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Abstract

In this article, we provide a discursive reading of twelve men's understandings of sexual boredom in long-term romantic relationships. The empirical study of sexual boredom in psychological arenas has retained a firm commitment to psychological measures of individual performance and has accentuated men's ‘natural’ tendency towards boredom due, for example, to a specialized adaptive psychological mechanism. From a social constructionist perspective we argue that the phenomenon of sexual boredom needs to be seen as a discursive construction mediated through the ideas or imperatives that are currently popular within the self-help genres and other forms of sexual merchandise, which regulate the wider cultural norms and practices of (compulsory) sex, (gendered) sexual desires, (hot) monogamy and (ideal) romantic love. Drawing on approaches from discursive psychology (an approach that attends to how language is used) we examine the tensions and conflicts which characterize these participants’ attempts to negotiate their positions in relation to sexual boredom, and the strategies they adopt in order to distance themselves from (owning) it. Here we discuss how such negotiations are set against ideals of ‘modern’ man's sexual proficiency (readiness and skilfulness), liberal views of sexual relations (embracing a democratic form of intimacy) and romantic (true) love, that the participants propose are required to maintain monogamous long-term relationships. All the participants construct the notion of boring sex (dull, mechanical, over-rehearsed sex) as an inevitable feature of all sexually exclusive relationships, and sexual boredom (boredom with boring sex) as a trade-off for long-term companionship and ‘true love’.
Men in love: living with sexual
boredom
ANETA D. TUNARIU* & PAULA REAVEY
Division of Psychology, South Bank University, London, United Kingdom
ABSTRACT In this article, we provide a discursive reading of twelve men’s understandings of sexual
boredom in long-term romantic relationships. The empirical study of sexual boredom in psychological
arenas has retained a firm commitment to psychological measures of individual performance and has
accentuated men’s ‘natural’ tendency towards boredom due, for example, to a specialized adaptive
psychological mechanism. From a social constructionist perspective we argue that the phenomenon of
sexual boredom needs to be seen as a discursive construction mediated through the ideas or imperatives
that are currently popular within the self-help genres and other forms of sexual merchandise, which
regulate the wider cultural norms and practices of (compulsory) sex, (gendered) sexual desires, (hot)
monogamy and (ideal) romantic love. Drawing on approaches from discursive psychology (an
approach that attends to how language is used) we examine the tensions and conflicts which
characterize these participants’ attempts to negotiate their positions in relation to sexual boredom, and
the strategies they adopt in order to distance themselves from (owning) it. Here we discuss how such
negotiations are set against ideals of ‘modern’ man’s sexual proficiency (readiness and skilfulness),
liberal views of sexual relations (embracing a democratic form of intimacy) and romantic (true) love,
that the participants propose are required to maintain monogamous long-term relationships. All the
participants construct the notion of boring sex (dull, mechanical, over-rehearsed sex) as an inevitable
feature of all sexually exclusive relationships, and sexual boredom (boredom with boring sex) as a
trade-off for long-term companionship and ‘true love’.
Why look at sexual boredom?
In our Western society the topic of sex occupies a visible place within political,
academic, therapeutic and every day settings. Sex is by now an established consumer
product open to the politics of fashion, technology and the rhetoric of democratic
personal choice (e.g. Reavey & Warner, 2002). Modern intimacy is very much linked
to ‘the exploration and satisfaction of sexual desire’ (Weeks, 1995: 38) as well as
being tied to liberal notions of equality and mutual exchange. In this new age of
sexual discourse, there is no room for under-whelming sex. Loss of sexual interest
and sexual boredom have been reported to be important reasons for sexual infidelity
(Shackelford & Buss, 1997), and for the breakdown of a relationship in both short
and long-term couples (Hill et al., 1976; Counts & Reid, 1986; Gigy & Kelly, 1992).
Although seldom the presenting complaint, being bored with sex with a current long-
Correspondence to: Aneta D. Tunariu, Division of Psychology, South Bank University, 103 Borough
Road, London SE1 0AA, UK. E-mail: joinerad@yahoo.co.uk; reaveyp@sbu.ac.uk
Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Vol 18, No. 1, 2003
ISSN 1468–1994 print/ISSN 1468-1479 online/03/010063-32
#
British Association for Sexual and Relationship Therapy
DOI: 10.1080/1468199031000061272
term partner can prompt referrals to sex and couple therapy or surface as an intricate
part of the clients’ loss of, or low, sexual desire (e.g. Nichols, 1987; Cole, 1988; Wincze
& Carey, 1991; Person, 1999; Tunariu et al., 2002). Yet, despite its increased visibility
in the popular media, the empirical study of sexual boredom in (long and/or short-term)
sexual relationships appears to be limited to the measurement of individual performance
(i.e. that of Watt & Ewing’s (1996) Sexual Boredom Scale). Moreover, the theorization
of sexual boredom has received scant attention outside a handful of sociological
(Hawkes, 1996), socio-biological (Symons, 1992) and therapeutic (Stoller, 1979;
Wilson, 1988; Kaplan, 1995) accounts; various elaborations on the nature and role of
sexual boredom in intimate relationships can however be found in self-help books and
magazine articles (e.g. Murray, 1977; Cole & Dryden, 1993; Schnarch, 1997; Bader,
1998).
Locating sexual boredom in psychological literature
‘[B]oredom is experienced as a disturbance in the sense of time, as an inability to
synchronize attention with the activities of the surroundings or, in their absence,
with one’s own fantasy life. The experience generally involves a sense of
impatience with the self and the environment; a sense of frustration,
dissatisfaction, and want; a vague need for something, for an interest or outlet.
As such, it is an unpleasant or painful feeling, even though it may not impress the
observer as much as the suffering that depression or anxiety usually suggests.’
(Hartocollis, 1972: 96)
In psychology, boredom is usually examined as an affective cognitive motoric ‘state
of low arousal and dissatisfaction which is attributed to an inadequately stimulating
situation’ (Mikulas and Vodanovich, 1993: 3). Induced by a prolonged mismatch
between what is desired (for need satisfaction) or required (for effective resource
allocation) and what is actually available (e.g. Fenichel, 1951; Csikszentmihalyi, 1975;
Hamilton et al., 1984; Hill & Perkins, 1985; Dyer-Smith & Wesson, 1997) boredom is
thought likely to occur whenever the individual feels compelled to remain in a
situation that is no longer absorbing or adequately entraining (e.g. Barmack, 1937;
Berlyne, 1967; O’Hanlon, 1981; Leary et al., 1986). The existing literature points to a
number of factors thought to be strongly connected to an individual’s increased
susceptibility to experiencing boredom. These include: sensation seeking personality
(Zuckerman, 1979); high scores on the Boredom Proneness Scale (Farmer &
Sundberg, 1986); high need for novel stimulation; a more rapid rate of habituation
(Zuckerman, 1979); less creative interaction styles (Martindale et al., 1996); low
attentional capacity and low scores on the Boredom Coping Scale (Hamilton et al.,
1984) and a tendency to use more stable and less complex attributions for their
boredom (Polly et al., 1993). Although there has been a shift from viewing boredom as
a direct response to tedious or repetitive situations (see Smith, 1981) to seeing it as
something relative to subjectively differential perceptions of monotony (Perkins & Hill,
1985), style and complexity of attribution (Mikulas & Vodanovich, 1993) or degrees
64 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
of vested interest and resources allocation (Dyer-Smith & Wesson, 1997), the majority
of mainstream psychological theories retain the assumption that boredom is essentially
a privately owned characteristic that becomes observable across specific situations in
the form of decodable personal reactions. However, to see the emotion of boredom as
something residing in the mind or the body of an individual is to downplay or take for
granted the social considerations that work to produce the representations that people
(such as respondents of psychological studies) use to make sense or express this aspect
of their lives (see Barbalet, 1999 for more on the phenomenology of boredom and its
relationship with social meanings).
As with boredom in general (e.g. Vodanovich & Kass, 1990; Sundberg et al., 1991;
Watt & Blanchard, 1994) sexual boredom is considered to be more of a male attribute
(Watt & Ewing, 1996). In the limited psychological literature on the topic, there is a
strong reliance on viewing a decline from an initial interest in a sexual partner to a state
of boredom with sex with that partner in terms of personality traits. Recent studies
conducted by psychologists from the personality and individual differences stand point
found men’s scores to be significantly higher than women’s on the Sexual Boredom
Scale (Watt & Ewing, 1996) and on the subscale of the Boredom Proneness Scale
‘which assessed an individual’s need for challenge, excitement and variety’ (Watt &
Vodanovich, 1999: 306). Thought of in terms of evolutionary endowment men’s sexual
boredom, described as boredom with sex induced by repetitive sexual encounters with
the same partner, has also been found to affect men more than women (Wilson, 1988;
Symons, 1992) and is often related with a line of experimental work known as the
‘Coolidge effect’. This refers to a tendency of males who have reached sexual satiation
with one female to experience a restoration of mating behaviour in the presence of a
novel female (see Dewsbury, 1981 for a review) and is explained as ‘another
manifestation of their [men’s] reproductively optimal promiscuity strategy’. In this
context sexual boredom is understood as a ‘[p]rogressive ‘‘contempt due to familiarity’’
(at least as regards sexual excitement)’ which some propose ‘is an almost inevitable
outcome of sexually exclusive marriage’ (Wilson, 1988: 65). Compared to women, men
are also reported to possess a greater need for external stimulation and variety of sexual
partners, to be more interested in sex (e.g. Symons, 1979; Apt & Hurlbert, 1992;
Sprecher & McKinney, 1993; Greer & Buss, 1994; Laumann et al., 1994), to place more
value on its physical aspects in the process of building loving relationships (Frazier &
Esterly, 1990), to be more likely to engage in (Hurlbert, 1992), but less likely to forgive,
extra-marital sexual affairs as opposed to romantic affairs (Shackelford & Buss, 2002),
and are more likely to endorse sexual motives related to pleasure rather than emotional/
affective expressions (Hill & Preston, 1996). Empirical information on gender
differences with respect to sex and sexual interest is substantial (see e.g. Baldwin &
Baldwin, 1997; Regan & Berscheid, 1999; for reviews). Much of this work has relied on
statistical analyses (e.g. looking for significant differences between arithmetic means) of
respondents’ answers to a set of pre-selected statements, open-ended questions and/or
vignettes. But to infer from these studies that there are diametrically opposed naturally
inherent, differences between the sexual desires (forms, preferences, needs) of men and
women is to assume gender as a natural category, obscure its complexities in real life
and downplay the way it lends itself to the social forces which perpetuate a gendered
65Men in love
imbalance of power in our dominant patriarchal social order (e.g. Bem, 1993; Bohan,
1997; Wetherell, 1997). Understanding the nature of feminine and masculine
sexualities as obviously formed and stable realities, tightly bound with biology also
sets the premises for rationalizing the phenomenon of sexual boredom as something that
impinges on men’s lives more than women’s. Popular discourse seems to support this
view. Men (university students) scored higher than women on the 18 statements of Watt
& Ewing’s (1996: 58) Sexual Boredom Scale (SBS) [1] (see Appendix A). Watt and
Ewing’s argument regarding the scale’s statistical validity is warranted within the
epistemological boundaries set for psychometric work but, since respondents’ replies are
taken in a contextually neutral way, it cannot unravel whether these are as predictable
and entrenched in one’s ideological system or as detached from perceptions about the
quality of a current sexual relationship, as their study suggests. Collecting data in the
form of scores on the SBS, or via other psychometric instruments for that matter, does
provide us with a snap shot of respondents’ current standpoints on the locally dominant
formulations concerning sex in long-term relationships. But people do not confine
themselves to a limited or invariable manner of sense making of their sexual experiences
or other aspects of their lives (Wetherell & Potter, 1992: 79). Rather, as our
investigation aims to illustrate, people engage in contextually bound variations (hence
our participants’ comment to the SBS items: ‘It all depends’), contradictions and re-
positioning when trying to understand and explain their experiences and actions in
regard to sexual boredom.
