
Among men, the receptive partner may be protected by the dominant partner from rape and violence, and some physically weaker heterosexuals enter relationships for this reason. This practice of taking on a dominant partner to protect oneself from more forcible rape and violence is sometimes referred to as "protective pairing". Stephen Donaldson, founder of the organization now known as "Just Detention International", describes this process in his article "Hooking Up: Protective Pairing for Punks". Such men are said to be "riding with" their respective dominant partners. The same can be seen in female prisons, where an unwilling woman, who normally would not engage in sex with another woman, does so for the sake of protection.
Data indicates that almost all prison relationships, in both female and male prisons, consist of a dominant and submissive partners. However, there are variations of this scenario, obscured by the fact that self-described "heterosexual" prisoners who enter into sexual relationships with each other will frequently conceal the nature of their homosexual relationship from others. In prisons where cells are shared, this is known to occur. Homosexual and bisexual prisoners who describe themselves as heterosexual -- and who deny being homosexual or bisexual -- are known to sometimes begin sexual relations with each other when confined together for long periods of time.
It cannot be construed that sex inside the prison systems is always non-consensual. In both female and male prison facilities, some homosexual or bisexual inmates enter into relationships with other inmates for varying reasons, of their own volition and choice. However, this is not demonstrated by any means, to be the majority.
As of September 2013, condoms are available inside prisons in Canada, most of the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and the US states of Vermont (on September 17, 2013, the Californian Senate approved a bill for condom distribution inside the state's prisons, but the bill was not yet law at the time of approval).
Relationships also occur between correctional staff and prisoners. Prisoners and staff spend a great deal of time together, and much of the time the staff would be the only venue for sex with the opposite sex. This applies to security staff, teachers and counselors, medical workers, contractors and religious workers.
Some penitentiaries allow conjugal visits, in which prisoners are permitted to spend time in private trailers or small cabins with their partners, usually their legal spouses, allowing a prisoner to have sex with his or her partner (though only if legally married in most cases) in a prison-facilitated environment.