Ageing International

, 36:361 | Cite as

Older Women, Marital Relationships, and Sexuality in China



Based upon field research conducted in China in the 1990s and 2000s, this article examines older Chinese women’s views and practices surrounding sexual interaction in later life. In contrast to local clinical depictions of middle-aged and elderly Chinese women as repressed by feudal superstitions concerning sex in later life, this research shows that more middle-aged and elderly Chinese women are sexually active than such clinical sources assume. Furthermore, there is no neat correspondence between sexual attitudes and sexual activity, and Chinese women’s attitudes concerning later life sex are often much more liberal than their behavior. Absence of sexual activity among older Chinese women is more closely related to problems in the marital relationship in general and/or to health problems than it is to attitudes about age and sex. At the same time, many Chinese women challenge the claims of western sexology that presume the marital relationship and sexual interaction to be a top necessity for a good quality of life in the later years. These findings have important implications for public health education, clinical training, and health and social service delivery in China.


Marital relationship Sex or sexuality Aging Middle age Old age China or Chinese 



This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health Predoctoral Award, the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, the Committee on Scholarly Communication with China Graduate Fellowship, the Cora DuBois Dissertation Fellowship, the Dean's Fund Award for Faculty Research of the University of Vermont (UVM), and the Asian Studies Faculty Research Award funded through grants to UVM from the Freeman Foundation, the Parimitas Foundation, and the Lintilac Foundation.


  1. Bengston, V. L., Gans, D., Putney, N. M., & Silverstein, M. (Eds.). (2009). Handbook of theories of aging (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  2. Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Evans, H. (1997). Women and sexuality in China: Female sexuality and gender since 1949. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  4. Guan, J. (2004). Correlates of spouse relationship with sexual attitude, interest, and activity among Chinese elderly. Sexuality and Culture, 8(1), 104–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hooyman, N. R., & Kiyak, H. A. (2011). Social gerontology: a multidisciplinary perspective (9th ed.). New York: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson.Google Scholar
  6. Jeffreys, E. (2006). Sex and sexuality in China. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Lindau, S. T., Schumm, L. P., Laumann, E. O., Levinson, W., O’Muircheartaigh, C. A., & Waite, L. J. (2007). A study of sexuality and health among older adults in the United States. The New England Journal of Medicine, 357, 762–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Liu, D., et al. (1992). Laonianren de Xing Shenghuo (Elderly People’s Sex Life). In D. Liu (Ed.), Zhongguo Dangdai Xing Wenhua (Sex Culture in Modern China). Shanghai: Shanghai Sanlian Shudian.Google Scholar
  9. Pan, S. (1993). China: acceptability and effect of three kinds of sexual publication, Archives of Sexual Behavior, 22, 59–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Qian, X., & Yang, W. (1990). Laonian Xing Wenti Zixun (Information on Sexual Issues in Old Age). Beijing: Kexue Chubanshe.Google Scholar
  11. Qin, Y., & Hong, Y. (1999). Lao Shang Fengliu Shi Shouzheng: Yu Zhonglaonian Pengyou Tan Xing (Old and still romantic is a sign of longevity: Talking about sex with our middle-aged and old friends). Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Chubanshe.Google Scholar
  12. Shea, J. L. (2005). Sexual liberation and the older woman in contemporary mainland China. Modern China, 31(1), 115–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Sokolovsky, J. (Ed.). (2009). The cultural context of aging: Worldwide perspectives. Westport: Praeger.Google Scholar
  14. Sun, S. (2008). Zhonglaonian Xing Baojian (sexual health maintenance in middle and old age). Beijing: Jindu Chuban She.Google Scholar
  15. U.S. Census Bureau, Country Files: China, Population Pyramid, International Population Database, and, accessed January 31, 2011.
  16. Xu, X. (1997). The prevalence and determination of wife abuse in urban China. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 280–303.Google Scholar
  17. Xu, R., & Cao, Q. (2008). Laonian Ren Jingshen Shenghuo Jiankang Zhinan (guide to a healthy psychological life among elderly persons) (pp. 301–16). Zhongguo Yiyao Keji Chuban She: Beijing.Google Scholar
  18. Zhou, D., & Niu, B. (2000). Zhonglaonian Xing Zhishi Baiwen (one hundred questions and answers about sex in middle and old age). Shanghai: Shanghai Zhongyiyao Daxue Chubanshe.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Anthropology Department and Asian Studies ProgramUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations