Discourse of sexual difference
In sum, wives may be less inclined to try to be sexual, and their husbands may not expect them to be sexual, because of their belief that women are naturally less sexual than men. However, this discourse of sexual difference stands in direct contradiction to the belief that an active sex life is an integral part of marital success. Hence, although beliefs in gender differences in sexual desire may help some couples explain away their sexual differences, 46 (74%) of the 62 respondents report conflict over sex, especially around sexual frequency. Respondents were not asked specifically about conflict. Rather, they spontaneously described conflict about sex in their open-ended responses to general questions about how their sex life has changed over time.
Acknowledgments This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging (RO1 AG17455, Debra Umberson, Principal Investigator)
(a) Inducing desire. Sixteen married individuals (26%) (12 wives, 4 husbands) describe consciously trying to be more sexual because of their belief that sex is an important part of marriage and because sexual frequency is a source of conflict. This strategy of performing desire involves one spouse, typically the wife, working to be more receptive to his or her spouse’s sexual advances or to initiate sex more often. For example, Pat (White, age 68) learned late in her marriage of 46 years that her husband felt that she never initiated sex because she was not attracted to him, “but that wasn’t the case. So it was good that we talked besthookupwebsites.org local hookup Philadelphia PA about it and got that across. Because I think anybody likes to think that they are sexually attractive to their mate. And so I try to [initiate sex] now.” Although Pat describes an act-initiating sex-she reveals the emotion work underlying the act. Pat explains that she does not initiate sex because it feels natural, or even because of her own desire, but because she wants to reassure her husband of his attractiveness. She evaluates her sexual relationship with her husband as becoming better over time and attributes this to “trying to meet each other’s needs.”
According to Irene, “Since he’s discovered the little pill, [sex] it has been a whole lot better
Husbands who are less sexual than their wives described increasing difficulty getting and maintaining an erection with age and view this as a physiological problem. As Harold (African American, age 61, married 32 years) puts it, “the plumbing doesn’t work.” On the face of it, Viagra would seem to provide an effective pharmaceutical substitute for performing desire. Yet, in general, they are reluctant to take this step, in part because of the embarrassment of seeing a doctor, but also, in large part, as Jim’s comments reveal, because of a genuine lack of sexual interest. Nor does Viagra seem to be a panacea. Brian (White, age 55, married 32 years) has had a prescription for Viagra for almost 10 years, but he only remembers to take Viagra when his wife, Irene (White, age 51), prompts him. Except that he forgets a lot of the time and I’m asking him: ‘Why we aren’t doing it? Why haven’t you taken your little blue pill lately?’
Karen has had difficulty changing her feelings about sex. She maintains an awareness that, when it comes to sex, she is often surface acting (Hochschild, 1983). One way Karen reconciles her trepidation over their sex life is by holding out faith that her interest in sex will change over time:
I think for guys, generally speaking, you know it [sex] is always a priority. For women, obviously it just depends because of wherever they are in their lives. And for Maria, she was more concerned about the bills, the kids, daily routines, things that needed to get done. Dishes, even dishes or laundry, that kind of stuff, was already a priority first before any leisure time at all or sex, or whatever.