One of the younger couples we interviewed provided a poignant example of efforts to induce desire. Sasha (White, age 30) and Joel (White, age 31) have been married for 11 years. They have two small children. According to Sasha, this difference in interest has created a great deal of conflict in their marriage: “We would usually get into a big long fight that lasted until two or three in the morning and then we would make up and it would be fine. But if I would go a week or two without having sex, we would have one of those arguments.” Both Sasha and Joel subjectively report that their sex life is getting better because Sasha is actively trying to increase her interest in sex. As Joel puts it:
Hence, Sasha may try to be more sexual, or at least have sex more often, to assuage Joel’s feelings of rejection and in response to his persistent requests
I think Sasha believes that she has an abnormally low sexual desire. So I think that she understands that she’s got to make more of an effort to want to have sex than I do. And so she does make more of an effort. So I don’t think that she has sex more frequently when she doesn’t want to as much as she more frequently makes a concerted effort to want to.
According to Joel, Sasha has to “make more of an effort to want to have sex,” but he prefers to think of her performance of desire as authentic (Hochschild, 1983). In Joel’s estimation, Sasha induces a real feeling to want to have sex, a form of deep acting (Hochschild). Because Sasha was less forthcoming about sex in her interview than Joel, we do not know if Sasha is deep acting or if she simply submits to sex more often to reduce conflict in her marriage. However, both she and Joel provide a significant motive for Sasha to deep act, or lead Joel to believe she is: Joel has consistently expressed dismay and a sense of rejection about their sex life. As Joel explains,
Jim (White, age 55), says that his wife of 32 years has always had more interest in sex and “I got the sense that she felt that I was not attracted to her or that she felt more insecure about there not being [more frequent sex]
I’m sort of hypersensitive about it. I easily feel rejected. And so I let her know. … I’ve let her know over the years. … It’s usually me that brings it up whenever our sex life is screwed up in some way or declining or whatever. And the reaction is rarely hostile. It’s usually that, by the time I’m bringing it up, she is starting to become aware of it and realizes that, you know, we need to fix it.
For Joel, fixing their sex life involves Sasha wanting to have sex more often. Sasha confirms that, in the past when they had sex less often than they presently do, Joel was persistent about making “his needs known:” “It was like, ‘Hey it’s has been almost a week, woman.’ You know. He wouldn’t say it like that, but like yeah, he would just make his needs known” (Sasha).
Whereas the wives we interviewed say that they are more likely to try to change their sexual selves in ways that increase sexual frequency, 4 husbands also do this in an attempt to match their wives’ greater sexual interest. Of note, 3 of these husbands are contemplating, and 1 has a prescription for, Viagra. All these husbands say they are taking or considering taking Viagra at their wives’ behest. ” Four years ago, Jim started having “problems staying ‘excited’ for any length of time. And at one point, she just said, ‘Well, I’ll miss it.’ Which honestly made me feel terrible. Like she was just deciding that for the rest of her life she was going to miss sex because I was having this problem.” Jim redoubled his efforts to maintain an erection during sex after this comment from his wife, but sex has not been frequent and his wife has been encouraging him to “ask the doctor about Viagra.” When asked if he wants to take Viagra, Jim responded, “Not really. I don’t know, maybe I should, but I don’t have the desire to. [If I did get Viagra], I’d say that it was 75% for her and 25% for me. And maybe I will.”