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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Older age is often associated with asexuality. That is, older individuals are not viewed as desiring of sex, nor as sexually desirable to others. Broader social and cultural norms that downplay women's sexual desire and agency further compound these phenomena. Whether this popular image accurately reflects older women's sexual desires, behaviour and capacity to experience pleasure is unclear. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with 43 partnered Australian women aged 55—81, this article considers women's sexual experiences and desires in older age.

The findings of our research confirm that older women's experiences of sex and sexual desire are diverse and fluid. The factors affecting sexual behaviour and desire also influence the way in which women are able to negotiate sexual interaction with their partners. Participants expressed a need for education and resources in order to gain greater control and to make autonomous choices over their sexual experiences, desire and ability to give and receive pleasure. The implications of these findings for practitioners are also considered.

Older women's embodied experiences of sexuality are considerably under-explored in existing research. This can be attributed, in part, to the association between ageing and asexuality. In Western cultures, older individuals are often seen as sexually undesirable or as not desiring sexual activity Dixon, ; Drummond et al. A considerable body of research has discredited this popular assumption. Indeed, a more notable finding emerging from recent qualitative studies is the heterogeneity of older women's sexual lives Hinchliff et al.

Traditional gender roles, and social and cultural views of later life sexuality, can also shape sexual activity and desire in older age DeLamater, ; Drummond et al.

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A question arises as to how older individuals negotiate their sexual subjectivity within this competing binary framework. There is a considerable dearth of research on later life sexuality that is informed by the voices of older people themselves, and in particular by those of older women. Because women's sexual behaviour is most frequently subject to a range of formal and informal social controls, the shift in sexual mores observed at this time has had an arguably greater impact on the sexual subjectivities of women.

Decades on from this period of rapid social, cultural and sexual change, it is important to ask how women from this cohort are experiencing their sexual selves as they age. Drawing on the findings of a qualitative research project, this article explores the position of older Australian women in relation to their experiences and negotiation of sex, sexuality and desire in their relationships.

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Sandberg a provides an alternative framework for thinking about later life sexuality that has informed this paper. Sandberg's work provides an appropriate framework for discussing older women's sexual experiences and subjectivity that can for the diversity of women's experiences, whilst avoiding the re creation of sexual hierarchies and norms. Interview data from 43 partnered women aged 55—81 mean Participants were primarily recruited from three locations in Australia: Melbourne and regional Victoria; the mid-north coast region of New South Wales and the New England tablelands region of New South Wales.

A similar of participants were recruited from each region. Smaller s of participants were also recruited from Brisbane and Sydney. Recruitment efforts involved a combination of snowballing and advertisements. ificant interest in the project was generated on a major Australian radio programme.

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All interviews were audio recorded with the participant's consent. The recordings were transcribed by an external service. Quality checks and data cleaning of the transcripts were carried out by the first two authors. This sample includes women who are married, in long-term de facto relationships, and in newly formed romantic partnerships see Table 1.

One participant referred to in this paper was in a same-sex relationship, but identified as bisexual, while all other women were in heterosexual partnerships. The women participated in semi-structured, in-depth interviews that explored their body image and sexual subjectivity as they aged.

Qualitative, in-depth interviews were used to capture the voices of women that spoke directly about their sexual experiences, and to ensure that the researchers did not restrict the dialogue to preconceived notions about sexualities. The interviews varied in length, depending upon the particular experiences of each woman; however, the majority ran for between one and two hours. The women were interviewed in their homes or in public locations of their choice. Pseudonyms referred to in this paper were chosen by the participants or ased by researchers.

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Data coding and analysis was completed by the first and second authors. The first author was responsible for the coding and analysis of the New South Wales, Sydney and Brisbane data, while the second author was responsible for the Victorian data.

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Each researcher coded the data independently. An initial reading of the transcripts was undertaken to identify the key themes emerging from the data: that is, an inductive coding approach was taken. A series of codes and sub-codes were deed on the basis of the more prominent themes, and additional codes were developed throughout this process as further themes were identified through a closer reading of the transcripts. The researchers then compared codes to ensure consistency and agreement on the ificant emerging themes. Interview data was initially coded by hand, and then again in NVivo, with this approach lending itself to a thorough reading and analysis of the data.

A particularly striking finding was the diversity of sexual experience and desire amongst this group of women. Participants ranged from having ceased sexual activity completely to still engaging in regular sexual activity of various forms. The following comments from participants illustrate the range of sexual activity that the women currently engaged in, and the importance of sexual satisfaction to them:. Do you have cuddles [hugging]? Oh yeah. Cuddle, sit on the lounge and hold hands and all that stuff. Jessica, age Really important. With my partner it's very good, very satisfying. But yeah, it's really important and it's a lot of fun achieving it too.

Rolly, age Many participants remained intimate in the absence of penetrative sex; however, this interaction was not always overtly identified as a form of sexual intimacy. Direct questioning of older individuals about their sexual behaviour might not elicit a complete picture of their experiences.

