Category Archives: Research

Baby boomer sexuality from a rural perspective


This article, published in the journal Rural Society in a special edition on Sex, Sexuality and Place focuses on the rural aspects of my research. I focus on just four cases which highlight the diversity of behaviours, relationships and attitudes of the individuals, and their cultural environment.

Midlife relationship diversity, sexual fluidity, wellbeing and sexual health from a rural perspective.

Abstract: People in midlife are having sexual relationships outside hetero-monogamy and marriage. These relationships contribute positively to their wellbeing; however there is no policy that supports sexual health promotion or encourages sexually transmissible infection testing for people older than 29 years. For rural people who are in a non-traditional relationship, confidentiality, access to sexual health services, and stigma are concerns. In this qualitative research project we investigate the experience and wellbeing of rural baby boomers who have had a friends-with-benefits relationship within the previous five years. Participant recruitment criteria are to have been born between 1946 and 1965, and to live outside a capital city. The 22 participants are 15 women and 7 men who represent diverse sexual orientations including heterosexual, gay and lesbian, with most identifying as heterosexual and bi-curious. The duration of their relationships ranged from 6 months to 15 years. Some were monogamous and some had multiple partners. A fear of judgement about their sex lives for some led to a need for secrecy and concern about being seen with partners. Use of health services for sexual health was mixed: many would not ask for testing and some who did were challenged or refused. Four participants’ experiences when having an unconventional relationship in a rural area in relation to social wellbeing and sexual health are the focus of this article. Recommendations are made for policy, health practitioner education, clinical guidelines, sexual health promotion, and informal community activities to promote good sexual health and relationship wellbeing for people in midlife.

APA 6 citation:

Kirkman, L., Fox, C., & Dickson-Swift, V. (2015). Midlife relationship diversity, sexual fluidity, wellbeing and sexual health from a rural perspective. Rural Society Special Edition on Sex, Sexuality and Place, 24(3). doi:10.1080/10371656.2015.1099272

Rural Society article


Pushing conference boundaries: Midlife and later life adults challenge relationship assumptions


How does one try to change the culture of an organisation, or the way society is viewed and studied? The nature of relationships is changing – or their overt expression is changing – and my research contributes to the bigger picture about this change, yet mainstream research seems focused only on mainstream. Joining an organisation and sharing work at its conferences is one way to raise awareness of change and promote interest in new ideas. I have been doing this through IARR.

The International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) has its conference every two years. I presented in 2012 in Chicago at the very unfriendly time of first thing on the morning after the conference dinner. The symposium, organised by (now) Dr Jocelyn Wentland was on casual sex, and at the time I wondered if the timeslot implied a judgement on the topic. I wrote at the time how I felt like a fish out of water as most presentations assumed the committed, heterosexual couple was the default and expected gold standard. My non-cohabiting, not always monogamous, not all heterosexual participants did not fit this model. I wondered if the emphasis would change for the 2014 conference, and if diverse relationships would feature more. This year the conference was in Melbourne, and I was part of two presentations. Dr Sue Malta’s PhD was on late-life romantic relationships and our work complements each other well. We did a joint presentation which focused on agency and sex – and it was at 9 am after the conference dinner, just like last time! There were 12 people present which was a good number considering the time, and the work was well received.

Better positioned at 3.30 on Friday afternoon was a round table panel presentation which was: From Early Adulthood to Later Life: Redefining the Boundaries of New Intimate Relationships Across the Lifespan. Four of us were in this: Dr Sue Malta represented older adults in new romantic relationships aged 60-92; I included baby boomers in friends-with-benefits aged 46-65; Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli spoke of poly families with adults in their thirties and forties; and Luke Gahan referred to young same sex attracted, religious people aged 14-21. That session was fabulous. We each commented on three topics: exclusivity and commitment in the relationships; significance of sexual activity; the impact on wellbeing of the relationships and how it was influenced by the level of social acceptance of the relationships. A consistent finding was that the individuals and their relationships were doing well, and the main concern was the judgement or stigma that was feared or enacted in relation to being outside hetero-monogamy. We are writing a paper based on this presentation, so watch out for it. The picture shows us anxiously waiting for people to come – 14 turned up and were engaged and interested.

From left: Luke, Maria, Linda and Sue

From left: Luke, Maria, Linda and Sue

Writing up


I’m ‘writing up’. That’s a strange phrase, and I did not accept that I justified it for a while, but now agree that writing up is indeed happening. After conducting 22 interviews I have lots of interesting, thoughtful and diverse information. I’m describing it within different themes. Today I’m working on structure and agency and how it develops over time. Last week it was people’s use of health services. Next it will be either defining friends-with-benefits, or about the wellbeing aspects of the relationship.

I’m trying very hard to represent people’s words and meanings accurately. This is important for the validity of what I write, but also respectful of the participants. I’m also trying to write in a way which is easy to read, interesting, and suitably thoughtful.

I’m enjoying the process at the moment. Hope that continues.


Baby boomers continue to explore new relationship types


Baby boomers were pioneers trying out new relationship types in the 1960s and 1970s, and are still pushing social boundaries. Society is evolving and changing, including the way friendships and intimate relationships are conducted. As the divorce rate increases, some people are looking for intimacy, but want independence too.

Relationship types are changing, but not much is known about them, how baby boomers are negotiating those changes, or what impact the relationship has on wellbeing. This research team is interested to find out about the experiences of rural baby boomers who are in friends with benefits relationships and is conducting a research project to explore their experiences. It is hoped that the research findings will have relevance to policy and health promotion.

We are no longer looking for people to participate in this research, but if you are interested in the study and its progress, this site has information.

This research has ethics approval from La Trobe University. UHEC No. 11-078

Who can participate?
If you would like to participate, you must:
• be a baby boomer, defined as born between 1946-1965;
• live in a rural area, defined as outside a capital city;
• have participated within the last five years in a friends with benefits relationship, defined as one where people have an ongoing intimate relationship, but do not consider themselves to be a couple.

What is involved?
Participation in this study involves an individual interview of approximately one hour duration. This will preferably be face-to-face but could also be by phone or an email discussion if face-to-face is not suitable. Face-to-face interviews will be conducted in a private room at a La Trobe University campus convenient to you. La Trobe University campuses are in Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga, Shepparton, Mildura and two in Melbourne, both Bundoora and the CBD. The interviews will be digitally audio recorded, with your permission. The interviews will be analysed for broad themes and will form the basis of a research thesis, presented at conferences, published in journals, presented and discussed in appropriate public forums, such as the media and online.

What about my confidentiality?
Throughout this process your privacy and confidentiality will be maintained. You will be given a pseudonym and the data from the interviews will be de-identified and then transcribed using this pseudonym. Your location, or anything that could identify you, will not be included in the transcriptions, stated in the thesis or any publications or presentations. All material collected will be stored in an approved, secure location.

What if I change my mind?
Participation is entirely voluntary. You have the right to cancel or stop the interview. You have up to four weeks after your interview to withdraw your data from the project and will be given a ‘Withdrawal of Consent’ form to use.

What are the benefits?
It is hoped that this research will contribute to the knowledge about and understanding of baby boomers in friends with benefits relationships. From this might come recommendations for policy or health promotion. Although there are no explicit benefits to you, it might give you an opportunity to reflect on and gain insight into your own experiences.

I would like to participate NO LONGER TAKING NEW PARTICIPANTS
If you are interested in participating in this research please email us at and we will provide you with a detailed participation information sheet. If after reading this information sheet you are interested in participating you will be required to sign a consent form prior to your participation.

Thank you for your interest in this project!