Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. This study examines how married straight and lesbian women understand sexual changes in midlife. Sexual satisfaction is key to marital quality, yet marital sex typically diminishes in midlife. Little is known, however, about how married straight and lesbian women make sense of midlife sexuality. Inductive and deductive analyses were performed on interviews with a convenience sample of 16 straight and 16 lesbian mostly high-status married couples in Massachusetts.
Lesbian Housewives wants sex Union Hill straight women suggest that sexual activity and desire diminish over time due to health, aging, and caregiving events, yet lesbian women additionally emphasize the importance of weight gain, caregiving for adult parents, and shared experiences of menopause. Women further describe distress when their sex lives diverge from norms specific to marriage and their sexual identities.
Moreover, women report relationship work deed to maintain or reignite sex; when compared with straight women, lesbians describe more work and a stronger sense of duty to keep sex alive and uniquely describe medical providers as unhelpful in addressing sexual challenges. Stressful events common to midlife, such as becoming a caregiver for an aging parent or the onset of chronic illness, pose challenges to a satisfying sex life.
For example, midlife and later life individuals who reported a decline in physical health also reported diminished sexual activity and satisfaction Lindau et al. Midlife challenges affect women in both straight and lesbian marriages, yet existing studies primarily focus on straight marriages and grant little insight into how women in lesbian marriages navigate sex amid ificant midlife events.
These gaps in research limit our knowledge about the experiences of sex and sexuality among married women during midlife. Gendered cultural ideals related to sex and sexuality inform how women make sense of midlife events that challenge sex and sexuality as well as the work women invest in their sexual relationships. How do midlife lesbian and straight women make sense of, frame, and respond to changes in their sexual lives? Sexual satisfaction is positively associated with marital quality, and high levels of marital quality, in turn, predict marital stability Yeh et al.
Although frequency of sex tends to decline with age, Lindau et al. For example, increased caregiving responsibilities seem to have more deleterious effects on overall Housewives wants sex Union Hill quality measures of which include sexual satisfaction for straight women than for straight men Bookwala, For example, Lodge and Umberson found that both gay and straight men define their embodied experiences of aging differently from women, but only gay men experienced negative body image as a key source of distress amid diminishing sex and sexuality in their romantic relationships.
Studies also show that gay and lesbian couples perform health work e. People as meaning to sex in light of their social positions.
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Findings that link sexual activity and satisfaction to relationship satisfaction and stability must be examined with an eye toward how satisfaction is embedded in larger gendered schemas of sex and marriage. Two primary yet competing gendered and sexual norms typically found in scientific and popular discourse posit that a consistent and frequent sexual activity is the measure of a successful marriage see Giddens,but b sex inevitably declines in marriage over time see Call et al. Both lesbian and straight women are exposed to these broad sexual marriage norms, but their divergent social positions suggest that these norms may shape their interpretations of sexual experiences in different ways.
Moreover, sexual norms change over time. The stigmatized and constrained history of lesbian sexuality Housewives wants sex Union Hill relation to hegemonic heterosexuality paired with recent access to legal marriage may impose competing marital sexual norms and complicate how lesbian women make sense of and respond to their changing sexual relationships amid ificant midlife events. We know much less about the experiences of married lesbians.
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The few studies that do compare relationships of women in straight and lesbian couples attribute differences to the different experiences of interacting with a man versus a woman see Umberson et al. In addition, important questions remain about how married straight and lesbian women similarly or differently experience and interpret sex in connection to midlife events, defined in this article to include changes and processes that commonly unfold in midlife in relation to health, caregiving, and aging. For example, changes in health influence sex and sexuality, but lesbian and straight women may understand their health differently.
Sims and Meana report that married straight women interpret weight gain, common in midlife, as diminishing their own sexual desire, but different patterns may emerge for lesbian spouses. Lesbians may have higher body mass indexes when compared with straight women Eliason et al. Situating gendered experiences within relational contexts of women married to women and women married to men allows us to analyze similarities and differences within groups and reveals how gender and Housewives wants sex Union Hill are co-constructed in context Connell, ; Springer et al.
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With these goals in mind, we analyze in-depth interview data from lesbian and straight couples to answer the following question: How do midlife women in straight and lesbian marriages experience, make sense of, frame, and respond to changes in their sex lives? We analyze data from in-depth interviews with 48 midlife women and 16 men in 16 lesbian marriages and 16 straight marriages.
These interviews were part of a larger study that compared the interpersonal marital and health dynamics of men and women in married same-sex and different-sex unions. Housewives wants sex Union Hill respondents had been legally married for at least 7 years at the time of the interview. Relationship duration years of unmarried cohabitation plus years of married cohabitation ranged from 7 to 32 years with a mean of 20 for lesbian couples and from 10 to 35 with a mean of 25 for straight couples.
