Performing (heterosexual) femininity: female agency and role in sexual life and contraceptive use – a qualitative study in Australia Academic Article uri icon


  • Women's liberation and the sexual revolution have changed the social landscape for heterosexual women in the West over the past 50 years, but exploration of women's lived experiences of contraceptive use in the context of their sexual lives is comparatively recent. We conducted 94 in-depth open-ended interviews with women of reproductive age (16-49 years) living in New South Wales, Australia. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using an inductive thematic approach. Four major themes are explored here: (1) what women do and do not do: unspoken gendered assumptions; (2) focus on partner's pleasure; (3) juggling responsibilities: sex as a chore; and (4) women's sexual motivations. Findings suggest sexual double standards and gender expectations continue to pervade women's sexual and contraceptive practices. We found that women performed their femininity by focusing on enabling their male partner's pleasure, while simultaneously ignoring their own sexual desires, wishes or interests. Accompanying new-found freedoms are new-found responsibilities, as women now add managing modern contraceptives and a good sex life to their list of tasks alongside paid employment, domestic labour and childrearing. Our research findings suggest that women may derive different pleasures from sex, including what we term 'connection pleasure'.


  • Kelly, Marguerite
  • Inoue, Kumiyo
  • Barratt, Alexandra
  • Bateson, Deborah
  • Rutherford, Alison
  • Richters, Juliet

publication date

  • 2017