Tag Archives: PhD

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


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.


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.

Happy sexgeekery in Melbourne


The First National Sexual and Reproductive Health conference was held in Melbourne this week, 20-21 November 2012. It was not really the first national sexual health conference, but it WAS the first one organised by the PHAA and FPA, and definitely didn’t have a biomedical focus like many sex conferences, so let’s not be too hard on them calling it the first. I had an excellent time, hanging out with some of my sexgeek friends from Twitter, some of whom I met in real life for the first time. I also met some of my sex research, and qualitative research, heroes, including Gail Hawkes, Juliet Richters and Victor Minichiello. The invited speakers were really good, and you can see who they were here. My paper Kirkman 2012 Midlife sexuality_beyond heteronormativity, went well and I was pleased with the feedback I was given. If a post-doc or thesis examiner comes from contacts made at this conference, then I will be very happy.

My fellow student Asha gave me a plush toy representing HIV, and took a picture of me with it.

If you want to read more about the conference itself, Simon Blake from the UK’s Brook Young People Sexual Health Charity, has written a good account. A key theme from many presenters was that sexual expression, sexuality education, and good sexual health across the life span are human rights. The WHO definition was cited by many. I was also pleased to hear many people including sexual health across the life span, including midlife and older adults. It seems my research is in the right place at the right time.



America, trying to avoid the stereotypes
There is nothing like a relationship conference to get one seeing the world in an analytic, labelling way, observing body language and interactions, categorising and stereotyping people. Given I spend a lot of time advocating for NOT putting people in boxes I found this reaction quite disturbing. I see a young, bling-adorned black man driving a huge, shiny convertible, pumping out doof-doof, and my first thought was, drug dealer. My second thought, naughty! Stereotypes are bad!

Building on from this, I’ve started describing and categorising my own behaviour using sociology concepts. Things like, ‘I don’t follow that social script’; ‘I don’t subscribe to that gendered behaviour expectation’. My PhD study has me looking at things, individual ideas or behaviours, and reducing them to theoretical concepts – or is that expanding them? It is probably a useful approach for thesis writing, but must be very annoying for people whose head is not in that universe. Having said that, my use of these concepts is more in my thinking and private describing, not used in general conversation.

Heteronormativity and mononormativity
I was trying to work out how to describe the impact of the generally heteronormative, mononormative, long-term-heterosexual-dyad-as-gold-standard approach to relationship research design and evaluation, when I read Silverman (2007) who uses the term, ‘Explanatory Orthodoxy’ (p. 88). He describes this as social scientists viewing people as puppets of social structures, and what they do is defined by society. ‘In practice, this reduces to the level of explaining people’s behaviour as certain “face sheet” variables (like social class, gender or ethnicity). … social scientists do research to find explanations of given problems, e.g., why do individuals engage in unsafe sex? Inevitably, such research will find explanations based on one or more ‘face-sheet’ variables’ (p. 88). My speculation on this is that many of the presentations I saw were from study designs based on face sheet variables, most of which were quantitative, of course, That’s what made the ones that were different really stand out. Amy Moors spoke about her research into non-monogamy, and from that some contacts were made, and there was a coffee meeting I missed out on but an email group has been formed and people will keep in touch. I’m suggesting a symposium at the next IARR conference on non-monogamy, which would be an interesting contrast.

How sessions were put together and symposia timetabled, plus what was chosen to be included, could say something about the approach of the conference organisers – pure speculation here, no evidence, but the talk comparing the frequency and duration of sexual encounters people of different sexual orientations was lumped in with conjugal pairings of men and women in Brazilian prisons. Our casual sex symposium was at a very unfriendly time. Maybe I’m reading too much into this.

Is there any meaning to the fact that I have Placebo’s Sucker Love as an ear worm while writing this?

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
fwb@latrobe.edu.au 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!