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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. We integrate theoretical traditions on the social construction of gender, heterosexuality, and marriage with research and theory on emotion work to guide a qualitative investigation of how married people understand and experience sex in marriage.based on 62 in-depth interviews, indicate that married men and women tend to believe that sex is integral to a good marriage and that men are more sexual than women.
Sexual activity in the context of long-term heterosexual relationships may be an important site of conflict as well as relationship vitality. Married people, however, face potentially conflicting discourses around sex. This form of emotion work is essential for maintaining family and marital ties Erickson, ; Hochschildyet few researchers have examined emotion work within the institution of marriage and family.
Those that have have largely overlooked sexual intimacy as a site of emotion work. We bring together theoretical work on gender, marriage, and emotion work to guide an analysis of how couples in long-term marriages make sense of, negotiate, and experience heterosexual sex.
In their classic article on the social construction of gender, West and Zimmerman argued that, rather than constituting a fixed identity, gender is an emergent feature of social situations that is constantly negotiated and renegotiated.
The observation that gender is what one does, rather than what one is, highlights the dynamism of gender. Yet gender involves more than just how people see themselves and how they act; it also shapes how people experience themselves Bordo, ; Connell, Women continue to encounter a sexual double standard that is rooted in cultural understandings about gender and sexuality.
Femininity is typically framed in terms of being sexually desirable rather than sexually desiring whereas masculinity connotes sexual aggression and prowess. Yet marriage is increasingly based on the idea of sexual compatibility Women want sex Big Coppitt Key indeed, romantic love is the basis of modern Western marriage Giddens, Although sex is commonly used to refer to the act of sexual intercourse, it can also involve a range of behaviors, emotions, and negotiations.
How does sex fit into modern marriage? A nationally representative survey of the sex lives of Americans found that married people are quite sexually active and, relative to other marital status groups, report the highest level of satisfaction with their sex lives Michael et al. Most studies find that the frequency of sex within marriage declines over time.
Researchers have speculated that the decline in frequency of marital sex is a result of habituation Call et al. But past research reveals little about the meanings that married people attach to sex, the typical decline in sexual activity over time, or the gendered dynamics of sex in the context of long-term marriage. Americans are now more likely than ever before to enter into marriage with a full history of sexual experimentation and with high aspirations for sexual pleasure Giddens, ; Rubin, As ideas about marriage have changed and as sex has become separated from reproduction, within marriage, sexual activity is increasingly seen as desirable, if not mandatory, to ensure marital harmony, and a goal for many couples is to become sexual equals Giddens; Rubin.
Rubin, for example, in her study of the sex lives of nearly 1, Americans, found that married men say they want sexual equality and married women expect to receive as well as to give sexual pleasure. research suggests that the gender gap in household labor persists because of cultural expectations about gender and marriage. Moreover, the gender gap in domestic labor and responsibilities and gendered experiences of marital sex may be linked. An unequal division of household labor may also affect the amount of time and energy wives have for, and are willing to give to, sex with their partner.
In sum, private and personal sexual desires and passions are informed by the wider patterns of gender relations in a society. Despite an ideal of sexual equality in marriage, cultural discourses continue to promote the notion that men and women are sexually and emotionally very different beings.
As a result, men and women do not typically enter into marriage with the same sexual and emotional understandings, beliefs, and experiences. Hochschild used the term emotion work to refer to emotion management done in a private context, as opposed to that done for a wage. For clarity, we adopt the term emotion work throughout this article. An individual may manipulate his or her emotions to try to change how someone else is feeling or to show support and affection for another Erickson, ; Hochschild, Yet Hochschild stressed that, because of the immense emotional obligations of private life, emotion work is likely to be strongest in the context of close personal bonds.
Similarly, in her study of employed married parents, Erickson found that wives report performing substantial amounts of emotion work within the family. Sex represents a fundamental way married people can show they love and care for one another. To Women want sex Big Coppitt Key sure, there are other ways to show affection, but sex is culturally vaunted as a ifier of love and marital bliss. Thus, it may become a powerful symbol of the relationship.
But as well, sex is often understood as a physical act that resides outside the purview of society Chapkis, It may be easy to see how this is so in regard to a monetary enterprise like prostitution, but what about in marriage, where sexual expression is deemed a ifier of mutual love and affection?
