Tag Archives: older adults

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

Without policy nothing happens


Policy drives action. If there is no policy then it is hard to get funding for an idea, or to have a topic included in someone’s work plan. Did you know that midlife and older adult sexual health does not appear in Australian federal or state health policy? Why should it? Well, if people are still exploring new relationships, and want to brush up relationship or communication skills, or have suitable sexual health checks, without policy there probably will not be services for them to use, or to encourage a GP to think of midlife and older adults as sexual beings.


I’ve written (co-written, but most of it was me) an article that has just been published. It is scholarly evidence that there is no policy, because I took a thorough look, and the article has been reviewed and updated and reviewed again, that is, has gone through the proper process to make it academic, scholarly evidence so people can say, there is no policy, and HERE’S THE PROOF. Then they can cite: Kirkman, L., Kenny, A., & Fox, C. (2013). Evidence of absence: Midlife and older adult sexual health policy in Australia. Sexuality Research and Social Policy. doi:10.1007/s13178-013-0109-6 (which needs a volume and issue number but doesn’t have it yet, but was published online 2/2/2013).

Thank you to my lovely participants and later in the year I’ll publish something which quotes you and refers to you by name. This article is back ground to why my study, and your participation, matters.

Baby boomers and safer sex


Health promotion has to be done well. Otherwise it is a waste of money at best, and potentially harmful at worst. One of the reasons for my PhD topic, which explores the experiences of rural baby boomers in friends with benefits relationships, is that I wanted to gather data to use to address the lack of sexual health policy and health promotion to baby boomers and older adults. Since I started two years ago I have observed the growing interest and media awareness of the sexuality of older people. My own publications, including one in The Hoopla this week, have tried to address this too. There was a 2010 Middle Aged Spread campaign in the UK that promoted safer sex to the growing number of adults finding new partners, and with them, new infections.  That campaign used pictures of 1960s and 1970s fashion as a way of attracting the attention of their target audience and was quite cute, inclusive and not focused on penetration.Image

I know that the safe sex message is largely in relation to penetrative sex and the need to use barriers to prevent STI spread, but it is really important to me that sexuality and sexual relationships be viewed in a much more broad way. Safer sex is dependent on bigger issues than just ‘cover it with a condom’. What has to be considered first is the starting point of the person – communication skills, self esteem, confidence, assertiveness, health beliefs, sobriety, personal history, cultural expectations (including religion), the impact of gender roles and expectations. From that base will come the behaviours of safer, or unsafe, sex.

So I should have been happy last week when an American campaign http://safersex4seniors.org/ was launched promoting condom use, in response to a dramatic increase in STIs in older adults. But I was not happy. The 30 second video made me cringe. I hated it. I have spent some time this week reflecting on why it felt so wrong.

The video clip that goes with the campaign is meant to be funny and fun, but I think it is a waste of an opportunity, and mocking. Yes, the couples mostly look happy, but some look bemused. There is racial diversity depicted but only African/Caucasian, but no sexual diversity is evident. It is heteronormative, and has a phallocentric, male pleasure focus. The people are fully clad and on a stage. Why are they performing in what looks like a community hall?  There is a focus on penetration, including from the rear, and fellatio. The poster and video look as though they were designed by a young man, as women’s pleasure is missing. I don’t mean to discount the pleasure women get from penetration, but there is no cunnilingus depicted, or the diversity of sexual behaviour that is around pleasure and intimacy, not just penetration. There is nothing to suggest the broader picture of sexual intimacy.

The site claims to be put together by sexuality experts; therapists, educators, that sort of thing. I contacted them on Twitter to ask the demographics of the creative people behind the video. Got a cagey reply about the actors then when I asked again was sent a DM with an email address. DDB is an ad agency.  I can see that from the picture of the person associated with the campaign that she is a young woman. I was thinking about the male focus of the campaign and that perhaps men are the demographic who needs to be convinced. That might have some effect, given that older men are notoriously hard to persuade to use a condom.

I still don’t like it. Must rush off and finish my PhD so I can have some authority with which to be part of a better campaign in Australia to promote healthy sexuality to older people.