A critical approach to the concept of reciprocity in heterosexual sex: from subjective meanings to personal experiences
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This thesis analyses the meanings and experiences of reciprocity in heterosexual sexual encounters. Reciprocity, synonymous with mutuality and ‘giving and taking’, is a moral norm that traditionally refers to a concept of balance and equity, assuming the gratification of every party involved. However, as the theoretical framework I developed in the first chapter shows, reciprocity is often an ambiguous concept: far from guaranteeing the effective equality of the relationship, it entails pressures and status of obligation. Assuming that in heterosexual sex reciprocity can involve different types of giving and taking, I explore how this is imagined on a personal level. For this purpose, as I explain in the second chapter, I established ethnography as the method of my research. In particular, this thesis is based on six interviews to six young women. In the third chapter I present the three main discourses that emerged: reciprocity as an exchange of orgasms, reciprocity as an exchange of sexual practices and reciprocity as an exchange of attention and care. Focusing on how these discourses are performed during heterosexual sex, I discuss the limits of reciprocity by considering it in terms of an exchange of orgasm and sexual practices, legitimising expectations and status of obligation – and generating pressures that can lead to coercion. Instead, reciprocity become meaningful if understood as the attention of each partner to the other, with the decisive role of communication in ensuring an equitable, enjoyable and respectful encounter. In the fourth chapter, I explore how such communication is experienced in sex, identifying problems and resistance in expressing one's own sexual desires and boundaries related to heterosexual scripts and mainstream discourses on heterosexual sex. Finally, I discuss the importance of a sexual education which promotes dialogue in sex and which breaks the taboo and stigmatisation of sexual pleasure – especially women’s.