As a self-described traditional woman who enjoys being “the CEO of the house,” Maria’s identity may be based more on her competence in the domestic, rather than the sexual, realm. But our analysis strongly suggests that Maria puts domestic obligations ahead of sexual activity because she bears the brunt of the household labor-both in terms of getting it done and in terms of an awareness that it needs to get done-along with holding down a full-time job. Jason describes his occasional efforts to do the dishes as “helping out” and during her interview, Maria expressed resentment that Jason does very little housework even when he is home during the day. In fact, when Maria was asked what she and Jason talk about when it comes to sex, she replied, “I’m tired. [l tired. I have to work the next day.” However, Maria also says she has made an effort to fit sex into her busy days more often because she thinks it is important in a marriage, and Jason says that sex has gotten better in the last couple of years “because I have gotten her to be more spontaneous about it.” In this way and others, sex is part of the third shift-the relationship work that many women do in addition to their paid jobs and household work.
The 62 married individuals we interviewed articulate two discordant discourses about sex: On the one hand, women are less sexual than men; on the other hand, sex is critically important to a healthy marriage. This discordance creates tension in relationships-often to the point of conflict over sex.
Couples joke about how different men and women are sexually, and some find a degree of comfort in the discourse of natural differences between men and women’s sexual desire because it mirrors their own sexual experiences. Underscoring the strength of the discourse that men are more sexual than women, the four couples whose sexual experiences contradict this discourse also espouse it and consider their own relationship atypical. But the discourse of gender differences in desire competes with the discourse of sex as a gauge of marital well-being. Married men and women strongly endorse the importance of sexual intimacy in marriage. We were frequently told, if sex is good (which, for most couples, means frequent), the marriage is okay, but if sex is bad (i.e., infrequent), the marriage is suffering. Rather than simply accepting a biological explanation for gender differences in desire, couples often experience friction over sexual frequency and describe actively working to manage their sex lives.
In particular, married men and women work to manage their and their spouse’s feelings around their sexual relationship in accordance with ideas about, and experiences of, gender, heterosexuality, and marriage. They do this in an effort to reduce marital conflict, enhance intimacy, help a spouse feel better about himself or herself, or all three. We refer to this gendered emotion work as performing desire and identify two major manifestations: First, married men and women work to change their sexual self and, second, housework plays a central role in sexual negotiation.
Several husbands in our study suggest that seeking a prescription for Viagra and actually taking the pill involves performing desire – that is, they must work to change their sexual feelings, and they do so because their partner wants to have sex more often
Many husbands and wives try to change their sexual selves, but tend to do so in different ways: Wives are more likely to try to increase their interest in sex, whereas husbands are more likely to attempt to reduce their sexual interest, although this was less common. Research with adolescents and the college aged concludes that hookup finder Pittsburgh a pernicious sexual double standard may lead women to become disconnected from their own sexual desires (Crawford & Popp, 2003). Upon marriage, however, the sexual double standard supposedly gives way to mutual sexual pleasure (Giddens, 1992; Rubin, 1990). The present study shows that this process is neither easy nor seamless: Many of the wives we interviewed experience themselves as less sexual than their husbands, yet they view sexual frequency as a barometer of a good marriage, as do their husbands. They are torn between a discourse that women are naturally less sexual than men and an expectation that sex is important to a good marriage. As a result, many wives try to change their feelings about sex, typically to increase their interest in sex. We also find that when husbands experience themselves as less sexual than their wives, they rely on physiological explanations (Irvine, 2005; Loe, 2004) and either take, or are considering taking, Viagra. Yet Viagra is not a cure-all.