Getting Married, Breaking up, and Making Up for Lost Time: Relationship Transitions as Turning Points in Women's Sexuality

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Transitioning from single to married or married to divorced has notable effects on women's sexuality. In some cases, transitions lead to greater sexual subjectivity by enhancing women's sexual confidence and sense of entitlement to pleasure. In others, transitions inhibit women's sexual agency and women feel disconnected from their sexual selves. In this paper, I explore how marriage and divorce function as turning points in women's construction of sexuality. Based on in-depth interviews with seventy-one heterosexual women, I examine how they experience marriage, separation, and divorce and how their interactions with husbands inhibit or bolster their sexual self-confidence and understandings. My findings reveal that relationships and significant others had the greatest impact on women's sexual subjectivity. Generation influenced whether or not marriage was a turning point in women's sexuality and divorce sometimes led to increased sexual subjectivity. Furthermore, women who entered relationships with cumulative disadvantages because of previous negative sexual experiences defined relationship transitions as turning points in their sexuality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-93
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2014


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies

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