For instance, Jessica responded that she did not have sex with her partner anymore, yet when prompted she revealed that they did still engage in some forms of sexual interaction. I'm quite happy to have what you might Limited Salley give a woman pleasure a fuck, I mean it's great and to feel horny and to have somebody else feel attracted and passionate…But I also probably desire more whole body intimacy.

I love to be touched, to be stroked, to be massaged. Anna, age Anna related this focus on sensuality to her sexually disappointing and unfulfilling relationship. This indicates that the context of a relationship and the individual trajectories of women's lives are fundamental to understanding how they negotiate their sexual subjectivity.

For individual women, sexual desire was often fluid across their lifetimes.

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That is, rather than desire for sex being static or uni-directional i. Common influences on desire included entering into a new relationship, physiological changes and the women's partners. For example, participant Joy age 59 experienced a dramatic increase in both her sexual desire and activity following a ificant period of celibacy. During this period, Joy indicated that her desire for sex waned due to sexual incompatibilities with her partner. Her desire for sex returned with a new casual sexual partner, and the ability to negotiate a non-traditional relationship arrangement with her partner greatly improved Joy's sexual satisfaction.

Other participants experienced a decline in sexual desire as they aged:. For some participants, this shift in sexual desire was a welcome one; however, for others, it was discussed with a sense of loss or grief. Desire for sex did not always relate to sexual activity. Some participants expressed various levels of desire for sex, yet were unable to translate this desire into action:. Very important and I don't feel very satisfied. Well, it's not very important.

Oh no, I'm going to burst into tears.

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Rusty, age At times. I get a bit kind of cross [answering back quickly]. But generally, I was thinking there was almost a time when you didn't have a cuddle just in case he wanted it and you didn't want that. So now you can have a cuddle whenever you want to because the Limited Salley give a woman pleasure is not necessary. Janet, age For some participants, a level of ambivalence was apparent in relation to whether sexual satisfaction was important to them. Rusty's comments provide an example of this. The possibility for other forms of intimacy, such as cuddling, was often opened up for participants in the absence of a presumably penetrative sexual imperative.

Yet, other women engaged in regular sexual activity in the absence of any sexual desire:. I just don't have a sexual urge anymore…You know my husband and I are still sexually active. Connie, age One participant discussed her friend's continued engagement in sex with her husband in the absence of any desire:. She's pleasing her husband, which is always done, but in pleasing your Limited Salley give a woman pleasure you often get a lot of pleasure yourself. Susie, age Many participants discussed sexual acts in a way that constructed a sexual hierarchy.

I think basically we care for each other. We sleep together, and we curl up together. We touch each other, all these things, which is basically what intimacy is. Tabitha, age There's not a lot of sex anymore and it doesn't really worry me. You know masturbation is still perfectly available. Greta, age Oh god no! No, no. And that's one of the issues with me was, growing up as a good Catholic girl.

You know you certainly didn't do that. Jeffa, age Many of the women in this study reported growing up in a social context where sex was not openly discussed, and masturbation was taboo and shameful, although this was increasingly challenged throughout the s and s as many of our participants were coming of age. It is thus difficult to separate the influence of social and cultural context and the influence of ageing on women's attitudes towards masturbation. For many participants, their particular stage of life increased both their desires for sex and abilities to engage in it.

Being free from the pressures of raising a young family, work and the risk of pregnancy, opened up opportunities to engage in and enjoy sex. Additionally, many though certainly not all women had a strong sense of what worked for them sexually at this point in their lives and were confident in asking for or negotiating what they wanted with their partners:.

The women I've known, like in this stage of my life, are not frightened of sex. I reckon it's probably the best time in your life actually because you're not going to have kids, you don't have to think about a house. Rosie, age For some women, the ability to negotiate pleasurable sex came after involvement in sexually disappointing relationships earlier in their lives.

This was occasionally accompanied by general dissatisfaction with the relationship, and less commonly by physically and emotionally abusive behaviour. Women's sexual lives were also shaped, influenced, and at times limited, by the attitudes and behaviours of their partners. A of women indicated that their partners displayed minimal insight into their sexual needs and desires, leading to an unsatisfactory partnered sexual life:.

He couldn't see that I had sexual needs. He couldn't see that I didn't need a penis…Because once he'd done his bit that was it. He'd roll over and go to sleep. Women's attempts to negotiate sex with their partners were met with varying levels of success. Some partners were resistant to discussing their sexual techniques and women's attempts to raise problems fell on deaf ears:.

And as I say I have tried to talk to [partner] and to do it differently or, whatever, and I felt that he was like a bull in a china shop sometimes, and he'd just roll over. Participant Kim age 56 also indicated that her husband was reluctant to develop new sexual techniques in order to adapt to the physiological changes she had experienced during menopause. His unwillingness to expand his sexual horizons left Kim feeling sexually dissatisfied.

Limited Salley give a woman pleasure

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