Many wives find it difficult to fit sex into their day not simply because of the prevailing cultural discourse of women as less sexual than men, but also because of the gendered realities of their lives
This study also reveals the interplay and tensions between various forms of work-housework, emotion work, and paid employment-and sex in marriage. In particular, housework is central to sexual negotiation, just as it is central to how husbands and wives feel about one another (Pina & Bengston, 1993; Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1999). In some marriages, we found evidence of a kind of exchange system whereby sex and domestic labor are intertwined insofar as one is used to get the other. Wives assert that because sex is not as important to them, their husbands must earn intimacy, for example by being emotionally engaged or by being more actively involved in housework. Husbands similarly said that they engage in certain behaviors-like cooking meals-in the hopes that this will increase sexual frequency. Paradoxically, although this strategy is linked to the discourse of gender differences in sexual desire, it may lead to a more equitable division of household labor. That is, married men and women draw on naturalized gender differences in the sexual realm in order to challenge gender differentiation in the domestic, interpersonal realm. This highlights the tensions and contradictions embedded in gender construction and interactions (Connell, 1995; Lorber, 2005).
We also find that performing desire contributes to the perceived burden of the third shift (Hochschild, 1997), producing highly gendered experiences around sex. Employed mothers, in particular, feel pressure to have sex and identify this as another task to add to housework, childcare, and paid work. Although much has changed in terms of women’s place in the home and work-place, a substantial body of research shows that married women do significantly more household labor than ). Wives engaged in paid employment still shoulder the second shift and have less leisure time (Hochschild & Machung, 2003). The employed wives in this study indicate that it is difficult for them to find the time, energy, and inclination to be sexual. Yet they and their husbands view sex as important to marriage. As a result, these wives try to be more sexual and spontaneous about sex. This suggests that as long as women face societal ambivalence toward female sexuality and bear the brunt of the second shift, some will experience sex as another task in addition to their other responsibilities.
Limitations and Future Directions
A limitation of this study is the relative homogeneity of the sampled couples. The majority of the sample was White, middle class, had been married for at least 7 years, and indicated a fairly high level of marital quality. Thus, there may be some selection bias in that these couples are less likely than average couples to experience sexual conflict or more likely to understate their levels of sexual conflict. In this sense, we may have understated the degree of conflict around sex that married couples typically experience. Future research should follow married couples longitudinally to gain a better understanding of how sexual negotiations change over the life course-for those who remain together as well as for those who eventually divorce. Future study should also include other relationship forms, such as long-term heterosexual and homosexual cohabiting couples, and greater sample diversity, particularly in terms of race and socioeconomic status. For example, African American couples espouse more egalitarian attitudes about gender and tend to allocate family work more equally than White couples (Orbuch & Eyster, 1997). If this pattern extends to sex, it is possible that the performance of desire erican couples than White couples.