RN23_01b: Embodiments and (hetero)sexual norms
Embodied Sensations and Heterosexual Sex Practices
University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The
This article examines the importance of embodied sensations in shaping heterosexual sex interactions, and the creation of social understandings of sex. Research on (hetero)sex often focusses on how discourses may inform sexual encounters, in particular people’s normative understandings of what sex is and should feel like. Previous studies show how these understandings come to structure sexual encounters, for instance as aiming at a buildup of intensifying pleasure culminating in orgasm. Aside from discourses, much of what happens during sexual encounters is informed by feeling or wanting to feel certain embodied sensations. This study therefore takes embodied sensations as starting point to trace how sexual patterns and normative expectations emerge through sexual practices. The body is not only an instrument through which sexuality is expressed, it also is a mediator of practical cultural knowledge. Based on an interview study with 34 women and men (i.e. 17 male-female couples), it is shown how interviewees make sense of their embodied sensations, and in particular, how these sensations (and the understanding thereof) come to inform sexual practices. A combination of interactionism and practice theory is applied to investigate sexual interactions as embodied practices through which social meanings are produced. Ultimately, this article aims to shed light on the relation between embodied sensations and practices, and social understandings.
Does Marriage Really Improve Sexual Satisfaction? Evidence from the Pairfam Dataset
Hebrew University, Israel
In light of the growing unmarried demographic, this study analyzes the extent and determinants of sexual satisfaction among seven relationship-status groups: married, never-married, and divorced/separated where the latter two groups are further divided into single, living apart together (LAT), and cohabitating. Additionally, the levels of sexual self-esteem, sexual communication, and sex frequency are measured for the different relationship-status groups as aspects of sexual satisfaction. Finally, this study also analyzes sexual satisfaction while accounting for overall life satisfaction. Using the ninth wave of the Pairfam dataset and analyzing responses of 3,207 respondents in total, this study suggests that marriage is not a determinant for sexual satisfaction. In fact, it can even be a negative correlator when married respondents are compared to certain unmarried groups. The only exception is that of unmarried individuals that currently have no partner. Even this situation is shown to be dependent only on less frequent intercourse, not on a lack of sexual self-esteem and sexual communication. These conclusions challenge previous research as well as earlier scholars’ explanations.
Sexuality as a Private and a Social Space. The Margins of Research Regarding Old Age and Gender in Poland
University of Warsaw/Institute of Applied Social Sciences, Poland
The issue of senior citizens’ sexuality, especially regarding sexual activity undertaken by people considered to be “old” is usually met with silence or even condemned in Poland. In social discourse, senior citizens are perceived as asexual beings. In addition, any sexual behaviour not connected with procreation is classified as pathological (e.g. masturbation, homosexual acts, oral and anal sex). Only in the last decades of the 20th century did this “taboo” become the subject of scientific interest and research.
The purpose of the presentation is to reflect upon the sexual desires, practices, and attitudes of senior citizens understood individually and socially, based on subjective factors and social and cultural ideas (stereotypes, social convictions). An important part of this presentation focuses on empirical data, to wit, an analysis of 403 in-depth, individual interviews conducted between 2012-2014 with men and women who were 60 or older from Polish cities and rural communes. The outcomes are also based on an analysis of the content of Polish guidebooks addressed to senior citizens. The research shows that the sexual activity of respondents are gradually being treated less like something sinful and shameful, but a „double standard in aging”, different for women and men is still a characteristic of femininity in Poland. Society depreciates older women, who are seen as less attractive and sexy. Within the study group, women speak of their erotic capital in the past tense. They are often prepared to make many sacrifices in order to enter old age without radically losing sexual attractiveness.
Women And Sexual Abstinence
University of Leeds, United Kingdom
The phenomenon of ‘involuntary celibacy’ (Incel) has received a lot of media attention over the past couple of years. It is an intensely gendered phenomenon, associated with particular online spaces, and with links to ‘Men’s Rights Activism’ and ‘Pick-Up Artist’ communities. However, women’s experiences of sexual abstinence and celibacy have been given very little media or scholarly attention. Drawing on findings from research on ‘non-sexualities’, in this paper I discuss some of the experiences of women who were not having sex. I discuss how their accounts problematize the distinction that is often made between ‘involuntary’ and ‘voluntary’ abstinence. Many of the participants spoke about how their abstinence has arisen as a way of surviving an aggressively hetero-patriarchal milieu, but also about the gendered sexual aggressions that they were subject to in negotiating their abstinence with others. I argue that paying attention to abstinent women starkly reminds us of the operations of hetero-patriarchy, rape culture, and misogynistic ideas around sexual agency and desire, which much remain of urgent sociological interest.