The social constructedness of sexuality (setting the scene)
Sex is an important part of who we are, our gender identity, social competency and our
personal and inter-personal well being. Although it is ‘comfortable to believe in the
centrality of private experience and ourselves as conscious decision makers [and]
masters of our own actions’ (Gergen, 1999: 117) the collection of ideas, forms of
identity, emotional expressions or sexual practices that historically have come to be
catalogued under the term ‘sexuality’ (Foucault, 1976) are far from being private or
natural matters (e.g. Butler, 1993; Tiefer, 1995; Weeks, 1995). Rather these are socially
constructed realities formed and sustained by current cultural agreements, norms, and
commonplace practices, whose meanings we continually reshape between ourselves in
line with prevalent political, cultural and scientific parameters of social regulation,
morality and ideology (e.g. Weeks, 1985, 2000; Plummer, 1995). The various
assumptions, causal systems and so on, which underpin habitually used discourses,
become internalized, recycled and entranced further in a community’s commonsense,
taken for granted knowledge. Through its frequent use the ‘familiar’ then acquires a
sense of self-evident reality; the ‘social’ passes as the ‘personal’. This is accomplished in
the language we use during daily social interaction, in the discourses we have at our
disposal as social beings. This line of (epistemological) argument is taken-up by social
theorists who, dissatisfied by the essentialist parameters of the scientific approach began
to re-examine and re-think the relationship between society and psychological (e.g.
Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Harre´, 1979, 1983; Parker & Shotter, 1990; Billig,
1991; Parker, 1992; Wetherell et al., 2001). In a more formal sense the term ‘discourse’
66 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
is used to denote a ‘system of statements which cohere around common meanings and
values [. . .] and which are a product of social factors, of powers and practices, rather
than individual set of ideas’ (Hollway, 1983: 231). Sexual discourses shape what we
come to desire sexually, the way we organize and give meaning to our sexual
experiences, what we understand as suitable sexual expression and our very sense of self
(e.g. Hollway, 1984b; Henriques et al., 1998; Nussbaum, 1999). They limit what we
come to consider as possible and necessary, often confer contradictory or incompatible
messages and so give rise to various ‘ideological dilemmas’ for speakers (Billig et al.,
1988). But we do not deploy these linguistic resources in a mindless fashion, rather their
uses are contextually-bound and relate to the ‘situational actions’ (such as justification
and mitigation, amongst others) for which particular versions of events or selves have
been constructed (Edwards & Potter, 1992). Sexual discourses, therefore, including
those involving sexual boredom, consist of collectively shared ways of thinking we use to
construct the meanings that we ascribe to our own and other people’s sexuality. These
discourses are available to particular historical communities through a variety of ‘sexual
technologies’ which may include films, novels, newspapers, magazines, formal and
informal education, self-help books or academic publications (Gavey, 1992).
Locating sexual boredom in contemporaneous discourses of sexuality
Whilst a remote feature in psychological research agendas, it is increasingly apparent
from the self-help literature advising on sex and love that the notion of sexual boredom
has become a salient issue surrounding sex, especially with regard to sustaining passion
in long-term romantic relationships. The selection below illustrates some of the ways in
which sexual boredom is treated in the self-help literature:
‘[Sex] is the most natural thing in the world, a logical result of romantic love, the
physical expression of a more symbolic union. But sex with someone that you
love can also be as routine and dull as brushing your teeth. It can be a cause of
shame and misery’ (Sarah Litvinoff, 1999: 6 The Relate Guide to Sex in Loving
Relationships).
‘It’s a lot easier to introduce sexual novelty and undisclosed aspects of eroticism
in one-night stands or an affair than in your marriage. It’s a greater challenge to
your sense of self when you’re with a spouse. That’s why sexual boredom (and
affairs) are so prevalent. We demand stability in marriage and when we get it,
we complain that things are always the same. The resulting boredom contributes
to low desire’ (David Schnarch, 1997: 151 Passionate Marriages).
‘Can a relationship survive on love but no lust? Not if sex remains under-
whelming and boring’ (Mariella Frostrup, relationship advisor to The Observer
21st April 2002).
In all these examples it is easy to identify direct correspondence between the parameters
of sexuality dominant in our culture and the writers’ professed views, for each
67Men in love
formulation unexamined and, therefore, work to reinforce the ‘truism’ of contemporary
assumptions about romantic sexual relations that are dominant in our culture: the
‘naturalness’ of compulsory sex in loving relationships; the primordial place of
overwhelming sex in sustaining intimacy and (hot) monogamy; and the portrayal of
giving and receiving ‘good sex’ as a feature of personal competency and successfulness
as a coupledom (e.g. Holland et al., 1991, 1993; Nicolson, 1993; Hawkes, 1996;
Kleinplatz, 1996; Potts, 1998; Tiefer, 2001). A rule-of-thumb in popular discourse also
has it that a boredom-free sex life is testimony to the presence of sexual desire,
emotional closeness and romantic love. Good sex prevents infidelity and sustains
intimacy by motivating adequate voluntary efforts and the sexuo-erotic vigilance
necessary to ensure the longevity of the relationship. For it to be good, sex should not be
too sluggish or insensitive to what men and women ‘really’ want; neither should it be too
predictable nor too comfortable, resulting in a too easy slippage into boring sex. But the
reverse is also implied. Concerns over inadequate sexual performance and preoccupa-
tions with not giving or not receiving ‘appropriate sex’ can bring about anxieties about
the quality of a loving relationship, a sense of thwarted sexual desire, a sense of failure
and subsequent evaluations of sexual boredom and the association it has with blame or
fault. Such anxieties can give rise to self-pathologizing or subsequent referral to couple/
sex therapy (e.g. Nicolson, 1993) as perhaps reflected by the upsurge of complaints
related to low sexual desire witnessed over the past decades (e.g. Kilmann et al., 1986;
Person, 1999). It is therefore plausible to argue that current cultural constructions of sex
have transformed the issue of sexual boredom into an important feature of an
individual’s happiness, personal health and social well-being.
Introducing the analysis
Discourses are a ‘source’ of and an ‘opportunity for creating multiple meanings’
(Mulkay, 1991: 9). When taken up in conversations with oneself or other people, they
offer us ‘subject positions’ or ways of being and relating within them. Each such
‘location’ (Edley, 2001) provides the speaker with certain ‘structures of rights and
duties’ or distinct possibilities and limitations as to which concepts, storylines, claims
and roles can be taken up by the speaker (Davies & Harre´, 1990, 1999). However, the
‘crucial thing about discourses concerning sexuality is that they specify different
positions for men and women’ (Hollway, 1984a: 64). This article focuses on the cultural
linguistic resources that the participants in our study draw upon to make sense of sexual
boredom in long-term relationships; and on the discursive manoeuvres they develop to
reconcile the various ideological conflicts arising when taking up particular locations.
Specifically, we are interested in how they position themselves in relation to the idea of
being sexually bored both as men in general and as men in love (partners in a long-term
primary relationship).
Analytic contexts
The texts we analyse come from interviews conducted between November 1999 and
July 2001 with a total of twelve men whose ages range from 23 to 41 years. These
68 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
interviews are part of a larger project involving over three hundred participants
(involving sex therapists, clients and the general public). The intention here is not to
present data from a representative sample but to provide a rich account of these men’s
subjective sense making. We do however assume that an analysis of their talk will give us
an insight into the more global, culturally dominant patterns of understanding sexual
boredom. For subjectivity and identity, as Wetherell & Edley (1999: 338) put it, ‘are
best understood as the personal enactment of communal methods of self-accounting,
vocabularies of motive, culturally recognizable emotional performances and available
stories for making sense’.
The participants, some of whom identified themselves as homosexual, some as
heterosexual, were located in the London area. Their professions included barber,
bar attendant, teacher, nurse, musician, hotel manager, postgraduate student and
office worker. At the time of the interview each participant reported being in a
primary long-term relationship (at least six months) and sharing a home with their
partner. All participants were given a pseudonym. Each participant was interviewed
on one occasion by a woman interviewer (AT) lasting between one and two hours.
For the first 15 minutes participants were asked to complete a structured
questionnaire aimed at collecting details about matters such as the most common
causes of friction arising in their relationships, their preferred ‘coping strategies’
when sex with their current partner had lost its allure and several open-ended
questions related to sexual desire. The questionnaire ended with the 18 statements
of Watt and Ewing’s Sexual Boredom Scale (see Appendix A). The interviews were
broadly guided by an interview schedule that focused on: (i) criteria participants
used to judge a sexual relationship as good, then as boring; (ii) factors, events and
ways that would make them aware of no longer being optimally sexually stimulated;
(iii) prompts to qualify their views of ideal sexual stimulation/satisfaction and (iv)
the strategies they used to overcome sexual boredom. In addition, participants were
asked to elaborate on their responses to several of the SBS’s items. The idea
behind this was to generate further conversational contexts, during which the
participants could appropriate, argue against or change their minds about the
content of some of these statements. The interviews were tape-recorded (with the
participant’s permission) and fully transcribed using a simple transcription code (see
Appendix B).
Analytical process
Our analytical approach was that of discourse analysis, which is part of a tradition in
qualitative research concerned with ‘the exploration of lived experience and participant-
defined meanings’ rather than with identifying the causal relationships between
objectively defined variables, found in the natural sciences (Willig, 2001: 11). However,
of central importance to discourse analysts is the language people use to describe their
experiences, since experience itself cannot be treated as a straightforward ‘fact’ or as the
only ‘true’ picture of reality (Reavey, 2003). Furthermore, language is not viewed as
simply reflecting reality (describing what is ‘there’) but is seen as actively engaged in the
process of meaning-making. Through its use language has both a ‘constructive function’
69Men in love
as it provides a framework for organizing our experience, and a ‘performative function’
as it can be used to sustain certain social goals (Burr, 1995; Gergen, 1999). ‘Language’,
therefore, creates the world in which we live. This does not mean that social
constructionists deny the existence of a material world ‘out there’ or think that the world
only exists when we ‘speak’ about it. Our point is that the way people talk about
emotions, desires, sexual practices and so on, is constitutive of ‘how we understand
ourselves as emotional beings’ (Edley, 2001: 438). Language then is a central focus in
understanding people’s private and public positions, their identity and their relationship
to themselves and others.
