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Sexuality Across the Life Course in the United States John H. Gagnon In all societies one of the major axes on which sexual life is ordered is the age of individuals as organized into a socially constructed life course (CIausen, 1972; Reigel and Meachum, 1976~. However, the timing in the life course in which various forms of sexual conduct will be learned, expressed, and disappear, and the relationship of sexual conduct to other aspects of social and psychological life vary from one society to another and from one period to another in the history of any specific society (Ford and Beach, 1951; Marshall and Suggs, 1971; Dover, 1978; Katz, 1983; Hermit, 1984; Duberman, 1986; D'Emilio ant! Fieeciman, 1988~. Thus not only does the patterning of sexuality even across such a relatively narrow life stage as adolescence differ in an advanced industrial society with a predominantly Jucleo-Christian religious tradition like the United States and in developing societies with differing religious traditions, but also important cliiTerences can be found in the sexual lives of adolescents in the United States and those in other Western inclustrial societies (Jones et al., 1986~. Similarly, differences in the sexual life of adolescents can be found across relatively short time spans in the history of the United States; one need only contrast the 1920s with the 1950s or either of these decades with the 1980s. As a result of this grounding in social and cultural processes, chronological age and the biological events associated with it rarely John H. Gagnon is in the Department of Sociology, State University of New York at Stony Brook. 500
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 501 . directly explain sexual conduct. For example, the biological changes associated with puberty interact with the social and cultural con- texts that provide the framework for interpreting one's changing bodily characteristics and reproductive capacities (Gagnon and Si- mon, 1973~. In the same fashion, the social and cultural expectations about the appropriate levels of sexual activity for the elderly often shape the sexual declines associated with aging (Verwoercit et al., 1969; Brecher et al., 1984) Understanding that variations in sexual conduct are stratified by culturally defined life stage groupings floes not entail the acceptance of culturally universal sequences of human psychosocial development (Baltes and Brim, 1979~. The staging of the life course in any culture, and the sexual activities that are linked to it, depend on social constructions within cultures rather than on the automatic biological unfolding of the organism (Nardi, 1973; Neugartan and Datan, 1973; Uhlenberg, 1978~. Thus, in the United States, although the scripts for sexual conduct (the who, what, when, where, and why of conduct) and the interpersonal sexual networks through which they are expressed change across life course stages, both the sexual scripts and the networks can be matched only partially with age/stage periods in the life course (Gagnon, 1973; Simon ant! Gagnon, 1987~. The matching of life events to age/stage periods is most precise in strongly age-graded traditional societies with a relatively lim- ited set of irreversible role transitions across the life course (Kagan, 1980~. In industrial and postindustrial societies, such matchings of life events to age/stage periods seem most satisfactory early in life, which accounts for much of the success of age/stage variables in human development theory and research related to infancy and childhood. However, there is cross-cultural and historical evidence that even these early moments of the life course are not immune to change (for an instructive example, see Kett, 1978~. The complexity of life course stages has increaser! in the more advanced industrial societies. Both increases in discontinuities early in the life course (as a function of participation of sharply age- graclec! family and schooling practices) ant! a greater diffuseness of stage boundaries later in life (e.g., when relatively age-indepenclent patterns of affectional and sexual coupling and recoupling) can be observed. With increases in societal complexity and social mobil- ity, individuals turn out less often to be exactly what they might have been expected to be, given their life chances at birth (Brim and Wheeler, 1966~. In contrast to more traditional societies with limited adult role sets, limited rates of individual mobility, and slow rates
502 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS of sociocultural change, rapidly changing advanced industrial soci- eties are characterized by individuals with wider role networks and less predictable life courses. In such cultures, personality structures themselves might be expected to be more fluid. These differences in societies make it important to examine those social strata and experiences that crosscut age/stage periods and in- crease the variability of conduct within age and stage groupings. Some of these stratification systems begin early in life to allocate inclividuals into relatively fixed streams of individual development, isolating them from conventional life courses. For instance, some birth defects, when responded to by the society, often create specially segregated clusters of differentially ablest individuals with quite dif- ferent age/stage patterns. Other strata rest on characteristics such as race, religion, or the socioeconomic status of parents; sometimes this status is relatively easy to change, other times, it is not, depend- ing on the social context (Featherman, 1980~. Other stratifications that differentiate age groups appear later in life. College attendance by some young persons and going to work after high school by oth- ers often affirm prior, but less stringent, boundaries between young persons of different social classes in high school. Going to college or going to work creates new social ant] sexual networks that exclude former potential sexual partners and open slots for new ones. One important division in the society that is particularly relevant to sexuality and crosscuts all other strata, including age, is gender (Ross), 1985~. The gendering of social life has seemed so natural that it appeared to most to be part of the biological background. It is only through the efforts of feminist scholars, both women and men, to denaturalize the gender order and point out its social ori- gins, that one has been able to observe the importance of gender in structuring the conceptions of sexuality. Over the last 15 years there have been important changes in research and theorizing about gender and sexuality in most social science disciplines. In general, these reconsiderations have followed in a social constructionist tra- dition (Ortner ant! Whitehead, 1981; Tiefer, 1987), but important contributions have been made by those who have focused on what they consider to be "essential" differences between the genders and their sexuality (Rich, 1983~. Although much of this work has been theoretical or critical, important original empirical work has been published, particularly in social history. While it is not possible to review here in detail this extensive and theoretically rich literature, a number of points need! to be made in light of it (some important recent works are by Rubin,
