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Sex for Life

Sex for Life: From Virginity to Viagra, How Sexuality Changes Throughout Our Lives

Laura M. Carpenter
John DeLamater
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 373
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  • Book Info
    Sex for Life
    Book Description:

    Sexual beliefs, behaviors and identities are interwoven throughout our lives, from childhood to old age. An edited collection of original empirical contributions united through its use of a distinctive, cutting-edge theoretical framework, Sex for Life critically examines sexuality across the entire lifespan. Rooted in diverse disciplines and employing a wide range of research methods, the chapters explore the sexual and social transitions that typically map to broad life stages, as well as key age-graded physiological transitions, such as puberty and menopause, while drawing on the latest developments in gender, sexuality, and life course studies.Sex for Life explores a wide variety of topics, including puberty, sexual initiation, coming out, sexual assault, marriage/life partnering, disability onset, immigration, divorce, menopause, and widowhood, always attending to the social locations - including gender, race, ethnicity, and social class - that shape, and are shaped by, sexuality. The empirical work collected in Sex for Life ultimately speaks to important public policy issues, such as sex education, aging societies, and the increasing politicization of scientific research. Accessibly written, the contributions capture the interplay between individual lives and the ever-changing social-historical context, facilitating new insight not only into people's sexual lives, but also into ways of studying them, ultimately providing a fresh, new perspective on sexuality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2381-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PART I. Studying Sexualities over the Life Course

    • Introduction: Sexualities over the Life Course: The Development of a Perspective
      (pp. 3-22)

      How do sexual and social experiences—childhood sex play, immigration, or divorce, for example—at one point in a person’s life affect his or her sexual beliefs and behaviors later on? How are individuals’ sexual biographies shaped by broader cultural and historical changes, such as the sexual “revolution” of the late 1960s and the early 1970s or the increasing availability of same-sex marriage? In what ways do intersections among gender, race, ethnicity, social class, and sexual orientation influence these life course processes, even as life course processes influence those intersecting social statuses in turn? We explore these questions in this...

    • 1 Studying Gendered Sexualities over the Life Course: A Conceptual Framework
      (pp. 23-42)

      From the moment we’re born, each of us begins to accumulate a wide range of physical, emotional, and intellectual experiences. Many of these experiences—from being gently caressed by a caregiver to watching one’s parents go through an acrimonious divorce to observing the depiction of same-sex and heterosexual couples on television sitcoms—contribute to the complex constellation of desires, attitudes, and behaviors that comprise our sexuality. Early events and encounters influence later ones, in sometimes straightforward and sometimes indirect ways, such that every life course is composed of an ongoing chain of interrelated experiences. Each person’s sexual life course is...

  5. PART II. Sexualities in Childhood and Adolescence

    • 2 Childhood Sexuality: Exploring Culture as Context
      (pp. 45-69)

      Antoinette, a 10-year-old African American girl removed from her biological parents’ home a year earlier and placed in the state’s foster care system for reasons related to parental neglect, has recently experienced a disruption in her placement.¹ After her foster mother discovered Antoinette glancing at graphical depictions of male and female genitalia in a health textbook belonging to an older foster child within the home, Antoinette was labeled as having a sexual behavior problem, referred for intensive therapy to address her behavior, and transferred to an alternate foster care setting where her behavior could be more closely monitored. According to...

    • 3 Sexuality Development in Adolescence
      (pp. 70-87)

      “Abstinence” has been a focal point in policy and public debates about adolescent sexuality for over 30 years. As a candidate, President Barack Obama made news when he promised to end federal funding for “abstinence-only” sexuality education in public schools, programs that emphasize chastity until marriage and disallow education about contraception. Instead, the Obama administration has returned to an earlier framework for adolescent sexuality policy, focusing on teenage pregnancy prevention (for a history of such policies through the Reagan era, see Nathanson, 1991). Both policy frames reveal deeply held views of adolescent sexuality as something to be contained or something...