An important aspect of discourse analysis is how ‘objects’ (sexual boredom) get
talked about and constructed in a given context (here, men’s talk of long-term sexual
relationships). In the case of this study, the analysis began by de-constructing the texts
by ordering them into themes that were identified via key words (relationships,
commitment, desire, needs) and were related to the research questions outlined by this
project (see above) [2]. This entailed paying attention to the various implicit and explicit
references to sexual boredom in a number of different contexts (past and present
relationships etc.). We were mindful of the implicit references to sexual boredom in
particular, as it was unusual for the participants to automatically ‘know’ what sexual
boredom was or to acknowledge it in the context of their present relationship (through,
for example, fear of denigrating their current partner). After breaking the text into
themes, our aim was to look at all the different ways in which sexual boredom was
‘created’ or ‘constructed’ by the participants and propose a reading of the various effects
(Potter & Wetherell, 1987) these might have for the participants’ subsequent accounts
(e.g. look at whether people’s attitudes towards sexual boredom were consistent or
whether their versions of it contained contradictions or dilemmas that were worked
through or left outstanding during the course of the interview). This stage of analysis
also locates participants’ constructions in wider discourses of sexuality. For example,
within the context of an interview about sexual boredom, a man may draw on a popular
ideas informed by evolutionary theory when he talks about his need to engage in extra-
marital sex, a biological discourse when he explains the urgency of his sexual needs and
a romantic discourse when describing his partner’s (female usually) desires. As the
analysis will illustrate, on many occasions these versions of reality are used as ways of
accounting for a ‘natural’ discrepancy between their own and their (usually female)
partners’ sexual desires, as well as a mode of justifying men’s sexual infidelity.
Identifying wider discourses can help us to see the socially produced nature of accounts,
while, simultaneously, highlighting contradictions and tensions within the same text
(interview).
Living with (the threat of ) sexual boredom
Our analysis of these participants’ talk will illustrate two overlapping conversational
contexts, these we call ‘individual/private’ and ‘coupled/in love’ and from which
different shades of sexual boredom emerge. The primary linguistic resource on
which these participants draw to produce their interpretations of sexual boredom is
a tenet of the ‘sex as a lifestyle discourse’ (Hawkes, 1996) and contains ‘the
70 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
cultural expectation that each individual has a right and a duty to achieve and give
maximum satisfaction in their sexual relationships’ (Nicolson, 1993: 56). The
primary issue involved in a private or a public communication of sexual boredom is
the issue of ‘spotting the boring entertainer’, that is to allocate fault to the
individual or individuals assumed to be responsible for preventing sexual boredom
and for providing ‘fun’ in the relationship. This, we show, requires participants to
pay close attention to, and often to re-define, their views on what the phenomenon
of sexual boredom might be, which in turn affects how it gets communicated and
dealt with.
Sexual boredom in the ‘individual/private’ conversational context
Talked about from the vantage point of a ‘solitary’ subjective individual, the
phenomenon of sexual boredom is construed as something that can happen to people
in the event of prolonged dissatisfaction with their sexual lives (such as with the sex
had with a particular partner). The prevalent view, however, is that this is more likely
to happen to men (‘regular guys get bored’) due to the nature of their sexuality;
namely due to their animated sex drives (typically higher than women’s) and a healthy
‘virile’ attraction towards novel sexuo-erotic challenges. For an emotionally
‘unattached’ man, according to the participants, the ideal sexual encounters are those
that endorse ‘good sex’ (e.g. absorbing, passionate, overwhelming sex) and adequately
stimulate and improve his sexual proficiency (i.e. men’s readiness and skilfulness at
‘doing sex’).
Sexual boredom in the ‘coupled/in love’ conversational context
Talked about from the vantage point of a ‘coupled/in love’ partner, the phenomenon
of sexual boredom is construed as something that happens naturally to all long-term
sexually exclusive relationships due to progressive familiarity, domestic trivia and a
human (although greater for men) temptation towards novel, exciting sexuo-erotic
challenges. For the emotionally ‘attached’ man who is trying to have a successful
long lasting relationship, the ideal sexual encounters with a romantic (loved and
loving) partner are those that actively endorse joint vigilance and sexuo-erotic
industriousness i.e. resolute devotion to exploring ways of ‘fuelling’ sexual passion,
and that capitalize on (i.e. overtly receive and confirm) his liberal-sexual proficiency
and so prevent their relationship from succumbing to sexual boredom. In this sense,
for the sexually monogamist partner, the ongoing project of dealing with the threat of
sexual boredom becomes a reasonable trade off for ‘true love’ and long-term
companionship.
Communicating sexual boredom
One striking feature of all the participants’ accounts, typically (although not always)
occurring early on in the interview, is the denial of sexual boredom by discrediting it as a
serious enough event:
71Men in love
Extract 1
AT: What do you think is the nature of sexual boredom?
Greg: I never get bored. [. . .] I’m not that kind of person. [. . .] No matter how
dissatisfied I was with sex I don’t think I’d be sexually bored, you know. I mean
because I can be stimulated (.) I am stimulated so much more:: by the non-sexual
err say qualities, compliments it. If:: something seriously affects our sexual
relationship or:: one of us, [then] we discuss it, you know. (Greg: a 24-years-old
Australian, hostel manager, in current ‘straight’ relationship for one-and-a-half
years; Q6)
Greg’s apprehension at being seen to own (up to) sexual boredom is perhaps not
surprising given its ‘culturally dis-valued’ status as an emotion (Darden & Marks,
1999) [3]. In both popular and academic discourse the attribution of boredom is,
often implicitly, taken to entail an individual’s fault, inaptitude or unwillingness to
attain or deploy the skills necessary to produce significance and meaningfulness
from the particularities of a situation (Askins, 1980). Leary et al.’s (1986) study
involving over 1200 participants, for example, showed that boring individuals are
judged less favourably than interesting individuals; boring individuals, for example,
were perceived to be more egocentric and more banal, to show more ingratiation
and lower affectivity and in a small percentage of cases were even thought to be
less intelligent. Boredom, especially when coupled with a lack of sexual prowess, is
clearly not ‘a condition for love’ (Armstrong, 2002) yet our communal knowledge
about it contains conflicting messages. On the one hand boredom is rendered a
trivial or, at least, a superficial emotion that individuals would do well to sort out
privately (see Darden & Marks, 1999). On the other hand, it is one of the
‘emotional imperatives’ which motivate or at least direct people’s actions towards
meaningful encounters (Barbalet, 1999: 633) and has a central place in modifying
the ‘vital background of enthusiasm (Suttie, 1963/1935: 95). Sexual boredom, then,
is also liable to be viewed in similarly ambivalent ways. On the one hand, the
speaker is likely to expect her/his declaration of being sexually bored to be greeted
as a cop-out that deserves condemnation and subsequent evaluations of
incompetence, sexual ignorance or downright laziness. The ‘dull people have dull
sex’ discourse that we found to be customary in sex therapists’ corroborates our
study of this expectation. It sees sexual boredom as an avoidable consequence
induced by either partner’s complacency, reduced sexuo-erotic sophistication and
modest or absent contribution towards joint satisfaction in sexual encounters
together (Tunariu et al., 2002). On the other hand, to privately or publicly identify
its presence in discussions about one’s current relationship is also to cast doubt on
one’s partner’s sexual performance and sex appeal or, worse still, to read it as
implying the speaker’s de-motivation (hence, defective romantic love) in continuing
with sexuo-erotic arrangements currently identified as unsatisfactory. These
participants’ practice of discrediting its status and down-playing its relevance in
current relationships may thus serve as a way of preventing oneself (sexual actor)
from being judged negatively. This practice may also be used to protect their
partner’s feelings, or as a mode of avoiding confrontation that would necessitate
72 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
uncomfortable challenges to the relationship’s status qua (see Brissett & Snow,
1993, for a full review on the intricacies of communicating boredom in social
interactions and on its ‘vocabulary of motives’).
During the course of the interviews, however, the ‘status’ of sexual boredom
modifies, takes different routes and receives ‘upgrading’. The participants begin to
discuss its role as a sexual motivator with the understanding that they are referring to
their past and not current sexual relationships:
Extract 2
AT: Are there any occasions in the past when you did not feel optimally
stimulated?
Greg: Yes, it had happened in the past. Oh, yeah. In a previous relationship err
after a while she did not interest me any more. Sometimes I could not even be
turned on, I could not even be bothered trying to become excited. [AT: How
come?] I suppose I’d become bored by what she offered me (.) it wasn’t what I
needed for my expectations.
AT: What would you say has made you aware that you were no longer interested?
Greg: I think err from thoughts, feelings:: (.) yeah, from my perceptions of what
she made me feel:: my perceptions of what I wanted to get out:: and what I was
getting
AT: What would you say was it that you did want to get out?
Greg: What I wanted to get out of it? Err:: what I needed to feel sexually:: (.) so
that I would wanna stay (.) but it did not balance with what I was getting so::. I
know I’m a man, but (.) I don’t like playing games so I just get out of a
relationship that sexually doesn’t work, you know? Surely I’ve got a man’s brain
but I am not like: ‘I’m a man and men need to have a lot of sex’, regardless, you
know? Or ‘that’s what men do’ etcetera, etcetera. I’ve got my own brain as well.
(Greg, Q10)
Note the contradiction between Greg’s articulations about his impermeability to all
boredom formulated in Extract 1 with those made here. His retrospective claim to
sexual boredom describes a consequence of his interaction with inadequately
stimulating sexual relationships; with the effect: he could no longer ‘be bothered
trying’ to produce sexual excitement; he and his personal (sexual) attributes no longer
fitted into that relationship (see Hartocollis, 1972). A declaration of sexual boredom,
thus, turned from requiring strategies aimed at removing any self or public doubt
about a speaker’s sexual competence, to a mode of self-accredited superiority (Wangh,
1975). By taking past relationships as the context for discussion, the speaker can
explicitly identify and point to the ‘boring entertainer’ of a particular coupledom, an
enterprise which remains implicit in accounts of sexual boredom produced within a
‘coupled/in love partner’ milieu for discussion. Not only do these participants find a
discursive space for talking about sexual boredom as the result of having insufficiently
motivating sex(ual partners) but they are also then able to describe the ending of a
sexual relationship as justifiable, indeed, as ultimately un-avoidable in the event of
prolonged sexual boredom.
73Men in love
Regular guys get bored (building sexually proficient positions)
In this section of the analysis we shall look at the prevalent patterns emerging in
accounts produced from within the ‘individual/private’ vantage point.
In the extract below, for example, Barry associates the onset of sexual boredom with
unfulfilled, specifically male, physiological needs. He uses the notion of boredom within
a man’s sexual life to rationalize increases in his ‘natural’ tendency to flirt with other
women, to account for the possibility of this progressing into infidelity and, implicitly, to
warn women of the consequences of downplaying this facet of men’s sexuality:
Extract 3
AT: To the question: ‘when sex with current partner has lost its allure’ your
choices of answers were ‘fantasizing’ and ‘flirting’ could you say more on these?
Barry: When I don’t have sex for a while err I do fantasise about other girls err it’s
natural. The body takes over and (.). What I mean is (.) that err I’m not sexually
bored and then I fantasize. What I mean:: is that the body naturally builds up
sperm and:: so that it’s is way to get rid of . But when Iamsexually bored err
flirting with other girls (.) goes a bit further. If I am:: sexually bored and if the girl
was to err to (.) react to the flirtation then, yes, I would go further with the
temptation (Barry: a 26-year-old, Caucasian, student, in current ‘straight’
relationship for three years; Q9).
Unlike Greg who insists on not being included in the category of men who remain
‘slaves’ to their biological needs or socio-biological sexual styles (e.g. in Extract 2 he says
‘I am a man [but] I’ve got my own brain as well’), Barry straightforwardly reproduces
the conventional views conferred by the ‘male sexual drive’ discourse. This discourse,
Wendy Hollway (1984a: 63) explains, ‘sees men as sexually insatiable and male
sexuality as a naturally uncontrollable drive’ whose presence and adequate satisfaction
cannot be ignored (by their women partners). By relinquishing control of his sexual
drives and needs to the ‘laws of nature’ in this way, Barry argues for a fatalistic take on
male sexual boredom. This he uses to gain ideological ground for requesting a
continuous supply of (perhaps more and better) sex from his partner and to provide a
justification for sexual ‘infidelity’.
