Indeed, joking about the innate sexual differences between men and women is a common theme throughout our interviews
A message that recurred throughout our interviews was that men are more sexually driven than women and that women have an innately lower libido than men: “It’s that male/female thing. For men I think it is just … well, it’s physical. It’s like they build up that sperm and they need a release” (Lindsey, White, age 43, married 19 years). Richard (White, age 64, married 36 years) expresses a similar sentiment when he states, “I guess for men, if you could satisfy yourself, you don’t care about the girl. We are two meals away from being an animal.” For many of our respondents, this discourse of difference in sexual desire resonates in large part because their own relationship mirrors it. For example, Pat (White, age 68, married 46 years) says, “I always felt like maybe [my husband] was more of a sexual person than I was, but I always thought that was because men were more sexually motivated and wanted instant gratification more than women.”
Although the majority of the married individuals we interviewed express a belief in gendered sexual differences, not all of our respondents’ sexual desires and experiences fit this discourse. Four wives indicate that they have always had a stronger sex drive than their husbands, and their husbands also discussed this issue in their interviews. These couples espouse the belief that men are more sexual than women but see their own experience as anomalous. For example, when asked about her sex life, Toni (White, age 53, married
The explanatory power of the discourse of sexual difference
As we report later in our analysis, experiencing unequal sexual desire is potentially a source of conflict for couples. However, relying on a belief in gender differences in sexual desire can also be a source of comfort insofar as it provides an easy and immediate explanation for differences in sexual desire. Robert (White, age 52, ple, says, “We joke about it all the time, that there is no time and that women have to have the perfect setting and everything has to be just right or they are not interested, where men would be up for it in the middle of the bus station!”
In addition to joking, maintaining a belief in gender differences in sexual desire helped Pat (White, age 68, married 46 years) come to terms with her husband’s affair. Pat’s husband, Matthew (White, age 69), had a brief affair with his secretary about 16 years into their marriage. Pat found out about the affair when the “other woman” phoned and broke the news. Pat explains how she was able to forgive Matthew: “As I say, I think that men look at sex differently than women. And so that’s [the affair] something that I just put away.” Because Pat attributed the affair to gender differences in desire, she does not view it as something that ever threatened her marriage. Pat uses her belief in men’s greater sexual needs to manage (“put away”) her feelings about Matthew’s affair (Hochschild, 1983).