Embodied sexualities: Exploring accounts of Irish women's sexual knowledge and sexual experiences, 1920-1970

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Leane, Máire
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Orpen Press
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This chapter explores the ways in which sexuality has been understood, embodied and negotiated by a cohort of Irish women through their lives. It is based on qualitative data generated as part of an oral history project on Irish women’s experiences of sexuality and reproduction during the period 1920–1970.1 The interviews, which were conducted with 21 Irish women born between 1914 and 1955, illustrate that social and cultural discourses of sexuality as secretive, dangerous, dutiful and sinful were central to these women’s interpretative repertoires around sexuality and gender. However, the data also contains accounts of behaviours, experiences and feelings that challenged or resisted prevailing scripts of sexuality and gender. Drawing on feminist conceptualisations of sexuality and embodiment (Holland et al., 1994; Jackson and Scott, 2010), this chapter demonstrates that the women’s sexual subjectivities were forged in the tensions that existed between normative sexual scripts and their embodied experiences of sexual desires and sexual and reproductive practices. While recollections of sexual desire and pleasure did feature in the accounts of some of the women, it was the difficulties experienced around sexuality and reproduction that were spoken about in greatest detail. What emerges clearly from the data is the confusion, anxiety and pain occasioned by the negotiation of external demands and internal desires and the contested, unstable nature of both cultural power and female resistance.
Sexuality , Irish women , Narrative , Embodiment
Leane, M. (2014) 'Embodied sexualities: Exploring accounts of Irish women's sexual knowledge and sexual experiences, 1920-1970', In: Leane, M. and Kiely, E. (eds.) Sexualities and Irish society: A reader. Dublin: Orpen. http://www.orpenpress.com/sexualities-and-irish-society-a-reader.html