Extract 4
AT: Do you think [that] your relationship will last for a long time?
Ian: [. . .] I believe gay relationships can last if there is harmony. Gay men err::
men in general have higher sex drives and the only way gay relationships can last, I
think, is if you have a satisfying sexual life. Err:: (.) I mean straight men see
prostitutes or have one-night-stands because they are bored with their sexual
partners [. . .] gay men don’t have to go to brothels or see prostitutes because::
two men in a relationship generally give and want, and enjoy:: sex. Male gay
relationships can satisfy each other’s sexual drives. I am not saying that they
cannot get sexually bored, on the contrary, I have a higher sexual drive than my
partner and so:: sometimes this is a problem. I still have to work on this [general
74 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
laughter] (Ian: a 27-year-old New Zealander, barman, in current ‘gay’ relation-
ship for six months; Q20).
In this extract Ian reinforces his choices of sexual lifestyle by comparing them to those
he perceives to be characteristic of heterosexual relations, a practice also commonly
taken up by heterosexual men. Gay participants, as Ian’s talk exemplifies, often pitied
heterosexual men who, they see, are ‘forced’ into visiting prostitutes to make up for a
customary mismatch between men’s and women’s sexualities. Both gay and straight
respondents singled out the male male couple as the most likely sexuo-erotic
arrangement to succeed in dealing with sexual boredom due to an ‘inherent gay drive’
to sexual openness (i.e. more experimentation, more fun, more likely to find sex per se
enjoyable) and a better chance to satisfy/match each other’s sexual drives. Both gay and
straight respondents were aware of this way of talking and attended to it in different
ways. Straight men, for example, frequently expressed their envy towards gay sexual
‘freedom/openness’ and often also used it to rationalize their view of gay men as
promiscuous. Some even rendered the ‘typical’ gay man as incapable of sustaining long
term love/affection driven relationships. In this paper we shall not offer a systematic
comparison between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ narratives, rather we focus on those aspects of
sexual boredom discourse that all participants share (such as their vulnerability to its
dilemmas and access to its dominant cultural meanings).
Sexual boredom as the result of discrepancies between the partners’ hard wired
sexual needs and desires is a common articulation. But there are, however, shades and
avenues for negotiating a less pessimistic view distinguishable in these participants’
stories. This is illustrated in the extract below and it will become even more apparent in
the next section of our analysis.
Extract 5
AT: So flirting makes you feel sexual?
Alex: I’d say yes. Maybe men are more easily sexually bored than women. And we
need more (.) err to be stimulated err or to reach our level of sexual satisfaction.
So what we do is:: (.) we can’t get that from one woman so we flirt or have affairs
or:: AT: And does this work?
Alex: How I look at it is this. If for instance my partner all of a sudden, tomorrow,
gave me the ideal:: err sexual relationship (.) i.e. everything that I wanted,
everything that I would like to do err that I need to feel fully:: satisfied say she was
to give me that tomorrow, would I not flirt? Would I not fancy other women?
Fantasise? I would truly:: say ‘No’. Because I am not bored (.) sexually bored via
her but what she does, she can increase the intensity [..] And:: my partner kind of
has the final advantage [he laughs] sexually, you know, cos’ I’d feel more manly,
more:: sexual, you know::, when I come home (Alex, 29-years-old, Black
Caribbean, office worker, in a current ‘straight’ relationship for four-and-a-half
years; Q12)
As illustrated by Extract 5, the issue over male sexual fulfilment emerges, again, in
terms of some uncontrollable drive that keeps men constantly desiring new sources of
75Men in love
sexual excitement; the kind that novel females can readily provide (by means of flirting
with them or by featuring in their fantasies). The underlying message is that ‘regular
guys’, that is healthy, virile men, do inevitably become sexually bored in long-term
romantic relationships. The implication here being that any fault on their part is
(logically) not possible. Their partners, in this case women, have to understand and be
prepared to accommodate this unavoidable aspect of male sexuality. This version
confers a strongly advantageous position on men, but, less overtly, it also gives a
somehow less fatalistic view of sexual boredom. This is accomplished by stating that
male sexual desire can potentially be gratified and, therefore, the intensity and
consequences of ‘natural’ sexual boredom can be decreased, if only temporarily.
Providing other, subjectively important, aspects of intimacy are meaningful and
satisfactory for both partners, the act of flirting or sexually desiring other people would
no longer be problematicized as a reflection of partner-induced sexual boredom. It
opens a route to reconciling ‘who is the boring entertainer’ in their own and their
partner’s sexual lives. But the prioritising of male-centred practices inherent in the
styles and expressions of sexuality that the speaker presupposes for each gender
privileges phallic-centred needs, and an unequal distribution of responsibility when it
comes to the management of sexual boredom. If their monogamous relationship is to
work, Alex explains, his partner has to recognize that in the end she can only benefit
from her partner’s extra-dyadic erotic pursuits. Alex’s account prescribes gendered pre-
occupations. As a heterosexual man, his is, for example, to cultivate his sexual
proficiency e.g. flirting makes him feel more ‘manly’ that is, more ready to tap into
and get right the sexual dexterity expected from a ‘real’ man. Hers, in the first instance,
is to understand him in this way. In the second instance, as it becomes apparent in the
extract below, she is encouraged to join in and, importantly, to endorse those activities
(choices of lifestyle) which further their collective sexual prowess in the name of
achieving ‘good sex’ together:
Extract 6
AT: So if you had to describe an ideal sexual scenario what would that be?
Alex: The ideal would be my partner initiating sex more often, be more
unpredictable in fact both of us should be more unpredictable and also more
experimentative. [. . .] Because the thing is that when we have sex I always have an
orgasm but my partner does not always seems to. And I wonder did she? Or why
can’t she always? Or maybe she wants oral sex. So I feel that (.) I think we are a-
bit-sort-of naı¨ve sexually. [. . .] And so I feel that maybe our sex life needs to be
spiced up especially sex toys, pornography and so on (.) apart from intercourse,
you know, there are other things that could make sex more interesting. We’ve
discussed the taboo thing [sex having gone stale and boring] and we both think
that we should experiment more. (Alex, Q5)
Alex appears uncertain and frustrated by his poor insight into why his partner does not
always experience an orgasm or does not do more (such as giving him instructions) to
ensure that she does. In dealing with the ‘taboo thing’ Alex turns to choices of sexual
technologies and encourages strategies of self-improvement for both of them. This he
76 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
does by retaining a complicit stance on the styles of sexual interaction prescribed by
conventional masculinity. The roles which he assumes as the man in this relationship (in
Extract 5 for example and in other places during the interview) are: (i) to initiate and to
actively control the sexual act (as described by ‘the male sexual drive’ discourse) (ii) to
perform sex skilfully; (iii) to treat it as gift and in return to try to give the woman an
orgasm (as described by the ‘pseudo-reciprocal gift’ discourse, Gilfoyle et al., 1992:
288).
All the participants present themselves as men who know and nurture their sexual
needs and potentialities. Vis-a`-vis sex in their current relationship they all express a wish
for greater frequency of sex, for more exciting sex through spontaneity, variety,
experimentation, and unpredictability, and express an emphatic disapproval of planned
sex. This is not an unusual story (of terms) and the literature on sex differences often
classifies it under the rubric of ‘what men desire from a sexual relationship’. In Hatfield
et al.’s (1988: 49) study of almost 300 participants, for example, men (more than
women) reported a desire that ‘their partners would be more rough, experimental, more
willing to engage in fast, impulsive sex, initiate more sex, [. . .] be more wild and sexy, be
more variable in where sex is had, give more instructions, and be more willing to do
what ‘I want’’.
These differences, the authors suggest, ‘may be explained by differential socialization
and/or different evolutionary pressures’ (p.39). We, instead, prefer to regard these as a
way of instantiating some of the structures of sexual discourse commonly engaged by
peoples’ interpretations and evaluations of their relationships. The culturally dominant
set of formulations that is relevant here is the ‘sex as a lifestyle’ discourse (Hawkes,
1996). This discourse is the source of many of our participants’ statements on ideal
sexual satisfaction and unfulfilled sexual desires, and locates their attitudes of dislike for
predictable, un-experimentative and under-whelming sexual encounters. The more
positive and emancipatory sexual morals instigated in the 1960s which allowed sex
outside the bounds of committed (religiously married) relationships and encouraged
open sexual expression in both men and women (the ‘permissive’ discourse, Hollway,
1989); have become an intricate part of the comodification of passion typical of the
contemporaneous sex-market milieu. By means of abundant illustrations, descriptions,
instructions and wide-ranging choices on how to achieve the ever-expanding peak of
sexual satisfaction, the normative linguistic practices of media advisors on sexual
relations, sexual scholars and sex therapists have contributed to transforming notions of
sexuo-erotic lust ‘from a taboo into a ‘‘must’’ ’ (Vandereycken 1987: 179). The ‘sex as a
lifestyle’ discourses construct sexual passion as a commodity, a leisure product which
consumers come to desire and to believe that they ought to access (Hawkes, 1996). One
outcome for modern sexual partnerships is that they are, as Gail Hawkes (1996: 121)
puts it, ‘caught in a pincer movement: on the one hand, a moral imperative to have sex,
since this is the central dynamic of a ‘‘relationship’’; on the other, if we ‘‘have it’’, then
we are honour bound to avoid sliding down into the abyss of boredom’. As a corollary,
people are persuaded to develop over-optimistic views about the forms, intensity and
duration of sexual desire (Everaed & Laan, 1995) and, as our analysis shows, over-
pessimistic views of sexual boredom. The resilience of this partnership becomes even
more transparent and dilemmatic when framed by modern ideologies of ‘democratic
77Men in love
intimacy’ (Giddens, 1992) that are at-hand and ‘have’ to be reckoned with by partners
in romantic arrangements.
True love and real couples: irregular guys get bored (liberal proficient positions)
In this final part of the analysis we look at what happens to sexual boredom when talk of
personalized masculine sexual needs combines with talk of romantic commitment. This
takes place against a background of sexual morality, which, as Jeffrey Weeks notes,
involves ‘living with uncertainty’. Contemporary sexual discourse is marked by
ideological tensions and contradictory messages as to what ‘truths’ we can or ought
to appropriate for choices of life style and individual ‘self-making’. Choice has
increasingly become ‘the ruling morality [. . .] [y]et how, and with what criteria, we
should choose is less clear’ (Weeks, 1995: 28). On the more negative side there is ‘a
sexual libertarianism that brooks no barrier to individual satisfaction, that makes
individual pleasure the sole yardstick of sexual ethics’ (Ibid., p.29). On the more positive
side there is the possibility of sexual autonomy, self-expression and democratized
personal lives that the attainment of the ‘pure relationship’ promises (Giddens, 2002).
In other words, we intend to illustrate the ways in which these participants produce
versions of sexual boredom that are able to accommodate and conjoin strands of talk
from the ‘individual/private’ context with notions of the ‘romantic ideal’ and ‘true love’.
Extract 7
AT: Does the duration into a relationship matter [vis-a`-vis sexual boredom]?