    • 4 The Life Course Consequences of Childhood Sexual Assault: Effects on Relationship Formation and Intimate Violence across Relationships
      (pp. 88-106)

      Research on the prevalence, risk factors, and consequences of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has increased a great deal in the past four decades (for reviews, see Beitchman et al., 1992; Finkelhor, 1994). Such inquiries have produced three important conclusions for researchers, policy makers, and clinicians (Fergusson, Lynskey & Horwood, 1996). First, a large number of children are exposed to sexual violence of some sort.¹ In a meta-analysis of 22 studies published between 1980 and 1998, Bolen and Scannapieco (1999) suggest a “reasonable estimate” is that between 30 and 40% of females and upwards of 13% of males experience sexual abuse...

  6. PART III. Sexualities from Young Adulthood through Midlife

    • 5 A Meta-Analysis on the Relationship between Parental Divorce Family Structures and Adolescents’ Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Premarital Intercourse
      (pp. 109-127)

      Over the last 35 years social scientists have made considerable advances in understanding the effects of parental family structure on children’s behavioral, academic, and attitudinal outcomes. Of these outcome measures, the relationship between parental family structure and academic achievement was most aggressively established by researchers during the 1970–2005 period (Jeynes, 2002a; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994; Wallerstein & Lewis, 1998). More recently, social scientists have expanded their sphere of exploration to include the association between parental family structure and youth attitudes and behavior toward nonmarital sexual intercourse. Life course scholars are interested in examining how parental marital transitions both result...

    • 6 Hooking Up and Opting Out: Negotiating Sex in the First Year of College
      (pp. 128-145)

      Ramona’s optimistic remark, already in the past tense, captures the hopes and disappointments of many first-year college students. Ramona had a worse year than most. After surviving two attempted sexual assaults and one successful one, she decided to transfer to another college. “I don’t know where I will feel safe,” she explained, “but it’s not at this school.”

      Traditional students in their first year at many residential colleges find themselves in a highly sexualized environment with great freedoms and few protections. This is a critical age-related transitional period during which many students reconsider their sexual values and initiate or change...

    • 7 The Symbolic Power of Civil Marriage on the Sexual Life Histories of Gay Men
      (pp. 146-160)

      The institution of marriage has had a profound and enduring impact on intimate life. Marriage, for instance, confers a wide range of benefits, rights, and obligations that support the marital couple, including resources for the protection of the couple’s health, property, and dependents, and the imposition of a legal protocol that discourages capricious dissolution of the marital relationship. Somewhat less obvious, however, is the symbolic power of the institution, including the legitimacy it confers upon spouses and those with whom the spouses interface, such as friends, family, and employers. Moreover, because marriage in North America represents one of the most...

  7. PART IV. Turning Points throughout the Life Course

    • 8 U.S. Colonialism, Migration, and Sexualities: The Filipino American Case
      (pp. 163-179)

      Life course research on migration and sexuality treats migration as a key turning point in migrants’ sexual lives. In her 1999 groundbreaking study, Espin observes that migrant women, free from the prescribed choices of their premigration life, reinvent their gendered and sexual selves in the new country. Subsequent research on sexuality and love in Mexican and Asian transnational families likewise indicates that migration, as an event that disrupts and determines one’s life course, provides opportunities for negotiating and reconstructing ideals of marriage and sexual ideologies and practices (Espiritu, 2008; González-López, 2005; Hirsch, 2003; Manalansan, 2003). Together, these studies confirm that,...

    • 9 Starting Over: Dating Risks and Sexual Health among Midlife Women after Relationship Dissolution
      (pp. 180-197)

      Women who begin dating after a long-term relationship face uncertainty and risk, if only because the social terrain is different from what they knew in their youth. How should they “do” sex in a youth-oriented culture? How can they avoid the pitfalls of dating inexperience? The transition from coupledom to singlehood can be like emerging from a time warp; there are new rules to learn as well as concerns about physical attractiveness, the safety of self and children, and susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS. A bodily focus is likely to be heightened at this turning point because...

