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Ten - Sex in an ideology of love

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2022

Torbjörn Bildtgård
Affiliation:
Stockholms universitet Institutionen för socialt arbete
Peter Öberg
Affiliation:
Högskolan i Gävle, Sweden
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Summary

While the former chapters have investigated different aspects of repartnering in later life, this chapter focuses on the importance of sex in those relationships. Even if sex is an integral part of most couple relationships and could have been studied under each of the previous chapters, we have chosen to dedicate a separate chapter to the issue in order to break the silence surrounding sex in later life. Until recently the sex life of older people was more or less invisible in family and gerontological research. When the world's first national study of sexual habits was carried out in Sweden in 1967 (Zetterberg, 1969), people 60 years or older were not included. Zetterberg concluded that to find the point at which sexual activity ceases one would have to include older age groups. Still, even at the beginning of the 21st century, the British national survey on sexual attitudes did not include people 45 years or older (Gott & Hinchliff, 2003a).

For a long time the dominant cultural storyline of older people in popular culture has been that of asexuality (Gott, 2005; Jones, 2002). The advent of Viagra and other pharmaceutical aids and the creation of the third age with new expectations for later life have spawned new cultural representations of a sexually active later life (see for example Bildtgård, 2000; Gott, 2005; Vares, 2009). It has been argued that sexual activity has become an integrated part of successful ageing (Katz & Marshall, 2003; B. L. Marshall & Katz, 2002). However, much of this ‘post-Viagra’ interest in older people's sexuality is inspired by and centred on the continuation of mid-life sexual practices, while other aspects tend to remain invisible (see for example Potts, Grace, Vares & Gavey, 2006). In her 2005 review, Gott stated that most studies on older people's sexuality ask ‘Which people “do it” and how often?’, but that the voices of older people themselves tend to be forgotten. The aim of this chapter is to contribute to breaking this silence.

This chapter is dedicated to the topic of late-life sexual intimacy. The specific focus of the chapter is the role and meaning of sex in intimate relationships in later life.

Type
Chapter
Information
Intimacy and Ageing
New Relationships in Later Life
, pp. 135 - 158
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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