Sexual Transitions in the Lives of Adult Women

  • Emily Koert
  • Judith C. Daniluk


Sexuality is an important and complex aspect of life. It encompasses “physical, psychological, social, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and ethical dimensions of human experience” (Duplassie and Daniluk 2007, p. 263). Sexual expression involves “the sensual pleasure that comes from the stimulation of the body, often with the anticipation of an enjoyable, erotic feeling” (Westheimer and Lopater 2005, p. 24). Sexuality includes attitudes, beliefs, and expectations about self and others. These are inevitably shaped by external forces such as societal and cultural norms, media portrayals of sexuality, and relationships with others who are important. Women’s sexuality at all stages of the course of life is developed through and influenced by interactions with others based on a woman’s age, life stage, and significant roles (Daniluk 1998). How women experience their sexuality changes and shifts across the lifespan, especially during key transitions such as infertility, pregnancy, mothering, menopause, and physical illness and disability. Not only do these transitions involve biological processes and changes, but the meanings that women attribute to these events and experiences also have implications for women’s sexual self-perceptions, expression, and satisfaction (Daniluk 1998).

These and other key developmental transitions will be explored in more detail throughout this chapter. We have adopted a biopsychosocial approach throughout the chapter – focusing on the physiological, psychological, and social factors that shape and influence the sexuality of adult women during young adulthood, middle adulthood, and later life. Although we identify challenges to women’s sexuality across the lifespan, the focus of this chapter is on sexual health, defined by the World Health Organization as the integration of the physical, intellectual, emotional, and social aspects of being sexual, in ways that are positively enriching and that enhances the individual, her relationships, and society (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States 1996).