    • 10 Secrets and Magic Pills: Constructing Masculinity and Sexual “Normalcy” Following Spinal Cord Injury
      (pp. 198-214)

      According to a recent population-based survey, approximately 1.275 million people in the United States are currently living with a spinal cord injury (SCI) and a total of 5.5 million have some form of paralysis (The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, 2009). The most common causes of SCI include motor vehicle accidents (42%), falls (27%), and violence (15%). SCI primarily affects people during their adult years, with an average age at injury of 38, and it disproportionately affects men (81%). The majority of people who experience SCI are single at the time of injury (52%). For those who are married (32%)...

  8. PART V. Sexualities from Midlife to Later Life

    • 11 Reproductive History as Social Context: Exploring How Women Talk about Menopause and Sexuality at Midlife
      (pp. 217-235)

      Although we typically characterize sexuality through individuals’ behaviors (e.g., intercourse, masturbation) or identities (e.g., heterosexual, homosexual, queer, etc.), sexuality can include a wide range of meanings and experiences for individuals across the life course (Weber, 2001). For instance, women at varying life stages must navigate social norms about the types of intimate relationships they should have, appropriate sexual desires and behaviors, how sexy or sexually available they should be, and whether or not they should become biological mothers (Carpenter, 2005; Lee, 1998; Russo, 1976; Lichtenstein, this volume). Social norms shape women’s (and men’s) perspectives on sexuality, reproduction, and various life...

    • 12 Sexual Expression over the Life Course: Results from Three Landmark Surveys
      (pp. 236-259)

      Although sexuality studies have become increasingly mainstream over the last two decades, large-sample research has only lately picked up steam. Moreover, most social demographic studies still focus on isolated facets of the overall sexual experience, such as sexual precocity, victimization, and dysfunctions and/or on specific segments of the life trajectory. Absent a comprehensive theoretical model of sexuality over the life course, the “global” significance of such isolated findings becomes hard to interpret. In this chapter, we delineate just such a theoretical model, based on observed patterns from three landmark surveys.

      Large-sample sexuality studies have typically concentrated on younger ages, with...

    • 13 Exploring Embodied Aging and Ageism among Old Lesbians and Gay Men
      (pp. 260-277)

      The sexuality of old women and men is an issue that has seen an upsurge in scholarly attention over the past decade and a half (e.g., Cruikshank, 2009; DeLamater & Moorman, 2007; Levy, 1994).¹ These investigations disprove ageist notions about sexuality in later life, demonstrating that old people continue to desire and have the capacity for sexual intimacy. Although an examination of the sexuality of aging lesbians and gay men is often absent from this research, a nascent attention to the sexuality of old homosexuals has been building over the past 5 years (e.g., Heaphy, 2007, 2009; Herdt & de...

    • 14 Pleasure in Old Age
      (pp. 278-296)

      How many of us associate pleasure, joy, or satisfaction with turning 90? It is usually the opposite—we are taught to brace ourselves, preparing for pain and discomfort in the last years of our lives. And yet old age does not necessarily negate pleasure, intimacy, or personal growth. I argue here that the very old, those aged 85 and beyond, actively accomplish both familiar and new forms of sensuality and pleasure, sometimes in spite of themselves.

      This chapter takes a close look at 30 of the oldest old, the major transitions and guiding themes across each of their lives, and...

  9. PART VI. Conclusion

    • 15 Toward an Interdisciplinary Science of Lifelong Sexualities for the Twenty-First Century
      (pp. 299-316)

      How do sexual and social experiences at one point in a person’s life affect their sexual beliefs and behaviors later on? How are individuals’ sexual biographies shaped by broader cultural and historical changes? In what ways do intersections among gender, race, ethnicity, social class, and sexual identity influence these life course processes, even as life course processes influence those intersecting social statuses in turn? These are the questions with which we introduced this volume.

      The life course perspective provides a uniquely fruitful approach for answering these questions. It improves over other approaches by allowing for serious exploration of how events...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 317-348)
  11. About the Contributors
    (pp. 349-352)
  12. Index
    (pp. 353-363)