Although few researchers have explicitly examined the emotion work of marital sex, studies offer some evidence Women want sex Big Coppitt Key married sex may be an important site of emotion work. Based on the literature on emotional support in marriage Erickson,husbands and wives may also perform emotion work around sex in an effort to make a spouse feel good about him or herself and about the relationship.
But as well, cultural discourses about gender, heterosexuality, and marriage may shape how married people manage their emotions surrounding their sex lives. Husbands and wives may not simply view sex as important for marital happiness; they may be deeply conflicted about the gendered dynamics of marriage and heterosexuality Rubin, For example, Rubin found deep contradictions and confusion about the place of sex in marriage.
In their study of the sex lives of thousands of American couples, Blumstein and Schwartz found that husbands had negative reactions when their wives initiated sex more often than they did. In summary, the literature on gender relations, heterosexuality, and marriage suggests that married men and women perform emotion work in response to cultural expectations and discordances surrounding marital sex.
In the research reported here, we examine how long-term married couples experience their sexual relationship and how they navigate competing cultural discourses around marital sex. We accomplish this by conducting a qualitative analysis of in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 62 married individuals. As part of a larger project investigating the link between marriage and health, we recruited 31 married couples to participate in in-depth interviews.
We restricted our sample to couples married 7 years or longer because the median duration of marriage for divorcing couples is 7 years National Center for Health Statistics, n. A strength of this study is that we conducted separate interviews with the husband and the wife.
We conducted interviews throughout Interviews lasted from 1. Each interview explored a broad array of topics related to marriage and how marriages change over time. To understand how married individuals experience and feel about their sex lives, we asked a series of open-ended questions deed to explore how sexual experiences, dynamics, and feelings changed over time. In general, respondents were open and willing to share information with us about their sex lives.
Only one respondent flatly refused to discuss her sex life. As two White women in academia, our social locations and identities may have influenced what and how much respondents were willing to disclose. Interviews were taped and transcribed and pseudonyms were ased to maintain confidentiality. The end of the article included a brief description of our qualitative study along with a request for study participants. We received over 70 responses to this article. In an earlier recruitment effort, we recruited 7 couples through an advertisement we placed in a local newspaper requesting participants for a study of long-term marriages.
We used these initial pilot interviews to fine-tune our interview protocol and identify research areas to explore in more depth in subsequent interviews Charmaz, In a few instances, respondents referred us to other couples who met our criteria of having been married for 7 years or longer. Through this snowball technique, an additional 4 couples were recruited and interviewed. We conducted a brief phone-screening interview with all individuals who contacted us about the study.
We also emphasized Women want sex Big Coppitt Key we wanted to interview both spouses only 3 individuals refused this condition and were disqualified. Using the screening information, we made every effort to include people from diverse racial and ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds — however, most of those who contacted us to participate in the study were White and middle class.
They may be more willing than other economic and ethnoracial groups to volunteer to participate in a study because they do not have negative historical associations with research projects Collins, ; Zinn, and are more likely to have greater flexibility and control over their schedules. The Women want sex Big Coppitt Key of those who contacted us also indicated that they were very satisfied or satisfied with their marriage. However, when we began interviewing, we found that levels of marital satisfaction were more varied than suggested by the screening question which may have been influenced by the presence of a spouse during the phone screening.
The final sample consisted of 31 married couples. Only 5 of the 62 respondents had been ly married. Census Bureau, n. Because income is inversely related to age, this income difference may partly reflect the average age of our sample 53 years. Most respondents 58 had a least some college education and 8 held graduate or advanced degrees.
Four respondents reported a high school degree as their highest level of education. The majority of respondents were White Of the remaining 10 respondents, 6 were African American, 1 was Asian American, 2 were Latina, and 1 identified as multiracial. Our goal was to understand how and why married people experience, negotiate, and interpret their sex lives.
Our analysis began with a careful examination of the data. This involved numerous readings of transcripts and fieldnotes written immediately after each interview. Next, we conducted open, line-by-line coding to identify concepts. From these broadwe identified sub that helped us to understand how the concepts were related to one another, what Strauss and Corbin refer to as axial coding. We analyzed the interviews with long-term married couples with particular attention to questions about how husbands and wives experience sex and sexual intimacy over the course of marriage.Women want sex Big Coppitt Key
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The Performance of Desire: Gender and Sexual Negotiation in Long-Term Marriages