Six husbands and 1 wife report trying to decrease their sexual desires

Six husbands and 1 wife report trying to decrease their sexual desires

Whereas women’s lack of sexual interest is often explained as a biological difference between the sexes, men’s lack of interest in sex is typically chalked up to a physiological problem. Yet our analysis suggests that taking Viagra also constitutes a performance of desire for these husbands.

Sex to me [now] represents not as much the physical act as the bonding associated with the act

(b) Repressing desire. As with those who try to be more sexual, these individuals consciously strive to adapt to their partner’s level of sexual interest. They also view sex as important in marriage, with one significant difference: To cope with sexual differences, they focus on what they perceive as the quality of sex, not the frequency with which it occurs. For example, Kyle (White, age 44) says that he and his wife of 20 years, Jenn (White, age 42), have witnessed profound changes in their sex life over time and with the births of their four children. During the early years of marriage, he always wanted more frequent sex whereas Jenn always said she preferred quality over quantity. Kyle describes the process of gradually changing his feelings when Jenn does not want to have sex: “Still some days [when I initiate sex], she gets pretty damn irritated. But the good news is that 10 years ago, she’d get irritated and I would get offended. And now she gets irritated and I’m like, ‘Let’s go to sleep. This is good. This is more time to sleep.”’ Over time, Kyle has come to agree with Jenn that quality is better than quantity: “I don’t have a lot of personal ego wrapped up if we don’t do it any particular time. It’s significantly changed from my perspective.” After 20 years of marriage, Kyle has come around to Jenn’s view and, although they have sex less frequently, they both, independently, report that it is qualitatively better.

Performing desire, thus, involves not only trying to increase the frequency of sex or to reinvigorate a sex life but also efforts to reduce one’s own sexual desires and to focus on what respondents perceive as sexual quality.

Viagra may allow them to perform sexually, but seeking out a prescription and remembering and actually wanting to take it requires actively trying to change their sexual feelings and behaviors

(c) Obligatory performances of desire. Most respondents present their emotion work around sex as something they willingly undertake and say that when they are successful at performing desire their relationship improves. However, not all married individuals are able to change their feelings about sex, even when they try, and some express resentment about having to work at sex. Although this was not a pervasive theme, it is an intriguing one because it suggests that the performance of desire is not always experienced as completely voluntary nor is it always successful. Moreover, this is a gendered theme in that many husbands expect wives to perform desire-whether in the form of acting more interested in sex or simply having sex more often. The husbands we interviewed say that they often wish that their wives were more interested in, and spontaneous about, sex.

For example, after 13 years of marriage and with two young children, Nathan (White, age 36) complains that Karen’s (White, age 35) “sex drive has dropped off” and would like for Karen to reevaluate her priorities, putting sex higher on the list: “I told Karen that I felt this last weekend that I just felt like I was so far down on the list of priorities that even exercise was coming ahead of me.” Nathan’s comments, and others like it, demonstrate an expectation that sex should be more of a priority in a relationship. Indeed, Karen says she experiences marital sex as “an obligation.” She explains, “When you’re married, you have to have sex. I think when we weren’t married it was kind of a rebellion. You know, I’m not supposed to be doing this because I’m not married.” When prodded further as to why she feels that sex within marriage is obligatory, Karen responds bluntly, “I don’t think that he would stay married to me if we didn’t have sex.”

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