Sexual Desire Sexual Expression Sexual Intimacy Middle Adulthood Life Role 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Adams, C. G., & Turner, B. F. (1985). Reported change in sexuality from young adulthood to old age. Journal of Sex Research, 21, 126–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adler, B. (1994). Postnatal sexuality. In P. Y. L. Choi & P. Nicolson (Eds.), Female sexuality: Psychology, biology and social context (pp. 83–99). New York: Harvester/Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, C. M., & Stewart, S. (1994). Flying solo: Single women in midlife. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  4. Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. (2005). ARHP clinical proceedings. Washington, DC.
  5. Barbach, L. (1993). The pause: Positive approaches to menopause. New York: Dutton.Google Scholar
  6. Basson, R. (2000). The female sexual response: A different model. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 26, 51–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berg, J. B., & Wilson, J. F. (1991). Psychological functioning across stages of infertility. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 14, 11–26.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Bergum, V. (1989). Woman to mother: A transformation. Granby, MA: Bergin & Garvey.Google Scholar
  9. Bernhard, L. A. (1992). Consequences of hysterectomy in the lives of women. Health Care for Women International, 13, 281–291.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. (2005). Our bodies, ourselves: A new edition for a new era. New York: Touchstone.Google Scholar
  11. Cline, S. (1993). Women, passion and celibacy. New York: Carol Southern.Google Scholar
  12. Cobb, J. O. (1988). Understanding menopause. Toronto: Key Porter.Google Scholar
  13. Cowan, C. P. (1999). When partners become parents: The big life changes for couples. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  14. Crenshaw, T. (1996). The alchemy of love and lust. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  15. Daniluk, J. C. (1993). The meaning and experience of female sexuality: A phenomenological analysis. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 17, 53–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Daniluk, J. C. (1998). Women’s sexuality across the lifespan: Challenging myths, creating meanings. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  17. Daniluk, J. C. (2001a). Reconstructing their lives: A longitudinal, qualitative analysis of the transition to biological childlessness for infertile couples. Journal of Counseling & Development, 79, 439–449.Google Scholar
  18. Daniluk, J. C. (2001b). The infertility survival guide: How to cope with the challenges while maintaining your sanity, dignity, and relationships. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.Google Scholar
  19. Daniluk, J. C., & Fluker, M. (1995). Fertility drugs and the reproductive imperative: Assisting the infertile woman. Women and Therapy, 16, 31–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Daniluk, J. C., & Tench, E. (2007). Long-term adjustment of infertile couples following unsuccessful medical intervention. Journal of Counseling & Development, 85, 89–100.Google Scholar
  21. Dennerstein, L., & Hayes, R. D. (2005). Confronting the challenges: Epidemiological study of female sexual dysfunction and the menopause. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2(Suppl. 3), 118–132.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Dowling, C. (1996). Red hot mamas: Coming into our own at fifty. New York: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
  23. Duplassie, D., & Daniluk, J. C. (2007). Sexuality: Young and middle adulthood. In M. S. Tepper & A. F. Owens (Eds.), Sexual health: Vol. 1. Psychological foundations (pp. 263–289). Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  24. Erikson, E. H. (1997). The lifecycle completed: Extended version. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  25. Gannon, L. (1994). Sexuality and menopause. In P. Y. L. Choi & P. Nicolson (Eds.), Female sexuality: Psychology, biology and social context (pp. 100–124). New York: Harvester/Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  26. Gold, J. M., & Wilson, J. S. (2002). Legitimizing the child-free family: The role of the family counselor. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 10, 70–74.Google Scholar
  27. Golub, S. (1992). Periods: From menarche to menopause. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  28. Greer, G. (1991). The change: Women, aging and menopause. New York: Fawcett Columbine.Google Scholar
  29. Gruen, D. (1990). Postpartum depression: A debilitating yet often unassessed problem. Health and Social Work, 15, 261–270.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Gross, A., & Ito, D. (1992). Women talk about gynaecological surgery: From diagnosis to recovery. New York: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  31. Ireland, M. (1993). Reconceiving women: Separating motherhood from female identity. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  32. Johnson, B. (2007). Sexuality at midlife and beyond. In M. S. Tepper & A. F. Owens (Eds.), Sexual health: Vol. 1. Psychological foundations (pp. 291–300). Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  33. Kaplan, E. A. (1990). Sex, work and motherhood: The impossible triangle. Journal of Sex Research, 27, 409–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kitzinger, S. (1985). Women’s experience of sex. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  35. Kingsberg, S. (2004). Just ask! Talking to patients about sexual function. Sexuality, Reproduction & Menopause, 2, 199–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kleiman, K., & Raskin, V. (1994). This isn’t what I expected: Recognizing and recovering from depression and anxiety after childbirth. Toronto: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
  37. Lampman, C., & Dowling-Guyer, S. (1995). Attitudes toward voluntary and involuntary childlessness. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 17, 213–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Leiblum, S. R. (1997). Love, sex and infertility: The impact of infertility on couples. In S. R. Leiblum (Ed.), Infertility: Psychological issues and coping strategies (pp. 149–166). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  39. Letherby, G. (2002). Childless and bereft? Stereotypes and realities in relation to voluntary and involuntary childlessness and womanhood. Sociological Inquiry, 72, 7–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Liu, C. (2003). Does quality of marital sex decline with duration? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 55–60.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Love, S. (1990). Dr. Susan Love’s breast book. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  42. MacPhee, R. (1994). Picasso’s woman. Vancouver, BC: Douglas & MacIntyre.Google Scholar
  43. Martin, E. (1987). The woman in the body: A cultural analysis of reproduction. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  44. Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1966). Human sexual response. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  45. McCormick, N. (1996). Bodies besieged: The impact of chronic and serious physical illness on sexuality, passion and desire. Journal of Sex Research: Special Issue, 33, 175–230.Google Scholar
  46. Mona, L. R., & Gardos, P. S. (2001). Disabled sexual partners. In L. T. Szuchman & F. Muscarella (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on human sexuality (pp. 309–354). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  47. Morell, C. (1994). Unwomanly conduct: The challenges of intentional childlessness. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Nickerson, B. (1992). Old and smart: Women and the adventure of aging. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour.Google Scholar
  49. Oberman, Y., & Josselson, R. (1996). Matrix of tensions: A model of mothering. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 341–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Partridge, K. (1996). Beyond the baby blues: Understanding postpartum depression. Today’s Parent, September, 84–89.Google Scholar
  51. Rako, S. (1996). The hormone of desire. New York: Harmony Books.Google Scholar
  52. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. (1996). Guidelines for comprehensive sexuality education (2nd Ed.). Minnesota: 3M Education Press.,
  53. Stevens-Long, J., & Commons, M. L. (1992). Adult life: Developmental processes (4th ed.). London: Mayfield.Google Scholar
  54. Tepper, M. S., & Owens, A. F. (2007). Access to pleasure: On-ramp to specific information on disability, illness, and changes throughout the life span. In A. F. Owens & M. S. Tepper (Eds.), Sexual health: Vol. 4. State-of-the-art treatments and research (pp. 313-328). Westport, CT: Praegar.Google Scholar
  55. Tiefer, L. (1996). Towards a feminist sex therapy. Women and Therapy [Special Issue: Sexualities], 19, 53–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Tierney, L. M., McPhee, S. J., & Papadakis, M. A. (1999). Current medical diagnosis and treatment. East Norwalk, CT: Appleton & Lange.Google Scholar
  57. Unger, R., & Crawford, M. (1992). Women and gender: A feminist psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  58. Ussher, J. M. (1989). The psychology of the female body. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Westheimer, R. K., & Lopater, S. (2005). Human sexuality: A psychosocial perspective (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily Koert
  • Judith C. Daniluk
    • 1
  1. 1.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations