There seems to be a great deal of interest in the sex lives of ‘older’ (interpret as aged 40 years and above) women in the press at the moment. So, I thought it was an apt time to introduce some of the findings from a study that I published with a colleague in 2008.
We interviewed 19 women aged 50 and older from Yorkshire, England. We were interested in the importance they did (or did not) place on sexual activity. We were also keen to find out whether or not the negative cultural representations of aging and sexuality (e.g. menopause as a time when women lose interest in sex; later life a time when sexual activity no longer assumes importance) influenced their views and sexual behaviours.
We found that the women rejected the stereotype of an asexual older age but accepted it for women older than themselves. They constructed women as sexually complex, in comparison to men, because intimacy was seen to be more important to women and the risks of intercourse (e.g. unplanned pregnancy) much higher. Sexual desire was also viewed as being, occasionally, triggered by hormones.
There was great diversity regarding the women’s sexuality; each woman brought with her a unique background that influenced her sexual feelings and behaviours. Religious beliefs, parental attitudes towards sex, their own sexual and relationship history, and the availability of a sexual partner meant that the importance of sex had been changeable throughout their lives. At the time of interview, all the women believed that sexual activity had psychological benefits for couples within committed relationships.
Exploring women’s own perspectives is important as it can help to challenge the negative associations of aging, femininity and sexuality.
Challenging social myths and stereotypes of women and aging: Heterosexual women talk about sex