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Body Mapping to Explore Perceptions of Sexual and Reproductive Anatomy and Physiology Across Languages and Cultures: An Example From Timor-Leste

By: , , & Published: 2020 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases: Medicine and Health
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Timor-Leste is a low-middle-income and predominantly Catholic nation situated in South East Asia. Despite improvement over the past decade, health indicators for Timorese women suggest that sexual and reproductive health remains a challenge, requiring critical focus and engagement to improve health outcomes. To ensure that resources and services aimed at improving health are appropriate, relevant, and acceptable, sexual and reproductive health service providers require insight into the perceptions and beliefs of the people they serve. These may be challenging to obtain in a setting such as Timor-Leste, where discussions around sexual and reproductive health remain sensitive and contentious. This case study will illustrate how the qualitative research method of body mapping was instrumental and effective in helping us to gain valuable insights into local sexual and reproductive health beliefs and perceptions of reproductive-aged Timorese women and men. It will provide a brief history of the method and explain its origins and foundations, highlighting some of the previous anthropological, political, therapeutic, and clinical applications. Our step-by-step guide describing the body mapping process we used in our research illustrates the effectiveness and simplicity of the method to traverse sensitive domains, as well as cross different cultures, languages, and educational backgrounds. Body mapping gave a voice to our participants and valorized their perceptions. It provided rich insights into the ethno-anatomical and ethno-physiological beliefs of our participants, as well as unearthing local terminology and dialogue around sexual and reproductive health.

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