Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 7, pp 2097–2110 | Cite as

The Importance of Sex and the Meaning of Sex and Sexual Pleasure for Men Aged 60 and Older Who Engage in Heterosexual Relationships: Findings from a Qualitative Interview Study

  • Bianca Fileborn
  • Sharron Hinchliff
  • Anthony Lyons
  • Wendy Heywood
  • Victor Minichiello
  • Graham Brown
  • Sue Malta
  • Catherine Barrett
  • Pauline Crameri
Original Paper

Abstract

That many older individuals continue to engage in various forms of sexual expression well into later life is now well established in the literature. To date, however, only a small body of qualitative research has examined older men’s experiences and understandings of sex in later life. Likewise, the ways in which older men’s discussions on sex may be used as an avenue for “doing” masculinity remain underexplored. Older men are particularly interesting in this regard, as they inhabit an increasingly subordinated position in relation to hegemonic masculine ideals because of their age. To what extent might this limit or, alternatively, open up the possibilities for sexual expression and subjectivity in later life? Drawing on a subset of findings from Sex, Age, and Me: A National Study with Australian Women and Men Aged 60 and Older, data from qualitative interviews with 27 Australian men were explored in this article. The first Australian study of its kind, we argue that older men who engage in heterosexual relationships draw on a diverse and complex array of discursive positions regarding sex, relationships, and masculinity in making sense of their experiences of sex in later life. Older men are a heterogeneous group, and their experiences and understandings of sex do not simplistically follow “decline” or “success” narratives of aging. The findings of this research build upon and extend emerging research illustrating the centrality of intimacy to older men’s sexual lives, while simultaneously highlighting the ways in which the body and discursive constructions of sex intersect to shape older men’s sexual subjectivities.

Keywords

Masculinity Older men Sex Sexual pleasure Aging 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This project was funded by the Australian Research Council (DP150100739).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Dr. Hinchilff, Dr. Lyons, Professor Minichiello, Dr. Brown, Dr. Malta, and Dr. Barrett received funding from the Australian Research Council. Dr. Fileborn, Dr. Heywood, and Ms. Crameri declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