Dan: Err:: really depends on the couple, the relationship that you have. Where
you’ve got strong love and understanding, and openness in the relationship
then, really and truly, you should really be able to deal with it. Because once
you begin a relationship you’re (.) really exploring::, you’re finding out about
sex with each other, it’s new and exciting. I don’t know:: and err (.) because it
is human nature to explore and conquer and [you might think] ‘I’ve been there,
done that is like what’s left?’ or it’s like ‘what is next’?, ‘why is x not the same
once you done y?’ or ‘why am I no longer happy with [the sex that I’m
having]’ and these might really and truly be commencing boredom in your
relationship. But I’ve got over that. I’m realistic. I know that whatever I have
here and now it’s not the exactly same again, but is good (Dan; 23-years-old,
Black Caribbean, musician, in a current ‘straight’ relationship for four years;
Q8b)
Here Dan articulates an important issue which emerges from our analysis of these
interviews: peoples’ talk of sexual boredom rests on interpretations which probematize
any perceived modifications in the focus of (their or their partners’) sexual desire,
intensity of sexual excitement or physiological arousal that might occur in the course
of sexual encounters with the same partner. In this particular fragment of Dan’s
narrative, he explores and attempts to resist this problematization. Namely by
challenging a key assumption contained in discourses of sexual boredom that the
kind of sex characteristic of the early stages of a relationship is the very expression of
78 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
an all-consuming romantic love that we all strive for, such that any changes in its
frequency or concentration must be a reflection of weakened romantic love, loss of
sexual interest and/or sexual boredom. Dan does this in two ways. First by
naturalizing, hence normalizing, one’s tendency to be excited by what a new
relationship offers whilst at the same time calling for a ‘realistic’ perspective on it.
Secondly, he advises against dwelling on questions such as: what was sex like at the
start of the relationship? why is it no longer the same as the relationship progresses?
To do this risks inflicting boredom on one’s self. The realization of this strategy he
gives as both a sign of personal maturity and as something which is reliant on
partners enjoying ‘strong love and understanding [compromise] and openness [in
their repertoires for procuring non-boring sex]’.
Under this second main theme we present two interdependent procedures that
participants adopt for integrating their views about men’s greater propensity for
sexual boredom with their views of being men in love:
(i) Sexual boredom is construed as a natural progressive feature of all long-term
sexuo-romantic relationships;
(ii) Sexual boredom is construed as a reasonable trade off for ‘true love’ and long-
term companionship.
Both procedures rely on:
(i) Differentiating between ‘boring sex’ (a description of an isolated sexual act) and
boredom with ‘boring sex’ (a description of an over-arching feeling); a strategy
that allows participants to make sense of ‘living with sexual boredom’ in terms of
and by retaining coherent, enduring identities;
(ii) Developing the notion of ‘masculine liberal-sexual proficiency’; a strategy which
involves emphasizing democratic and partner-centred attitudes to romantic
relations when it comes to procuring/sustaining sexual satisfaction;
(iii) Declaring themselves as ‘ready’ for lasting commitment which entails a kind of
love that can ‘tolerate and forgive’ occasional boring sex in their lives.
So far, these men’s accounts, produced from the individual/private discursive context,
describe sexual boredom as a loss of something; a loss of enjoyable sex (e.g. ‘hot’, over-
whelming, spontaneous, sex), a decline in passionate sexual desire and/or a loss of
interest in sex with a particular partner. On the one hand, it is associated with a sense of
indifference to the prospect of having dull sex (or perhaps to having it anyway, for a
while). On the other it is associated with a sense of (sexual and personal) frustration and
an active search for introducing compensatory changes (e.g. en-skill-ing sex) within a
current relationship or looking for stimulation outside of it. When the interviewees
present themselves as men ‘in love’ they also assume the ways of thinking and being that
romantic discourses make available to them. One inherent component, normatively
assumed to define or authenticate ‘true love’, is an apparent ‘commitment to, and
willingness to make sacrifices for, the loved one’ (Averill, 1985: 99). Under these
discursive demands, the participants typically emphasize sexual boredom as something
79Men in love
to which all humans are prone, as something that can ‘inflict’ itself on either partner,
man or woman. This is because it is presented as a product of natural changes in long-
term relationships such as duration, familiarity, domestic trivia and mundane but
essential life events.
In order to add more genuineness to the claim that sexual boredom is a feature of all
long-term relationships as they progress, the speakers build it up as the result of a basic
human need for challenge, much in the way that some psychologists (e.g. Berlyne, 1967)
understood boredom, in general; namely as a drive state ‘provoking a search for diversity
and novelty’ (Smith, 1981: 333).
Extract 8
AT: What do you mean by sexual satisfaction?
Ian: I think a lot of it is coming from needing a challenge:: because boredom does
not happen up until you have been together for a while (.). Especially in the gay
community you see someone attractive err sexually and the challenge starts again.
Err so:: you have to think and you may want that challenge:: again. If you act on it
I reckon you are bored with sex with your partner.
Aneta: What would prevent you from acting on it?
Ian: Err being sexually satisfied, having err being challenged in your relationship
[...]. Because you are so tied up in each other’s lives that err like in all long term
relationships sex does become dull and:: you both need a challenge (Ian, Q5).
A chief advantage of assuming the discourse of ‘sexual boredom as an inevitable feature
of all long-term relationships’ is that an individual can explicate the event of sex having
gone stale or boring in his romantic relationship in terms of natural parameters and so
put aside, at least in principle, the nagging issue of blaming either partner as the ‘boring
entertainer’. But there is one critical tension which requires the participants’ attention.
On the one hand they proposed a version of sexual boredom as something inherent in
the nature of men’s sexuality (when talking from within the ‘individual/private’
conversational context). On the other hand there is the version produced here from the
‘coupled/in love’ conversational context, which claims it as something inherent to all
longer-term relationships and to which either partner, regardless of gender, can
succumb to.
The following two extracts illustrate a common strategy which, when adopted, allows
these participants to make sense of ‘living with sexual boredom’ whilst retaining a sense
of coherence and continuity across their ‘stories’:
Extract 9
AT: How do you feel about your current sexual relationship?
Ivan: What I feel about my relationship now is that it’s (.) rather than having
lots and lots of different relationships with different men, I’m having lots of
different relationships with one person. So err (.) I still find *** as sexually
arousing and attractive and:: desirable as I did when I first met him. But things
have changed; err we both know each other better err (.) [. . .] So:: where as
before when we’ve first met it would be all very touch and fiery, now:: is more
80 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
of the loving stuff but we still have passion and wild:: sex ever so often, when
we feel like doing that.
AT: Interesting:: different relationships with the same partner
Ivan: Yes, it’s different relationships within the same relationship; because I
mean:: we both admitted that we’ve fallen in-and-out of love with each other
countless time since we’ve been together. And so (.) I would probably say that
those are times when I find sex with him (.) not hard but:: maybe I don’t want it
as much or:: sex becomes a routine, boring one might say. But then something
happens:: and the spark comes back and so I fall in love with him again. (Ivan; a
36-years-old Caucasian, office (sexual health) worker, in current ‘gay’ relation-
ship for six-years; Q8)
It is differentiating between ‘boring sex’ (a description of an isolated act which does not
neutralize romantic love) and boredom with ‘boring sex’ (a description of an over-
arching feeling) that permits the co-existence of these two contradictory accounts. In
other words, it is the emotionally isolated sexual act that becomes dull and boring ‘in all
long-term relationships’ and to which ‘men are more sensitive’. Extracts 9 and 10 both
also exemplify many of the dominant features involved in the production of a less
fatalistic, but still pessimistic, view of sexual boredom one that reduces the speaker’s
vulnerability to the idea that good sex (and thus good sexual relationships) equals
persistent over-whelming spontaneous passion:
Extract 10
AT: So have you encountered situations in which you feel you were bored with
sex?
Ivan: No, not very often. Well not for a while anyway. I suppose because (.) I
mean in the past if I got bored I’d just move on. [. . .] And so:: if I get bored I
wonder whether I want to be stacked with that person, it wouldn’t just be sexual,
it’d be with everything about that relationship [. . .]
AT: You seem to mean different things by the terms boring and boredom
Ivan: Yes:: and that’s because boring sex would be short term, boredom would be
err like combining falling out of love and bad sex across the board. Boring I can be
tolerated in small doses at certain times but I think it only becomes boredom when
you’re finding everything about that relationship boring; it’s cumulative and
longer term. [. . .] I mean if I decided that I wanted to be with that person and the
relationship turned more satisfying as an emotional thing rather than a physical
thing then [. . .] I am willing to accept a little bit of that because I don’t want to
lose him, because I don’t want to move on (.) from him. (Ivan Q10)
First, the speaker differentiates between the words ‘boring’ and ‘boredom’
(i) Boring sex is used as an evaluative phrase referring to dull, routine and over-
rehearsed sexual acts. Although boring, it might perhaps be instrumental (e.g.
for obtaining orgasm, or for keeping inter-personal bonds) but culturally it is
identifiable as passionless sex;
81Men in love
(ii) Sexual boredom is used to refer to a feeling of having become bored with ‘boring
sex’; an emotion which is habitually taken to refer to an individual’s indifference
or demotivation towards a sexual partner or sexual relationship; something
which culturally may be identified as the ‘waning of sexual desire’ or the ‘four-
year-itch’ of domestically bound romantic partners.
Secondly, by doing so the speaker establishes a relationship between sexual boredom,
manifested as isolated instances of boring sex, and romantic love that enables him to
construct a viable discursive procedure of ‘sexual boredom as a reasonable trade off for
love’. In this context:
(i) Boring sex is seen as something that can be tolerated providing that its
occurrence is temporary and occasional;
(ii) Sexual boredom on the other hand, cannot be tolerated since it is conceived as
something that builds up and is longer lasting. It combines ‘falling out of love
and bad sex’ and threatens to destabilize all aspects of the relationship.
This version of sexual boredom as a dormant, but undoubtedly easily activated,
self-propagating event entails that as long as the partners in a relationship have a
kind of ‘communication’ which has the means to convince each of them of the
authenticity of their ‘genuine’ feelings of love in spite of unsatisfactory sexual
encounters with each other then ‘boring sex’ can be successfully handled. The
implication being that only ‘irregular’ partners (hence those who are not really in
love) come, to their peril, to foster any other interpretations. What is required,
therefore, is joint vigilance, sexuo-erotic creativity, and reciprocated ‘true love’ to
maintain interest in each other. These points are captured in the extract below.
About three quarters into the interview Greg explained that he would spend ‘every
effort to make sex better and not be in a sexually dull relationship’ but, at the same
time, he explained that he ‘wouldn’t work forever’. At this point Greg was asked:
Extract 11
AT: So is ‘dull’ the same as ‘boring’?
Greg: It’s not equivalent but I suppose:: after a lot of ‘dull’ sex happens, it could
be said to be boring.
AT: Is it important for a sexual relationship?
Greg: Is sexual boredom important for a sexual relationship? Oh yes! You gonna
have to live with it in the bad times no matter what you do or what you expect or
what you would like ‘cos you got to create a balance between your and the
other’s interests. [. . .] I think it’s a natural thing for males or females, for a
couple, for anyone. I think that in a long-term relationship it’s bound to happen.
[. . .] you gonna have to see to it (.) otherwise sex would just be:: boring and dull.
