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Late-Life Sexuality

Judith A. Levy


Considerable ambiguity surrounds both scientific and popular attempts to define the term “late-life sexuality.” Agreement as to when “late life” begins increasingly has moved upward over the last century with the lengthening of the average life course in most industrial societies. Meanwhile, the term “sexuality” has come to connote a wide variety of human sociobiological responses that range from varying levels of social attraction or physiological arousal to intimate body contact that may or may not include physical penetration. The failure of research scientists to define what they mean by “sexuality,” “sexual behavior,” or “late life” when designing studies or publishing their results complicates attempts to compare research findings within older age groups and across societies and sociocultural environments. Still, at least five themes emerge as constant premises in the literature concerning sexual desire and activity in later life as defined by some form of mental and/or physical sexual response at age 50 or older. First, scientific evidence widely documents that sexual norms and behaviors differ by societies and culture, historical time, generational influences, group characteristics, and individual beliefs and preferences. In this regard, the sexual attitudes and behaviors of today's oldest Americans are believed to have been shaped by their having come of sexual age during ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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