Who are you sleeping with? The construction of heteronormativity in stories about sleep in British newspapers

Pam K. Lowe, Sharon Boden, Simon J. Williams, Clive Seale, Deborah L. Steinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In popular British understanding the terms 'sleeping' or 'slept' are often used to mean sex, and (hetero)sex is seen as crucial to sustaining intimate relationships. This study of UK newspapers coverage shows that stories about sieep and sleeping arrangements can be seen to (re)produce heteronormativity through focusing on the (heterosexual) 'marital bed'. The 'marital bed' is constructed as both the physical and symbolic centre of successful heterosexual relationships. Moreover, the maintenance of this symbolic space is gendered with women given primary responsibility. The focus on the 'marital bed' helps to exclude non-heterosexuals from the idea of intimate relationships, by effectively silencing their experiences of sleep and sleeping arrangements. Normative ideas about male and female (hetero)sexualities are drawn on to undermine women's right to refuse sex within the martial bed. In addition, the term 'sleep-sex' is used to reconceptualise stories of rape, minimising the victim's experiences and absolve the perpetrator from full responsibility for the assault. By exploring these articles we can see both how the representation of the organisation of sleep is produced through heteronormativity, as well as how heteronormativity determines whose accounts of sleeping are prioritised. © Sociological Research Online.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-268
Number of pages18
JournalSociological research online
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2007


  • sex
  • UK newspapers
  • heterosex
  • heterosexual relationship
  • bed
  • symbolic space
  • non-heterosexuals
  • intimate relationships
  • rape


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