From the Swinging Sixties to Their 60S: Considering the Role of the Past in the Subjective Experience of Sexuality in Old Age

Monday, 11 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Rachel THORPE, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Australia
This paper addresses the role of cultural changes that took place in the 1960s and 1970s in shaping older Australian women’s subjective experience of sex and relationships in later life. Some scholars have argued that this generation of women will challenge ageist and sexist norms and reinvent social scripts for women and ageing (Calasanti and Slevin, 2001; Loe, 2004).  In order to understand how women who came into adulthood during the “sexual revolution” conceptualised sex and relationships, I conducted semi-structured interviews with 28 women aged 55-81 and asked them to keep reflective journals.  In this paper, I consider the women’s recollections of their sexual experiences during these decades and how they represented the impact of these decades on decisions they made about sex and relationships later in their lives.  I also consider the significance of social changes, such as attitudes towards pre-marital and extra-marital sex and the contraceptive pill on their sexual lives then and now, as well as the influences of timing, location and family circumstances.   When discussing later life sex and relationships, the women often emphasised difference from early relationships, providing narratives of moving on and learning from the past, or conversely, of remaining in these early relationships.  They therefore represented diverse possibilities for being sexual in older age.  However, as I discuss, the possibilities for re-imagining sex and relationships were for many, also constrained by long-held ideals of heterosexual sex, gender difference and monogamy.  These constraints suggest that it is in practice difficult, even for this generation of women, to completely reject sexist and ageist norms in old age.