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

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    “Came of age” refers to when these men became socially and legally recognized adults.

  2. 2.

    “Frottage” refers to the practice of rubbing bodies (usually clothed) against each other as a form of sexual pleasure and satisfaction.

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Acknowledgements

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

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Correspondence to Bianca Fileborn.

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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.

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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.

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Fileborn, B., Hinchliff, S., Lyons, A. et al. 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. Arch Sex Behav 46, 2097–2110 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0918-9

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Keywords

  • Masculinity
  • Older men
  • Sex
  • Sexual pleasure
  • Aging