Willing engagement in unwanted or undesired sexual activity, often associated with fulfilling a partner’s needs or sustaining intimate relationships, is common. Acquiescence with undesired sexual activity can be conceptualized as sexual care work, that is, domestic “labor” that women undertake with the goal of caring for their partners’ well-being. Drawing on interviews with 53 women with dyspareunia (pain experienced during intercourse) and low desire, the aim of this study was to examine how women with sexual difficulties engage in sexual care work, the implications of the inability to perform such work for gender identity, and the ways in which sexual care work may blur the lines between women’s perceptions of coercion and consent. The women in this study engaged in sexual activity for a number of reasons, including the pursuit of intimacy, to care for their partner, and to fulfill their perceived sexual obligations. Sexual compliance was conceptualized as a form of work, similar to other forms of unpaid care work such as housework or childcare, which negatively affected women’s gender identities when it could not be performed. For many women, sex was simultaneously wanted and unwanted, contributing to women’s ambivalence regarding the meaning of consent. Further exploration of these issues may lead to a better understanding of how gender is achieved through normative sexuality.
Archives of Sexual Behavior – Springer Journals
Published: Apr 25, 2017
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