[. . .] People are not discussing it with each other enough [. . .]. Any relationship
has got to be worked on (.) and err:: people can experience boredom in their sex
life but I mean (.) it does not mean it’s the end of it. Lots of people (.) I mean
some people hold the idea that (.) love is very melodramatic and has nothing to
82 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
do with good sex and laugh at you if you appreciate it. I disagree with that.
(Greg, Q13)
Moreover, when we contrast the argument developed in this fragment from Greg’s
‘story’ to the one that was presented in Extract 1, we have an illustration of the fact that
our participants’ accounts, as with every day talk in general, are dilemmatic and contain
contradictions within the course of the same conversational occurrence. (Billig et al.,
1988).
In the extract below, for example, on the other hand, Harry rejects the notion that
sexual boredom, (as in ‘boring sex’) can or should even materialize as an issue in the
presence of ‘genuine’ love. Whilst agreeing that it is a common feature of all
relationships, he challenges the view that this makes it a natural event:
Extract 12
AT: Going back to the scale [contained in the questionnaire] (.) you disagree with
the statement ‘It’s only natural to grow tired of having sex with the same partner?
Harry: I’ve disagreed because I think it quite common but it isn’t natural (.) if you
know:: that you are in love with the other person you not gonna let the fact that
you know you’d wish to have better sex affect it. If you’re genuinely in love with
them you’ll not actually:: get bored of having sex with them, you know. If you love
the person no matter what they do sexually it’ll be exciting to you because is that
person doing it (Harry: a 25-years-old Caucasian, office manager, in current ‘gay’
relationship for six months; Q30).
Although Harry distinguishes ‘boring’ sexual acts from ‘boredom’ (by drawing a
distinction between wishing sex was better and ‘being bored’ with sex with one’s
partner) what seems to prevent him from arriving at a more flexible formulation of
sexual boredom are the kind of prescriptions that he attaches to the notion of ‘true love’.
In spite of ‘wishing for better sex’ and ‘knowing’ that current sexual stimulation and
satisfaction are in competition with one’s ideal, subjective needs, Harry expects partners
to resist (the ‘temptation’ of) entertaining views of their sex life that would render it as
non-exciting or boring. Earlier in the interview Harry explained that he has a lower ‘sex
drive’ than his partner and, ‘on occasions’, he prefers the kind of sex which ‘might be
described as dull and un-experimentative’. He also expressed his scepticism of the
possibility that lustful passionate sex could be sustained in longer term sexual relations
given the inevitable differences between peoples’ attitudes to and drives for sex. Harry
describes love as ‘the cement that holds a relationship together, ‘‘because no one can be
happy with their sexual partners all the time so there has to be tolerance and forgiveness;
if you actually think you love them you have to provide that’’ (Q13). Harry, it seems,
embraces over-pessimistic views of sexual boredom and idealistic, uncompromising,
views of ‘true love’ as a way of dealing with his uncertainty and nagging doubts about his
partner finding sex with him boring.
From within the ‘coupled/in love’ conversational context the phenomenon of sexual
boredom, thus, provokes a shift from emphasising the body as the ‘driving force’ behind
an individual coming to experience and handle ‘sexual boredom’, to the requirements of
83Men in love
‘cerebral’ appreciations of emotionality, companionship and ‘true’ love. This shift draws
on the premises of ‘the pure relationship’ and it does appear to involve a form of
intimacy that is less about ‘passionate love’ and more about ‘democratic love’. This form
of intimacy, Giddens (1992) proposed, relies on mutual self-disclosure, pleasuring and
equal appreciation of each other’s uniqueness. The emphasis on men’s sexual
proficiency (a ‘real’ man is good at sex) which prioritizes passion is maintained but
modified to involve a greater appreciation of the emotional aspects of sexual
relationships and more democratic attitudes towards both partners’ sexual and personal
needs, and towards sex that is not as ‘good’ as it ought to be.
Extract 13:
AT: In the questionnaire you have marked sexual differences as a common cause
of friction—can you elaborate on this?
Dan: Yeah. In my relationship I would:: spend a lot of time reassuring my
partner. I tell her that ‘I’m not gonna condemn you or judge you if you ought to
carry out a fantasy that you have’. I say ‘I want to give you freedom to express your
self. I’m supporting:: you, I’m not against you. This is what I want as well:: (.) she
can act upon her instincts [. . .] [since if] I give you something, really and truly I
would like to receive that back. And it’s like, if I don’t receive that (.) it’s like is like
come on:: [he laughs] you know what I mean? I know is not meant to be like that
[romantic love requires sacrifice] but I think us being humans:: it has to be
reciprocal (Dan Q4).
In the extract above Dan lays down conditions for male sexual proficiency. These
conditions relate to the expertize needed to prevent dull, mechanical sex and,
hence, procure and sustain ‘passion’ in his long-term relationship. At the same time
he also emphasizes his open-minded, permissive understanding of his (female)
partner’s sexuality. By doing so, he de-polarizes the two possible ways of being
masculine that are made available to a speaker from within either of the two
competing conversational contexts: the individual/private and the coupled/in love;
namely the sexually proficient and the liberally proficient subject positions,
respectively. This ‘merger’ opens up room for negotiation and here, in heterosexual
talk, it is proposed to accommodate women’s natural drive towards love and
emotionality in a climate of equal co-operation and mutual fulfilment. Within the
ideological conventions of the ‘pure relationship’ the ‘sexual boredom as a
reasonable trade off for love’ discourse, requires that the task of sustaining ‘hot’
sex is something that both partners are jointly responsible. By ‘pure relationships’
Giddens (1992: 58) means situations ‘where a social relation is entered into for its
own sake, for what can be derived by each person from a sustained association with
each another; and which is continued only in so far as it is thought by both parties
to deliver enough satisfaction for each individual to stay within it’. But, as is
noticeable in this second extract from Dan’s narrative, his sense of actualization and
self-expression as a successful sexual partner remains frustrated by his partner’s
apparent reluctance or unwillingness to capitalize on, that is receive and confirm,
his liberal-sexual proficiency. Yet ‘it is not a simple thing’ he tells us; and there is
84 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
nothing that he ‘can do about it anyway’. Frustrated? Yes. Yet he continues with the
negotiations required to ‘save’ this relationship:
Extract 14
AT: In the questionnaire you say that the quality remained unchanged but the
frequency of enjoyable sex has decreased?
Dan: I’ll say it’s because our life style has changed. We work late:: which does take
a lot of our time. So obviously sex has decreased, naturally. I’m saying decreased
understandably:: and not because love has gone or that our relationship is going
bad. It has decreased but I understand her she understands me. It is nothing I can
do about it anyway. If I didn’t understand enough I would say I’m out of here!
[AT: Why?]
Dan: Because:: it’s like you know, I’m ready [. . .] and we’re in a common
relationship and you don’t hate me and you got to listen to me too. But because I
understand her she has good reasons so. We have a relationship and I’m not
blind::, I’m not a pig (.) it is not a simple thing. (Dan, Q13).
Dan ‘understands’ that his current sex life is unsatisfactory and borders on being
‘boring’, but he also ‘recognizes’ that this is not due to relationship problems or
defective love. This should be a reasonable arrangement under the premises postulated
earlier, but it seems it is not. He dis-aligns himself from the acts that are expected from
‘a pig’ (which can be taken to imply a ‘macho’ man) and is persistent on what other, less
‘understanding’ men would do. A ‘macho man’ would forcefully express his
dissatisfaction and be tempted to leave an unfulfilling sexual scenario where sexual
satisfaction (calibrated by masculine needs) is repeatedly problematic.
Men clearly have access to more positive formulations for constructing, defining and
experiencing their sexuality (and so yielding more power in sexual relations) but ‘they
are also constrained’ by the meanings and lifestyles prescribed by the dominant
patriarchal hetero-sexuality (Holland et al., 1994: 27). In their analysis of young men’s
talk on masculinity Holland et al. (1998: 170), for example, show how ‘[t]heir strategies
for dealing with their potential vulnerability and struggles to be successfully masculine,
to emerge as young gladiators rather than wimps, involve them defining their sexuality in
terms of male needs, desires and satisfaction’. They also argue that whilst ‘enticed’ by
the ideal of hegemonic masculinity (e.g. strength, coolness, virility, sexual prowess) in
their daily lives (young) men often take issue with ‘the male-in-the-head’ and create
strategies for resisting its pervading cultural pressures. Wetherell & Edley’s (1999: 352)
examination of (adult) men’s negotiation of hegemonic masculinity similarly concluded
that for a sophisticated understanding of this aspect of men’s lives ‘we need to allow for
the possibility that complicity and resistance can be mixed together’. Such contentions
fit well with the discursive procedures that the participants we interviewed engaged in.
Contrary to the common belief that men’s and women’s sexuality is dichotomous and
that men are typically confined to a ‘body centred’ rather than a ‘person centred’
orientation to sex (Hatfield et al., 1988) the participants sense-making repertoires also
contain more conventionally feminine representations of sex and sexual relations.
Participants in our study do, for example, also celebrate the emotionality and the
85Men in love
communication/expression of affect and intimacy through sexual encounters, and
display ‘permissive’ discourses when negotiating sexual boredom in their and their
partners’ lives.
What is being realized, therefore, is a proposal for negotiating the dilemma of
experiencing ‘boring sex’ whilst being a partner in a loving relationship. But this is not
and should not be read as a neat and final resolution. Rather, what we have outlined
here is one of the possible ways of sense-making that is permitted by the culturally
available knowledge pertinent to sexual boredom. These participants collectively share
the versions of sexual boredom and the procedures for dealing with the tensions
between them that we have identified here, but there is also variation in the ways these
articulations are appropriated (e.g. Harry, Extract 12). Moreover, the unresolved
ideological tensions that these linguistic repertoires contain continue to spur further
scrutiny and discontents with ‘sexual boredom as a reasonable trade-off for ‘true love’
(e.g. Extract 14). One of the reasons for this is that monogamy a primary, long-term,
domestically bound sexual relationship remains as the chief ideological framework
for the very construction of the concept of sexual boredom. In summary there are two
central points we want to make here. The first is that discourses of sexual boredom
have become a viable linguistic resource in our culturally shared taken for granted
knowledge about long-term relationships. The second is that people do deploy them
when trying to make sense of romantic love, sex and the anxieties surrounding its
pleasures.
Conclusion
The tensions between individual men’s construal of their sexual drives, entitlements and
successfulness as a sexual partner, and their responsibilities as loving partners, is an area
that has so far remained obscured by the psychological literature that focuses on sexual
boredom as a personality trait (Watt & Ewing, 1996) or as something that is deeply
embedded in an evolutionarily specialized psychological mechanism of men’s sexuality
(Wilson, 1988; Symons, 1992). The aim of this paper was to address complexities in the
discursive strategies that the men we interviewed used to account for the presence or
absence of sexual boredom, and their attempts to reconcile the conflict between their
personal sexual needs and the requirements associated with long-term monogamy.