The average ages were Most respondents were White, educated, and middle or upper income, and all were cisgender non-transgender. Among the straight women, one identified as Asian, two as Black, and 13 as White. Among the men, one identified as Black and 15 as White. Three lesbians identified as Black; the remaining 29 identified as White. All participants lived in Massachusetts at the time of interviews, which were conducted between and The majority of lesbian and gay respondents were recruited through letters mailed to the addresses of same-sex couples married between andas identified through the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Statistics.
Lesbian and gay participants were asked to refer additional lesbian, gay, and straight couples of similar ages from their social networks to take part in the study; this method resulted in the recruitment of most of the straight participants. Additional recruitment efforts included advertisements in local newspapers and flyers dispersed throughout various neighborhoods. To encourage honesty Housewives wants sex Union Hill promote privacy, each person was interviewed individually, away from his or her spouse.
Sometimes, participants freely connected experiences of sex and sexuality to other questions about their health and relationships. In addition, the interviewers asked interviewees directly about their sex lives and sexual health, connections between their sex lives and their physical and mental health, and whether and how their sex lives had changed during the course of their relationship.
All interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed, and reviewed for accuracy. We analyzed our interviews using both a deductive approach, which, informed by the literature, sought to address gaps in knowledge, and an inductive coding process that allowed themes to emerge; this process was guided by standard principles of qualitative data analysis see Weiss, We thus homed in on relevant passages of transcripts and analyzed how interviewees framed and made meaning from their experiences. We looked for themes that spoke to extant theory as well as novel, emergent themes.
Initial analyses were conducted by the first author see Esterberg,who began by reading all interviews in full. Discussions of events or conditions that participants understood as having influenced their sex lives e.
Together, these passages composed the excerpt file on which subsequent analyses were performed see Weiss, The first author then conducted line-by-line coding of excerpts, which were revisited multiple times as codes emerged, reemerged, and became refined see Weiss, During this iterative close-coding process, the first author wrote memos to note emergent themes and how themes related to one another as well as to the theories and concepts driving this study.
Then this author performed a second round of focused coding to solidify themes and establish subthemes. Themes and subthemes were continually revised and refined throughout each stage of the analyses until saturation was achieved no new themes emerged.
At each level of coding, the first author also assessed similarities and differences among and between couples and whether and how themes and subthemes were shared across union types or unique to one union type. To further establish the validity and credibility of findings, the second and third authors offered feedback about themes, subthemes, and comparative insights; the first author then reexamined and revised findings until all authors agreed on the validity and robustness of. The participants overwhelmingly conceived of their sex lives as fluid, dynamic, and subject to change in response to life events, and one or both spouses from all but two lesbian and two straight couples reported a decline in sex during the course of their marriages.
Three primary themes regarding midlife changes in sex emerged from analyses. Second, spouses made sense of change in light of gendered sexual norms; when they perceived themselves to be out of alignment with valued norms, they conveyed distress. Third, typically in response to distress related to changes in sex, spouses often Housewives wants sex Union Hill efforts to improve, increase, or maintain sex with partners.
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Below, we describe these three themes, related subthemes, and similarities and differences by union type; please see Table 1 for the summary of findings. Of the 32 couples, 28 reported a decline in sex over time, and in 25 of these—13 straight and 12 lesbian couples—one or both spouses linked changes in sex to changes in health, aging, and caregiving common to midlife see Table 1. Three couples reported similar events, but saw their sexual difficulties as having begun early in their relationships, prior to midlife events, and thus are not discussed. Lesbian and straight women framed sex as constrained by embodied changes and relational challenges triggered by health events in midlife.
Across union types, the participants saw health events as having diminished sexual activity. Many participants said that cancer, chronic pain, injury, or depression had affected their sex lives, typically either because women developed a negative body image after surgical interventions altered their bodies or because medication repressed their sex drive.
I have no drive at all. Some women who experienced pain due to health events struggled with the opposite problem: needing to assure spouses that they still desired sex. Some participants reported emotional distress stemming from an inability to convince pain-free partners to engage in sex. Yet when she wished to engage in different sexualized acts deed to avoid pain, her wife was less interested.
I felt I could give her pleasure and there were other things that Housewives wants sex Union Hill could do … but she really felt like [to engage in sex,] she wanted us both to have pleasure. Yeah, absolutely. Straight and lesbian couples thus similarly interpreted embodied changes triggered by medication and surgery and relational challenges resulting from pain as the processes through which midlife health events had inhibited their sexual relationships with their spouses. Lesbian and straight women described aging-related events—primarily menopause and weight gain—as having diminished their sex drive.
Notably, lesbians uniquely emphasized weight gain and shared menopausal experiences see Table 1.