Sexuality Across the Life Course

This project is concerned with the impact of normative life transitions on sexual attitudes and behavior. According to the life course perspective, involvement in a specific life stage should be associated with relative stability in relevant attitudes and behavior. Movement through normative life transitions should be associated with change in relevant attitudes and behavior. These general hypotheses should apply to sexual attitudes and behavior. The norms associated with some transitions, for example marriage/entry into a committed relationship, require changes in sexual behavior. Other transitions, such as adolescence (the transition associated with the biological events of puberty), create the potential for changes in sexual attitudes and behavior but do not prescribe change. Passage through a transition may affect the person by changing 1) the person's characteristics - attitudes, skills, self-image, or 2) the reactions of others to the person.

The transitions of interest include:
1) adolescence (puberty);
2) sexual initiation/transition to nonvirginity;
3) establishing a committed/living together/marital relationship;
4) giving birth to/adopting a child;
5) terminating a long-term relationship/separation/divorce;
6) menopause/midlife;
7) widowhood.

Seven papers related to this project have been published:

Sexuality During Pregnancy and the Year Postpartum. The Journal of Sex Research 1996, 33:143-151. With Janet Hyde, Ashby Plant and Janis M. Byrd.

Sexuality and the Dual-Earner Couple: Multiple Roles and Sexual Functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 1998, 12: 354-368. With Janet Hyde and Erri Hewitt.

Sexuality and the Dual Earner Couple, Part II: Beyond the Baby Years. The Journal of Sex Research, 2001, 38:10-23. (With Janet Hyde and Amanda Durik.)

Relationship Dissolution as a Life Stage Transition: Effects on Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. Journal of Marriage and Family, 2002, 64: 898-914. (With Lisa Wade).

Context counts: First sexual experiences and later sexual dysfunction. Journal of Sex Research, 2005, 42:102-112. (With Nicole Else-Quest and Janet Hyde).

Sexual desire in later life. Journal of Sex Research, 2005, 42:138-149. (With Morgan Sill).

Sexual behavior in later life. Journal of Aging and Health. In press; online publication expected in 2007, print publication expected in 2008. With Sara Moorman.

The on-going task is the expansion and testing of the conceptual framework. The framework rests on the following assumptions: 1) Life transitions change one's social relationships and therefore the social controls and opportunities experienced by the person. 2) Life transitions also change the person's motivation and goals. These in turn may lead to changes in sexual attitudes and behavior. Specific hypotheses have been and will be derived from the framework. These hypotheses will be tested using data from the AARP Modern Maturity Sexuality Survey, and the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey. At present I am analyzing these data to determine the effects of a variety of biological, psychological and social influences on sexual satisfaction among older persons.