References

  1. Alex, L., Hammarstrom, A., Norberg, A., & Lundman, B. (2008). Construction of masculinities among men aged 85 and older in the north of Sweden. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 17, 451–459. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2007.01961.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Arrington, M. (2000). Sexuality, society and senior citizens: An analysis of sex talk among prostate cancer support group members. Sexuality and Culture, 4, 445–474. doi:10.1007/s12119-000-1004-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arrington, M. (2003). “I don’t want to be an Artificial Man”: Narrative reconstruction of sexuality among prostate cancer survivors. Sexuality and Culture, 7, 30–58. doi:10.1007/s12119-003-1011-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barrios, R. J., & Lundquist, J. H. (2012). “Boys just want to have fun? Masculinity, sexual behaviors, and romantic intentions of gay and straight males in college. Journal of LGBT Youth, 9, 271–296. doi:10.1080/19361653.2012.716749.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beckman, N., Waern, M., Ostling, S., Sundh, V., & Skoog, I. (2014). Determinants of sexual activity in four birth cohorts of Swedish 70-year-olds examined 1971-2001. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 11, 401–410. doi:10.1111/jsm.12381.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bergstrom-Walan, M. B., & Nielsen, H. H. (1990). Sexual expression among 60–80 year old men and women: A sample from Stockholm, Sweden. Journal of Sex Research, 27(2), 289–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bertone, C., & Camoletto, R. F. (2009). Beyond the sex machine? Sexual practices and masculinity in adult men’s heterosexual accounts. Journal of Gender Studies, 18, 369–386. doi:10.1080/09589230903260035.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Broom, A. (2004). Prostate cancer and masculinity in Australian society: A case of stolen identity? International Journal of Men’s Health, 3(2), 73–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Calasanti, T. (2004). Feminist gerontology and old men. Journal of Gerontology, 59B, s305–s314. doi:10.1093/geronb/59.6.S305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Calasanti, T., & King, N. (2005). Firming the floppy penis: Age, class, and gender relations in the lives of older men. Men and Masculinities, 8, 3–23. doi:10.1177/1097184X04268799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Camacho, M., & Reyes-Ortiz, C. (2005). Sexual dysfunction in the elderly: Age or disease? International Journal of Impotence Research, 17, s52–s56. doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3901429.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Camoletto, R. F., & Bertone, C. (2010). Coming to be a man: Pleasure in the construction of Italian men’s (hetero)sexuality. Italian Studies, 65, 235–250. doi:10.1179/016146210X12593180182775.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  16. Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender and Society, 19, 829–859. doi:10.1177/0891243205278639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Corona, G., Lee, D., Forti, G., O’Connor, D., Maggi, M., O’Neill, T., … EMAS Study Group. (2010). Age-related changes in general and sexual health in middle-aged and older men: Results from the European Male Ageing Study. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 7, 1362–1380. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01601.x.
  18. DeLamater, J. (2012). Sexual expression in later life: A review and synthesis. Journal of Sex Research, 49, 125–141. doi:10.1080/00224499.2011.603168.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. DeLamater, J., & Koepsel, E. (2015). Relationships and sexual expression in later life: A biopsychological perspective. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30, 37–59. doi:10.1080/14681994.2014.939506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. DeLamater, J., & Still, M. (2005). Sexual desire in later life. Journal of Sex Research, 42, 138–149. doi:10.1080/00224490509552267.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Doull, M., Oliffe, J., Knight, R., & Shoveller, J. A. (2013). Sex and straight young men: Challenging and endorsing hegemonic masculinities and gender regimes. Men and Masculinities, 16, 329–346. doi:10.1177/1097184X13494837.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Drummond, M. (2011). Reflections on the archetypal heterosexual male body. Australian Feminist Studies, 26, 103–117. doi:10.1080/08164649.2011.546331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Elmerstig, E., Wijma, B., Sandell, K., & Bertero, C. (2014). Sexual interaction or a solitary action: Young Swedish men’s ideal images of sexual situations in relationships and in one-night stands. Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, 5, 149–155. doi:10.1016/j.srhc.2014.06.001.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Ezzy, D. (2002). Qualitative analysis: Practice and innovation. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Fileborn, B., Thorpe, R., Hawkes, G., Minichiello, V., & Pitts, M. (2015a). Sex and the (older) single girl: Experiences of sex and dating in later life. Journal of Aging Studies, 33, 67–75. doi:10.1016/j.jaging.2015.02.002.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Fileborn, B., Thorpe, R., Hawkes, G., Minichiello, V., Pitts, M., & Dune, T. (2015b). Sex, desire and pleasure: Considering the experiences of older Australian women. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30, 117–130. doi:10.1080/14681994.2014.936722.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Fleming, A. A. (1999). Older men in contemporary discourses on ageing: Absent bodies and invisible lives. Nursing Inquiry, 6, 3–8. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1800.1999.00002.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Flood, M. (2008). Men, sex, and homosociality: How bonds between men shape their sexual relations with women. Men and Masculinities, 10, 339–359. doi:10.1177/1097184X06287761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gilbert, E., Ussher, J. M., Perz, J., Wong, T. W. K., Hobbs, K., & Mason, C. (2013). Men’s experiences of sexuality after cancer: A material discursive intra-psychic approach. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 15, 881–895. doi:10.1080/13691058.2013.789129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gott, M., & Hinchliff, S. (2003). How important is sex in later life? The views of older people. Social Science and Medicine, 56, 1617–1628. doi:10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00180-6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Gott, M., Hinchliff, S., & Galena, E. (2004). General practitioner attitudes to discussing sexual health issues with older people. Social Science and Medicine, 58, 2093–2103. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2003.08.025.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Hanna, P. (2012). Using internet technologies (such as Skype) as a research medium: A research note. Qualitative Research, 12, 239–242. doi:10.1177/1468794111426607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Helmes, E., & Chapman, J. (2012). Education about sexuality in the elderly by healthcare professionals: A survey from the Southern hemisphere. Sex Education, 12, 95–107. doi:10.1080/14681811.2011.601172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hilario, A. P. (2015). Making sense of a changed physical body: Why gender matters at end of life. Journal of Aging Studies, 33, 58–66. doi:10.1016/j.jaging.2015.03.001.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Hinchliff, S., & Gott, M. (2008). Challenging social myths and stereotypes of women and aging: Heterosexual women talk about sex. Journal of Women and Aging, 20, 65–81. doi:10.1300/J074v20n01_06.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Holt, A. (2010). Using the telephone for narrative interviewing: A research note. Qualitative Research, 10, 113–121. doi:10.1177/1468794109348686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hughes, J. (2011). Are older men taking sexuality as prescribed? The implications of the competing influences on ageing male heterosexuality. Australian Feminist Studies, 26, 89–102. doi:10.1080/08164649.2010.546330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Jagus, C. E., & Benbow, S. M. (2002). Sexuality in older men with mental health problems. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 17, 271–279. doi:10.1080/14681990220149077.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Johnson, M. (2010). “Just getting off”: The inseparability of ejaculation and hegemonic masculinity. Journal of Men’s Studies, 18, 238–248. doi:10.3149/jms.1803.238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Karraker, A., & DeLamater, J. (2013). Past-year sexual inactivity among older married persons and their partners. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75, 142–163. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.01034.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kleinplatz, P., Menard, D., Paradis, N., Campbell, M., & Dalgleish, T. (2013). Beyond sexual stereotypes: Revealing group similarities and differences in optimal sexuality. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 45, 250–258. doi:10.1037/a0031776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Laumann, E. O., Paik, A., Glasser, D. B., Kang, J. H., Wang, T., Levinson, B., … Gingell, C. (2006). A cross-national study of subjective sexual well-being among older women and men: Findings from the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 145–161. doi:10.1007/s10508-005-9005-3.
  43. Lee, D. M., Nazroo, J., & Pendleton, N. (2015). Erectile dysfunction and phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor use: Associations with sexual activities, function and satisfaction in a population sample of older men. International Journal of Impotence Research, 27, 146–151. doi:10.1038/ijir.2015.4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Lodge, A. C., & Umberson, D. (2012). All shook up: Sexuality of mid- to later life married couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 428–443. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00969.x.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  45. Lodge, A. C., & Umberson, D. (2013). Age and embodied masculinities: Midlife gay and heterosexual men talk about their bodies. Journal of Aging Studies, 27, 225–232. doi:10.1016/j.jaging.2013.03.004.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  46. Loe, M. (2001). Fixing broken masculinity Viagra as a technology for the production of gender and sexuality. Sexuality and Culture, 5, 97–125. doi:10.1007/s12119-001-1032-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mamo, L., & Fishman, J. (2001). Potency in all the right places: Viagra as a technology of the gendered body. Body and Society, 7, 13–35. doi:10.1177/1357034X01007004002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Marshall, B. (2012). Medicalisation and the refashioning of age-related limits on sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 49, 337–343. doi:10.1080/00224499.2011.644597.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. McCarthy, B., Farr, E., & McDonald, D. (2013). Couple sexuality after 60. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 24, 38–47. doi:10.1080/08975353.2013.762867.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Menard, D. A., Kleinplatz, P. J., Rosen, L., Lawless, S., Paradis, N., Campbell, M., & Huber, J. D. (2015). Individual and relational contributors to optimal sexual experiences in older men and women. