CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

Sociology’s interest in emotions dates back to the earliest days of the discipline (Cuin 2001; Roux 2016). However, since the 1980s, how individuals express emotions has been considered from a more personal perspective, with a greater focus on the relationship between emotions and gender in particular. Arlie Hochschild, known for her theorization of “emotional labor” (1983), helped pioneer this interest in emotions and how they affect intimacy. Her concept is defined as the way individuals work on their emotions to ensure they correspond to those expected from them in a particular social situation. Hochschild’s work, like that of most of the male and female researchers who came after her, focused on how a capitalist system (especially in a climate of economic tertiarization) implies, and therefore expects, such emotional labor from employees—particularly women. Her work paved the way for later study (Wharton 2011). In France, the notion of “emotional labor” has been used primarily since the end of the 2000s to further knowledge of professions as diverse as receptionists (Schütz 2018), police officers (Mainsant 2021), telemedicine assistants (Mathieu-Fritz 2021), undertakers (Bernard 2008), and hairdressers (Desprat 2015).
However, little research has been conducted into how emotions are mobilized, organized, and shaped in a private context, and even less consideration has been given to intimate settings such as “ordinary,” “commonplace” sexual activity. These terms should not be seen as pejorative, suggesting a lack of originality…


The social norm of women making themselves desirable has been widely documented. This article, based on seventy-one interviews with men and women between the ages of twenty and eighty-four on the subjects of contraception and sexuality, shows that the work done primarily by women on and for sexuality goes further than working on one’s body. Using contraception as a starting point and focusing on both feminine and masculine variations of sexual desire (inside or outside the marital or couple framework), it shows that maintaining a representation of the sex act as “spontaneous” requires working on sexuality, work that may sometimes be done by men but is mainly done by women. On the one hand, women perform material labor by working “behind the scenes” in the lead up to sex to ensure that it can occur at any moment (work on physical appearance, timely use of contraception, preparation of “romantic” moments, etc.). On the other hand, women work on their emotions, both “on the surface” and “below the surface,” to ensure their own sexual desire at the right moment and in response to their partner’s. This article contributes to descriptions of a gender order bolstered and naturalized by heterosexual sexuality.


  • Sexuality
  • Gender
  • Scripts
  • Desire
  • Spontancy
Cécile Thomé
IRIS – EHESS-CNRS-Inserm-Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, Campus Condorcet Bâtiment Recherche Sud 5, cours des Humanités 93322 Aubervilliers cedex Institut national d’études démographiques (INED) (French Institute for Demographic Studies) Inserm-Université Paris-Saclay-UVSQ Sexual and reproductive health and rights 9, cours des Humanités CS 50004 93322 Aubervilliers Cedex
You still have to read 97% of this article
Purchase full-text 5,00€ 27 pages, electronic only
(html and pdf)
add_shopping_cart Add to cart
Other option
Member of a subscribed institution ? business Authenticate
Uploaded on on 18/07/2023
Distribution électronique pour Presses de Sciences Po © Presses de Sciences Po. Tous droits réservés pour tous pays. Il est interdit, sauf accord préalable et écrit de l’éditeur, de reproduire (notamment par photocopie) partiellement ou totalement le présent article, de le stocker dans une banque de données ou de le communiquer au public sous quelque forme et de quelque manière que ce soit.
Loading... Please wait