These participants’ talk of sexual boredom emerged from within two different but highly
intertwined conversational, and hence discursive, contexts, these being: the persona-
lized and ‘inherently structured’ context of male sexual needs, and the ‘coupled’ and
emotionally ‘attached’ context pertaining to liberal attitudes towards companionship
and ‘true love’. A claim of being in love prompts men to adapt their ‘natural’ sexual
proficiency so that it is both tolerant of and able to overcome the inevitable episodes of
boring sex by formulating repertoires of skill, vigilance and industriousness. It also
prompts them to reconfigure sex and passion so as to accommodate a more liberal,
caring and comfortable model of intimacy, by formulating repertoires relating to the
‘real couple’. The ‘modern man’ in long-term commitment is both sexually proficient
(inherently) and liberally proficient (through conscious decision). In summary our
analysis allows us to identify the following features of the sexual boredom discourse:
86 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
(i) Sexual boredom is something that men are likely to experience in long-term
sexually exclusive relationships: All ‘Regular guys get bored’ due to the nature of
their sexuality;
(ii) Sex becoming boring is a natural, inevitable, progressive characteristic of all
long-term relationships: ‘Irregular guys get bored’ since ‘boring sex’ turns to
‘sexual boredom’ only if one ‘lets it’. By endorsing liberal sexual proficiency
strategies partners can jointly manage the issue of sexual boredom;
(iii) Dealing with the threat of sexual boredom (boredom with boring sex), then,
becomes a reasonable trade off for ‘true love’ and long-term companionship.
Recognizing the role played by discourse in organizing and defining our private lives
does not force us into denying that all human actions are embodied and involve
physiological responses, or that thought and language need cognitive abilities, or that
emotionality requires appraisals and personal significance (e.g. Parkinson, 1996;
Edwards, 1997; Cromby & Nightingale, 1999; Willig, 1999; Gillies et al., in press), but
the point we want to hammer home is that ‘the dominant contribution to the way that
aspect of our lives unfolds comes from the social world, by way of its linguistic practices’
(Harre´, 1986: 5). Research has shown novelty, mystery and uncertainty alongside
physical and psychological distance, danger, conflict and hostility (e.g. Stoller, 1979;
Person, 1999) to instigate and facilitate sexual passion for both men and women (e.g.
Kernberg, 1988; Schwartz, 1994). But sexual interest and desire for sex with a partner
has been noted to decrease as familiarity and/or habituation (of sexual arousal) increased
(e.g. Lazarus, 1988; Schwartz, 1994; Plaud et al., 1997; Kaplan, 1995). Poverty of novel
stimulation through monotony, routine and familiarity or habituation does not,
however, necessarily lead an individual to appraise an occurrence as an experience of
boredom (e.g. O’Hanlon, 1981; Perkins & Hill, 1985; Dyer-Smith & Wesson, 1997).
That is, these do not produce the negative affects such as restlessness and frustration, or
the labelling of these as boredom, as long as the ongoing circumstance maintains its
purpose (e.g. having sex with a partner is not regarded as pointless) and meaningfulness
for the individual (Askins, 1980; Barbalet, 1999: 635). ‘Sexual boredom’, then, cannot
be seen as an emotional reaction to a boring event ‘suffered by a passive participant’
(Harre´, 1986: 5) as suggested by some psychologists, but is better seen as a discursive
practice used in the course of evaluating particular ‘bodily perturbations’ (Ibid.) and/or
psychological anxieties, or in managing changes in our (and other peoples’) actions;
such evaluations are ‘part of an on-going construction of meaning which is established
(if only temporarily) at the time of its reflective identification’ (Askins, 1980: 135).
Clearly, people either do or do not have a particular experience and researchers should
not ‘disregard experience as a source of knowledge’ (Ramazanoglu & Holland, 1999:
381). However, this cannot be treated as unmediated by the social parameters where it
unfolds (e.g. the event of an empirical inquiry) or detached from the social domain
where it was produced and differentiated.
The greater openness to sexual issues (e.g. access to sex education) set in motion
by the 1960s ‘sexual revolution’ is also linked to more liberal sexual morality and the
emergence and apparent ascendancy of the ‘pure relationship’ (Giddens, 1992). This,
Giddens argues, has opened the way for a range of choices for self-expression, many of
87Men in love
which were, until recently, openly problematized, such as women’s sexual autonomy
and same sex relationships. ‘We can envisage the development of an ethical framework
for a democratic personal order, which in sexual relationships and other personal
domains conforms to a model of confluent love’ (Giddens, 2002: 448). Other social
theorists do not share Giddens’ optimism and argue for a less straightforward outcome
for the ‘modern couple’; one marked by dissatisfactions, negotiations and compro-
mises (e.g. Duncombe & Marsden, 1995; Jensen-Campbell et al., 1995; Holland et al.,
1998; Jamieson, 1998, 2002). Whilst ‘the pure relationship’ is an attractive ideology,
and one to be aspired to, it is misguided to think that gender equality has been fully
achieved and that the constant work of realizing ‘democratic intimacy’ has come to
take precedence in peoples’ repertoires of relationship management (Jamieson, 2002)
It is also problematic to overlook the anxieties contained within sexual relationships;
anxieties (about, for example, desire for sex, performance and maintenance of
passionate ‘marriages’) that are still often gender specific. Our discourse analysis of the
interview-transcripts of these twelve men allows us to begin to highlight yet another of
what Giddens (2002: 448) refers to as, ‘sources of strain’ upon the realization of
democratized personal sexual lives and relationships: being in (true) love necessities
(men) living with (the threat of) sexual boredom. Partners in a ‘real couple’ (involving
men with ‘genuine’ feelings of love) can, our participants maintain, deal with having
their sexual needs un-satisfied if they are committed enough to be willing to
compromise and co-operate towards a mutually satisfying sexual relationship. Yet the
issue over how much men as partners ‘in love’ can tolerate and forgive ‘boring sex’ in
long-term romantic relationships is not as straightforward and remains dilemmatic.
Notes
[1] Watt and Ewing offer their SBS as ‘an individual difference measure of the tendency to experience
boredom with the sexual aspects of one’s life’ (1996: 57).
[2] Current work on the theory of discourse includes a number of distinct strands for approaching the
analysis of discourse with differing focal points for research (see e.g. Burr, 1995; Willig, 2001) but, as
Potter & Wetherell (1995: 81) point out these differences ‘should not be painted too sharply’ since
‘answering DA [discourse analysis] questions usually necessitates a combined focus on discursive
practices [what people do or accomplish with a particular manner of talking] and resources [what
kind of linguistic resources do people drawn on in the course of their talk]’ (see also Wetherell,
1998).
[3] Although boredom is a relatively new word (it first appeared in the English language in 1832) it
retained some of the negative connotations of its ancestry, an emotion called acedia that was
made problematic by early monastic doctrine. Documentation on its phenomenology, however,
closely matches those of ‘modern’ boredom (Harre´, 1983; Sorabji, 2000: 359). Acedia referred to
a spiritual sin primarily related to ‘slackness and indifference in spiritual exercise’ and was later
extended to explain ‘lay’ people’s emotional and motivational conduct (Peters, 1975: 499). It
became a highly disliked emotional event since people’s behaviour was expected to display
continual and constant concentration of their devotion to, in this case, God even under
physiologically/cognitive tedious situations (Lyman, 1986).
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Contributors
A
NETA D. TUNARIU, BSc hons
P
AULA REAVEY, PhD in Psychology
Appendix A
Transcription Convention. Adapted after Edwards & Potter (1992) and Wetherell & Edley (1999).
(.) = indicates a short pause (e.g. 0.5 5 seconds)
:: e.g. reca::ll = colons used to signal elongation
italics e.g. recall = text in italics shows added emphasis
:: & italics e.g. recall:: = indicates elongation & emphasis
[. . .] e.g. [. . .] = indicates text extracted during transcription due to poor
quality of recording
[text] e.g. [recall] = indicates information added by the author for the purpose of
clarity
Appendix B
The 18 items of the Sexual Boredom Scale (Watt & Ewing, 1999, p.60).
Sexual monotony factor
12. Sex frequently becomes an unexciting and predictable routine
15. Maintaining my sexual interest in a relationship is never difficult
10. Sex frequently becomes unexciting in a long-term relationship
13. I often get bored having sexual intercourse with the same partner
18. Sex with the same partner can become tiring over time
16. It would be very hard for me to find a relationship that is sexually exciting enough
11. It’s only natural to grow old of having sex with the same partner
1. I frequently find it difficult to sustain my sexual interest in a relationship
14. I get tired of having sex in the same ‘old ways’
Sexual stimulation factor
8. I would not stay in a relationship that was sexually dull
4. I would prefer a short-term sexual relationship to a longer one
3. I get very restless if I remain in the same sexual relationship for any length of time
2. I could never get enough sexual pleasure from just one relationship
17. I’m more interested in excitement and stimulation in a sexual relationship than security and
commitment
6. I sometimes doubt whether or not I could remain sexually faithful in a long-term (or monogamous)
relationship
93Men in love
5. It takes very little change and variety in a relationship to keep me sexually satisfied
7. I prefer sexual relationships that are exciting and unpredictable
9. I usually feel constraint and frustrated in a long-term sexual relationship
Note: When in test format ‘responses are made on a Likert-type scale ranging from (1) Highly disagree to (7)
Highly agree. Higher scores indicate greater sexual boredom’ (p.59). Items 5 and 15 are reversed scores.
94 Aneta D. Tunariu & Paula Reavey
... The current body of knowledge indicates that those in long-term monogamous relationships could be especially affected by low sexual desire and might present with varying degrees of sexual boredom. [1][2][3] Therefore, this study intended to distinguish groups of men and women in long-term romantic relationships concerning their levels of sexual boredom and several dimensions of sexual desire. ...
... 21,22 Sexual boredom, however, is believed to affect more men than women according to at least 2 studies. 16,23 This is in line with evolutionary perspectives arguing that (1) sexual boredom in men would be adaptive to restore mating behavior with a novel female once sexual satiation was achieved with a previous female 24 and (2) men are more oriented to short-term mating. 25,26 Managing sexual boredom in relationships might include the exploration of sexual novelty, but failure in doing so can lead to the progressive waning of sexual desire. ...
... 3,37 Likewise, sexual boredom is associated with relationship issues, partner behaviors and attitudes (eg, partner's selfishness or lack of empathy), and sexual monogamy in long-term relationships. 2,17,23 Considering that previous research indicates that individuals in long-term, monogamous, and cohabiting relationships could be a group particularly affected by sexual boredom and low sexual desire, the current study aimed to identify different combinations (latent profiles) of sexual boredom and sexual desire among men and women in long-term cohabiting relationships. In addition, it was intended to test how sociodemographic variables as well as sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction correlated with these profiles. ...
Article
Background Research suggests a general link between sexual boredom and sexual desire, but its understanding is currently very limited. Aim To identify distinct (latent) groups of women and men in long-term relationships based on their reported levels of sexual boredom and sexual desire. Methods Latent profile analysis (LPA) was conducted in an online sample of 1223 Portuguese participants aged 18 and 66 years (mean ± SD, 32.75 ± 6.11), using indicators of sexual boredom and partner-related, attractive other–related, and solitary sexual desire to categorize participants. Multinomial logistic regression analysis was carried out to explore predictors and correlates of the latent profiles. Outcomes Sexual boredom was assessed by the Sexual Boredom Scale, while sexual desire was measured with the Sexual Desire Inventory. Results As compared with women, men reported higher levels of sexual boredom and sexual desire. LPA indicated 3 profiles in women and 2 profiles in men. Among women, P1 was characterized by above-average sexual boredom, below-average partner- and attractive other–related sexual desire, and very low solitary sexual desire; P2 by below-average sexual boredom, attractive other–related sexual desire, and solitary sexual desire and above-average partner-related sexual desire; and P3 by above-average sexual boredom, attractive other–related sexual desire, and solitary sexual desire and below-average partner-related sexual desire. In men, P1 was characterized by high sexual boredom, above-average partner-related sexual desire, and high attractive other–related and solitary sexual desire and P2 by below-average sexual boredom and above-average partner-related, attractive other–related, and solitary sexual desire. The latent profiles did not differ according to relationship duration. Overall, the sole consistent correlate of the latent categorization was sexual satisfaction. Clinical Implications In women, above-average levels of sexual boredom were linked to below-average levels of partner-related desire, which suggests likely benefits of helping the couple to minimize or cope better with their sexual routines. In men, participants in the 2 profiles did not differ in partner-related sexual desire, suggesting that clinical interventions dealing with male sexual boredom should investigate factors beyond the current relationship. Strengths and Limitations This study explored different facets of sexual desire and used LPA, rendering advantages over previous research. The male sample has lower statistical power than the female sample. Conclusion Patterns of sexual boredom and sexual desire among individuals in long-term monogamous relationships are distinct and consistently related to sexual satisfaction in women and men and to relationship satisfaction among only women, which have important clinical ramifications.
... 26 Sexual boredom was defined as the tendency to feel bored with the sexual aspects of life, 26 and later as boredom with boring sex, that is, dull, routine and over-rehearsed sex. 27 Although no other definitions seem to be readily available in empirical literature, this does not exclude other authors and therapists from exploring the subject of sexual boredom. ...
... Later, in a qualitative study with 12 men, sexual boredom was defined as boredom with boring sex, as in dull, routine and over-rehearsed sex. 27 In these men's views, sexual boredom seemed to be an emotion characterized by indifference or demotivation towards a sexual partner or sexual relationship that will inevitably take place in long-term sexually exclusive relationships if couples do not manage it proficiently. In a second study by the same authors with thematic analysis, men and women in long-term relationships identified "ways of knowing sexual boredom" in a relationship (ie, "sex is no longer pleasing", "sexual disinterest", "no enthusiasm for sex", and "strong extradyadic focus") and "factors leading to the onset of sexual boredom" (ie, "poor sexual skills", "poor style of communication", "negative views of partner", "over familiarity", "low eroticism and romanticism", and "complacency"). ...
... 26 In a qualitative exploration of 12 men's understanding of sexual boredom, all participants considered boring sex as an inevitable feature of all sexually exclusive relationships, and sexual boredom as a trade-off for long-term companionship and "true love". 27 The following study from the authors revealed that changes in sex quality, sexual interest, and romanticism with current partner were viewed by women and men participants as signs of sexual boredom. 72 A study found sexual boredom in long-term relationships was accompanied by a desire for sexual novelty, and simultaneously by the apparent inability or unwillingness to engage in novel sexual behavior. ...
Article
Background Empirical data on sexual boredom are scarce and unsystematized, contrasting with the literature on general boredom. Aim The aim of this review of literature is to verify how sexual boredom is defined in previous research and which relationships were found with sexual functioning, relationship dynamics, or gender. Methods A systematic search was conducted in EBSCO, Scopus, Web of Science, and PubMed databases for papers published until August 2020. Search terms used were “sexual boredom” or “sexual tedium” or “sexual indifference” or “sexual monotony” or a combination of “boredom” and “sexual activity” or “intercourse”. This systematic review followed PRISMA guidelines. Outcomes Articles were grouped in general boredom and sexuality research and in sexual boredom research. Results This review consists of 43 articles, of which 31 are quantitative studies, 8 are qualitative studies, and 4 are mixed-method studies. Studies concerning general boredom and sexuality include research on diverse aspects of sexual behavior, namely solitary sexual behavior, extra-dyadic sex, compulsive sexual behavior, and risky sexual behavior. Sexual boredom research included papers regarding personality, sexual response, and varied aspects of sexual behavior. Clinical Implications Findings suggest sexual boredom is related with sexual response, sexual satisfaction, and hypersexuality, which renders clinical relevance. Sexual boredom impacts well-being, and further research should focus on exploring potential mechanisms underpinning this sexual problem. Strengths and limitations To the authors' knowledge, this is the only existing systematic review of sexual boredom and allowed identifying key features of sexual boredom and related aspects. However, because most studies are correlational, and several do not use comprehensive measures of sexual boredom, no causal relationships were identified. Conclusion This review indicates the construct of sexual boredom includes individual, relationship, and societal aspects. However, no definition of sexual boredom includes these, and current knowledge does not allow formulating a model or a theory of sexual boredom. de Oliveira L, Carvalho J, Nobre P. A Systematic Review on Sexual Boredom. J Sex Med 2020;XX:XXX–XXX.
... Following the creation of SBS (Watt & Ewing, 1996), Reavey (2003, 2007) took the lead on the study of sexual boredom, but with a qualitative emphasis. In their 12 interviews of men's understanding of sexual boredom in long-term romantic relationships, sexual boredom was seen as boredom with boring sex [dull, routine and over-rehearsed] or, in these authors' words, the waning of sexual desire (Tunariu & Reavey, 2003). Boring sex was portrayed as something inevitable of long-term sexually exclusive relationships, but potentially managed if couples endorsed sex positive strategies to counter act it. ...
... Leary et al., 1986;Perkins & Hill, 1985). As for sexual boredom, the persistent emotion characterized by progressive indifference toward a sexual partner, was not tolerable (Tunariu & Reavey, 2003). The same authors, in a later study with mixed methods, requested 66 men and 144 women in long-term relationships to complete the SBS (Watt & Ewing, 1996), and to comment on items, providing more elaborated views on sexual boredom (Tunariu & Reavey, 2007). ...
Article
This study explored the definitions of sexual boredom in a large community sample of Portuguese individuals. A thematic analysis of written responses to the question “What is sexual boredom for you?” was conducted with 653 participants aged 18 to 75 (M = 33.14; SD = 9.01) of multiple genders, sexual orientations, and relationship types. Three main themes were identified: definitions of sexual boredom, predisposing and maintenance factors of sexual boredom, and managing of sexual boredom. Sexual monotony, sexual desire, and hedonic value stand out as defining features of sexual boredom. Findings suggest the need of a multidimensional measure of sexual boredom.
... According to the international research of the International Social Survey Programme (Haller et al., 2013;ISSP Research Group, 2009) people admitted to feeling bored when at leisure (very often/often/sometimes) in all 36 countries included in the study (the average amounted to 36%). Boredom is also a significant experience in long-term relationships (Harasymchuk and Fehr, 2010 and sexual life (Tunariu and Reavey, 2003). Even religious life seems to induce boredom in many followers (Raposa, 1985), especially those of 'traditional' religions, and the growth of "theatrical evangelism" (Klapp, 1986, p. 18) is a symptom of religious boredom. ...
Article
Full-text available
This article aims at providing concise but thorough presentation of the state of art in the emerging field of boredom studies evidencing the significance of boredom. The premise of the significance of boredom is to be expounded by documenting its widespread, social consequences, functions and positive outcomes. Boredom has been found prevalent irrespectively of age, gender, culture or social class. It affects all main spheres of human life-work, leisure, education, romantic relationships, and even religious life. It has also been evidenced that boredom has many significant consequences. It has been associated with, among others, risk-taking behaviours, overeating, impulse shopping, or (self-)destructive and violent behaviours. Yet, boredom may serve numerous significant functions as well. As an emotion, it is important for cognition, motivation and communication and has had evolutionary meaning for human beings. In society nowadays, it serves as a defensive mechanism against overload of stimuli, but somehow to the contrary is also found to be a basic mechanism animating current consumerism. Boredom is also conceived to be a catalyst for reflection, self-cognition, creativity, and as a consequence a rudimentary element of culture production and its advances.
... Sexual boredom is a dimension of boredom and is defined as a tendency to experience boredom with sexual aspects of life 30 or boredom with boring sex [dull, mechanical, over-rehearsed sex]. 31 Aim Boredom is one of the dysphoric mood states. Kafka 1 suggested it could lead to hypersexual behavior. ...
Article
Background Some conceptualizations of hypersexuality posit boredom as a possible trigger of hypersexual behavior. Aim This work aims to review published articles addressing the link between boredom and hypersexuality to investigate if this relationship can yet be established based on current empirical data. Methods This systematic review followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. Studies, published until September 2019, were retrieved from EBSCO, Scopus, Web of Science, and PubMed. A systematic search was conducted using an exhaustive list of key terms combining “boredom” with “hypersexuality,” “sexual impulsivity,” “sexual compulsivity,” and “sexual addiction.” Only articles presenting empirical results concerning the relationship between boredom and hypersexuality were considered. Results From the initial poll of 76 articles, only 19 articles were included in our final selection. Of the total studies, 16 were quantitative studies and 3 were qualitative studies. 4 studies were validation studies of hypersexuality-related measures, 11 studies concerned online sexual activity, and 3 reported sexual boredom. 7 studies with men used non-heterosexual samples. 5 studies used samples with both women and men, and 1 study used a sample of women only. Most studies indicate a positive association between boredom and hypersexuality, although 4 did not. Implications Further studies with diversified samples are still indispensable, as female samples are not portrayed and research is much focused on online sexual activity. Future research should explore the relationship between boredom and hypersexuality within specific behavioral specifiers including masturbation, pornography use, sexual behavior with consenting adults, cybersex, telephone sex, and strip clubs. Strengths and limitations To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first review looking at the possible link between boredom and hypersexuality. Investigation on the topic is scarce, and several of the studies included in this review correspond to anecdotal evidences of the phenomenon, as only few studies used appropriate measures of boredom. Conclusion Although current literature identifies a link between boredom and hypersexuality, further substantive research is still much needed to clarify the associations between the 2 constructs. de Oliveira L, Carvalho J. The Link Between Boredom and Hypersexuality: A Systematic Review. J Sex Med 2020;XX:XXX–XXX.
... Further methodological developments in investigating effects of SEM use include a focus on possible moderating variables . More generally, in research on couples' relationship satisfaction a number of moderating variables have been identified, including age (King & Scott, 2005;Umberson, Williams, Powers, Chen, & Campbell, 2005); education (Karney & Bradbury, 1995); religiosity (Goddard, Marshall, Olson, & Dennis, 2012); parenthood (Adamsons, 2013;Doss, Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009;Koepke, Hare, & Moran, 1992); relationship status, i.e. whether couples are cohabiting, married or living separately (Karney & Bradbury, 1995;Tam, Lee, Har, & Chua, 2011;Willoughby, Carroll, & Busby, 2011); relationship duration (Heiman et al., 2011;Karney & Bradbury, 1995); sexual satisfaction (Byers, 2005;del Mar S anchez-Fuentes & Sierra, 2015;Henderson, Lehavot, & Simoni, 2009); sexual boredom (Tunariu & Reavey, 2003, 2007; sexual orientation (Kurdek, 2008;Mohr & Fassinger, 2006); sexual desire (Mark & Murray, 2012); and emotional intimacy (Sanderson & Cantor, 2001;Yoo, Bartle-Haring, Day, & Gangamma, 2013). ...
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Using a cross-sectional questionnaire design and a sample of 2284 coupled Croatian adults, this study investigated the association between Sexually Explicit Media (SEM) use and relationship satisfaction. Further, possible moderation of emotional intimacy on the relationship between SEM use and relationship satisfaction was investigated. Controlling for sociodemographic, psychosexual and relationship variables, no significant association between SEM use and relationship satisfaction was found. However, among men, a moderating effect of emotional intimacy was found. Thus, higher SEM use was found to be significantly associated with lower relationship satisfaction only among men who reported lower levels of emotional intimacy with their partner.
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