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30, 78–93. doi:10.1080/14681994.2014.931689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Messaoudi, R., Menard, J., Ripert, T., Parquet, H., & Staerman, F. (2011). Erectile dysfunction and sexual health after radical prostatectomy: Impact of sexual motivation. International Journal of Impotence Research, 23, 81–86. doi:10.1038/ijir.2011.8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Minichiello, V., Plummer, D., & Loxton, D. (2004). Factors predicting sexual relationships in older people: An Australian study. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 23, 125–130. doi:10.1111/j.1741-6612.2004.00018.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Novick, G. (2011). Is there a bias against telephone interviews in qualitative research? Research in Nursing & Health, 31, 391–398. doi:10.1002/nur.20259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Philaretou, A. G., & Allen, K. R. (2001). Reconstructing masculinity and sexuality. Journal of Men’s Studies, 9, 301–321. doi:10.3149/jms.0903.301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Potts, A. (2000). The essence of the “hard on”. Hegemonic masculinity and the cultural construction of “erectile dysfunction. Men and Masculinities, 3, 85–103. doi:10.1177/1097184X00003001004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rubin, G. (1992). Thinking sex: Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality. In C. S. Vance (Ed.), Pleasure and danger: Exploring female sexuality (pp. 267–319). London: Pandora.Google Scholar
  57. Sandberg, L. (2013a). Just feeling a naked body close to you: Men, sexuality and intimacy in later life. Sexualities, 16, 261–282. doi:10.1177/1363460713481726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sandberg, L. (2013b). Affirmative old age—The ageing body and feminist theories on difference. International Journal of Ageing and Later Life, 8, 11–40. doi:10.3384/ijal.1652-8670.12197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sandberg, L. (2016). In lust we trust? Masculinity and sexual desire in later life: Men and life. Men and Masculinities, 19, 192–208. doi:10.1177/1097184X15606948.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Schick, V., Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., Middlestadt, S. E., & Fortenberry, D. J. (2010). Sexual behaviours, condom use, and sexual health of Americans over 50: Implications for sexual health promotion for older adults. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 315–329. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.02013.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Smith, M. L., Goltz, H. H., Ahn, S. N., Dickerson, J. B., & Ory, M. G. (2012). Correlates of chronic disease and patient-provider discussions among middle-aged and older males: Implications for successful aging and sexuality. The Aging Male, 15, 115–123. doi:10.3109/13685538.2011.641184.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Spector-Mersel, G. (2006). Never-aging stories: Western hegemonic masculinity scripts. Journal of Gender Studies, 15, 67–82. doi:10.1080/09589230500486934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sturges, J. E., & Hanrahan, K. J. (2004). Comparing telephone and face-to-face qualitative interviewing: A research note. Qualitative Research, 4, 107–118. doi:10.1177/1468794104041110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Thorpe, R., Fileborn, B., & Hurde Clarke, L. (in press). Framing the sexual rights of older heterosexual women: Acknowledging diversity and change. In: C. Barrett & S. Hinchliff (Eds.), Addressing the sexual rights of older people. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  65. Trier-Bieniek, A. (2012). Framing the telephone interview as a participant-centred tool for qualitative research: A methodological discussion. Qualitative Research, 12, 630–644. doi:10.1177/1468794112439005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Trudel, G., Dargis, L., Villeneuve, L., Cadieux, J., Boyer, R., & Preville, M. (2014). Marital, sexual and psychological functioning of older couples living at home: The results of a national survey using longitudinal methodology (Part II). Sexologies, 23, e35–e48. doi:10.1016/j.sexol.2013.03.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Umberson, D., Thomeer, M. B., & Lodge, A. C. (2015). Intimacy and emotion work in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 542–556. doi:10.1111/jomf.12178.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  68. Ussher, J. M., Perz, J., Gilbert, E., Wong, T. W. K., & Hobbs, K. (2013). Renegotiating sex and intimacy after cancer: Resisting the coital imperative. Cancer Nursing, 36, 454–462. doi:10.1097/NCC.0b013e3182759e21.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Waite, L. J., Iveniuk, J., Laumann, E. O., & McClintock, M. K. (2017). Sexuality in older couples: Individual and dyadic characteristics. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46, 605–618. doi:10.1007/s10508-015-0651-9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Wang, T. F., Lu, C. H., Chen, I. J., & Yu, S. (2008). Sexual knowledge, attitudes and activity of older people in Taipei. Taiwan. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 17, 443–450. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2007.02003.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender & Society, 1, 125–151. doi:10.1177/0891243287001002002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Yee, L. (2010). Aging and sexuality. Australian Family Physician, 39(10), 718–721.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, School of Psychology and Public HealthLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Medicine and Public HealthUniversity of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  3. 3.School of Justice, Faculty of LawQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.School of Nursing and MidwiferyUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  5. 5.National Ageing Research InstituteUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  6. 6.Swinburne Institute of Social ResearchSwinburne University of TechnologyMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations