Journal Club: The Labour of Love

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This month, the ace journal club discussed

“Heterosexuality and ‘the Labour of Love’: A Contribution to Recent Debates on Female Sexual Dysfunction” by Thea Cacchioni (2007). (requires journal access)

The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer. We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology. Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access. If you’re interested, please e-mail me at for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.

This study used qualitative interviews to explore women’s perceptions of their sexual problems and their treatment.

Discipline, Performance, and Avoidance
– The paper describes three types of labor that women undertake to address their sexual problems. Discipline work is trying to change one’s mental and physical response to have experiences viewed as more desirable. Performance work is play acting as if everything is fine, pretending to already have a fantastic experience. Avoidance work is finding delicate ways to get out of sex without bluntly rejecting people.
– Discipline is the solution often advised by self-help and medical authorities, whereas the other two might arise from people trying to avoiding confrontation.
– We talked about how these types of labor could be non-consensual, to the extent that women are doing something that is a negative experience.
– This work is often undertaken in pursuit of an “authentic” desire to experience emotional or corporeal pleasure, the but the author expresses skepticism about our ability to distinguish that from social pressures. This reminded us of the distinction that some aces make between intrinsic and extrinsic sexual desire, a distinction that we think may not be so tidy.
– We also discussed possible issues with this categorization scheme. For example, a failure of discipline oneself may lead to people faking it. Some discipline advises that people try performance, with the idea that the feelings will follow.
– The paper argues that women may undertake this labor because they’re financially dependent on their partners. We thought this was interesting, as we don’t often hear people talking about sexual violence as financial issue. Likewise, in an ace context, liberating people from unwanted sex may involve finding alternative sources of financial security.

Ace resonances
– Although none of the women in the survey identified as asexual, if some of the quotes were mixed with ace quotes we would be unable to distinguish them. For instance “I’ve never enjoyed it [sex].” or someone saying they didn’t understand why people “thought sex was enjoyable”.
– This demonstrates the point that it doesn’t really make sense to treat ace experiences as completely distinct from those who don’t identify as asexual, as there is a lot of overlap and common cause here.
– Some of the narratives ended with people deprioritizing sex, with this apparently being a positive outcome. This is exactly the sort of thing people get out of an ace identity.
– We also argued over the possibility that maybe some of these women might not benefit from an ace identity. For example, some women temporarily stepped away from sex and came back to it later. This is compatible with an asexual or gray-asexual identity, although some people with those experiences may prefer not to identify as ace.
– The purpose of the ace community is not necessarily to produce more ace-identifying people, but to present solutions to people, allowing them to escape from potentially violent situations.
– It would be interesting to hear how these women might have reacted if the interviewer asked them what they thought of asexuality.

– “Sex work” typically refers to wage labor, and has been used that way dating back to the 1970s. The author appears to be unaware of this meaning though, and using “sex work” to essentially mean emotional labor in the context of sex.
– The author discusses the “healthicization” of sex, referring to the process of bringing it into a health framework, treating it more and more as a health issue.
– “Male sex drive discourse” is a discourse that “positions ‘men’s sexuality as directly produced by a biological drive’, creating ‘insatiable’ sexual needs which women are expected to fulfill.”
– The paper also refers to “compulsory intercourse” at one point. This reminds us of the now-common term “compulsory sexuality”, which was not extant and the time this paper was published. “Compulsory intercourse” is more specific, as it specifically relates to sexual intercourse rather than sexuality more broadly.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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1 Response to Journal Club: The Labour of Love

  1. I love this because it seems like people rarely talk about figuring out how to have sex as “work” (or in the case of this paper, more like “figuring out how to have sex in a way that’s acceptable to one’s male partner”, which, uh, is very real, but also not cool how that’s the assumption). But yeah in my experience it is *work*, it isn’t “natural” or anything like that. And honestly I wonder to what extent it’s like that for women who actually are heterosexual- there seem to be a lot of inconsistent messages on this.

    A few links where I’ve talked about this “work” –
    “I don’t really use the “no sexual attraction” definition anymore”
    “Being Asexual in Pregnancy World”

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