We thus use the terms “sex” and “sexual intimacy” to refer to this broader range of sexual behaviors – from a casual but intimate touch or glance to sexual intercourse. 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., 1994). Marital satisfaction is significantly and positively associated with sexual satisfaction (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Henderson-King & Veroff, 1994), although causal order between these variables is difficult to assess. Most studies find that the frequency of sex within marriage declines over time. Sexual frequency declines precipitously during the first year of marriage with a slow but steady decline thereafter, net of the effect of the presence of children (Call, Sprecher, & Schwartz, 1995). ) and that, with increasing marital duration, ). 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.
Researchers have speculated that the decline in frequency of marital sex is a result of habituation (Call et al
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, 1992; Rubin, 1990). 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 1,000 Americans, found that married men say they want sexual equality and married women expect to receive as well as to give sexual pleasure. Married couples, however, tout egalitarianism in all realms of marriage, but this ideal is not always backed up with action (Blaisure & Allen, 1995; Rosenbluth, Steil, & Whitcomb, 1998). For example, although men and women espouse egalitarian goals in relation to housework, men continue to do significantly less housework than women, and husbands do less housework than any other male group (Bianchi, Milkie, Sayer, & Robinson, 2000; Hochschild & Machung, 2003). Previous research suggests that the gender gap in household labor persists because of cultural expectations about gender and marriage. That is, wives perform the bulk of domestic labor, regardless of their employment status, because it fits with their (and their partner’s) gendered construction of self (Twiggs, McQuillan, & Ferree, 1999). Moreover, the gender gap in domestic labor and responsibilities and gendered experiences of marital sex may be linked. The division of household labor influences how married couples feel about one another (Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1999). In particular, wives report lower levels of marital quality when they perceive the division of domestic labor as unequal (Pina & Bengston, 1993). An unequal division of household labor ount of time and energy wives have for, and are willing to give to, sex with their partner.
Although sex is commonly used to refer to the act of sexual intercourse, it can also involve a range of behaviors, emotions, and negotiations
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 e sexual and emotional understandings, beliefs, and experiences. In order to examine how married people reconcile their ideas about marital sex with their gendered experiences, we employ Hochschild’s concept of emotion work.