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 503 1975, 1984; English et al., 1981; Snitow et al., 1984; Vance, 1984; and CaTifia, whose works are cited in Rubin, 1984~. Such work points out the necessary considerations that must be given to gender differences in sexuality as they are "found" to exist across the life course. In some cases these differences will be illusory; in others they will be real, but culturally transient; in still others they will be functions of the interests, both scientific- ant! otherwise, of the observers. Such cautions should be kept in mind when considering the life course constructed below. Linked to the issue of gender is the problem of violence ant! its sequelae in the lives of women. Some of this violence involves sexual acts, but large amounts of violence against women may not be specif- ically sexual and still be consequential for their sexual lives. Making too sharp a distinction between sexual and nonsexual violence may conceal rather than illuminate both the origins and the consequences of gander-related violence(Strauset al., 1980;FinkeThoretal., 1983~. While some men are the victims of specifically sexual violence (perpe- trated almost exclusively by other men), this is not a routine aspect of men's lives. Relatively unexamined, however, is the nonsexual vi- olence between men (including games involving physical aggression), which is often traceable to the direct or indirect competition among men for the attention of, or access to, women. However, women of all ages, but more often the young, are relatively frequent targets of sexual coercion and violence (Groth, 1979; Russell, 1984~. From being forced by lovers and spouses to perform sexual acts they do not wish to perform to acts of sexual violence by strangers, the specter or the experience of violence related to sexuality is part of the back- ground of female sexuality. The climate of potential violence (heavily reinforcer! by, and represented in, the mass media), as well as the experience of actual violence by women, must have effects on their sexual lives. How to factor this climate and these individual events into a life course perspective on the sexual relations between women and men is not entirely obvious, but such experiences, on average, may be as important as other major life events (e.g., divorce) or life conditions (e.g., Tow income) in structuring women's sexuality. The most important stratification of individuals on specifically sexual grounds is the result of an erotic preference for persons of ei- t her the other or the same gender. This cleavage begins to be sharply felt by many in adolescence but often only becomes fully articulated in young adulthood. The social cleavage between those who prefer sex with the same gender and those who prefer sex with persons of the other gender is extremely complex and has undergone considerable
504 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS historical change since the end of World War II (D'Emilio, 1983~. It should be noted that many persons having ongoing sexual experi- ences with persons of the same gender do not think of themselves as gay, lesbian, or homosexual. Some of these persons have such sexual relations out of a variety of motives and in a variety of contexts, some of them subcultural. Thus, young men who have regular sex with women may intermittently sell themselves (usually their penis) to persons of the same gender for sex, never thinking of themselves as homosexual (Reiss, 1961~. Delinquents, young men in the military, young men down on their luck-, and working-cIass men in need of sexual outlet in absence of women may engage in such "homosexual" activity. Some men from some Latin cultures and some aggressive men in prisons do not discriminate between the gender of their sexual partners as long as they are in the active/insertive sexual role (Car- rier, 1976~. Such persons, and others that could be identified, are often described as bisexual, but this is much too simple, except as a purely behavioral identifier (Schwartz and Blumstein, 1977~. There are men who identify themselves as gay who have sex with women and women in lesbian relationships who may have sex with men on an intermittent basis (Gagnon, 1977; CaTifia, 1983~. Most people who have sex with partners of the same gender solely on a situational or contextual basis have only a limited portion of their social relationships with those having same-gender erotic preferences and often have most of their sexual activity with persons of the other gender. Prior to the early 1970s, this pattern of living a life hidden among the heterosexual majority was probably true of large numbers of persons who would have identified themselves as homosexual or at least predominantly interested in sex with persons of the same gender. Life entirely in the closet or at least concealing their predominant sexual preference to important persons in their lives (parents, spouses, children, other relatives, coworkers, good friends, members of the religious community) was the common con- dition of persons with same-gender sexual desires (Humphrey, 1978~. Homosexuality was thought to be sinful, criminal, pathological, or deviant, and research was usually conducted by scientists holding these presumptions on persons living under these conditions of social repression (Bieber, 1962, Socarides, 1978~. Many individuals partic- ipated clandestinely and fearfully in the limited institutions of the "homosexual community," whereas others lived in sexual relation- ships open to limited friendship circles ant! social groups (Warren, 1974~. Fear of blackmail, robbery, police harassment or brutality, loss of jobs, and discovery by unknowing loved ones was endemic
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 505 (Kinsey et al., 1948; Gebhar<1 et al., 1965; Simon and Gagnon, 1967; Weinberg and Williams, 1974~. The social transformations of the 1960s and 1970s created from the earlier homosexual community a new social collectivity that has come to be callecl the gay mate and lesbian communities in which new sexual identities have been created (Plummer, 1981; Escoffier, 1985~. Part of this social solidarity was the emergence of a more complex community in metropolitan centers based on a wide variety of needs and interests (Humphreys, 1972; D'Emilio, 1983~. Gay and lesbian political groups, newspapers and book publishers, community service agencies, restaurants, employment and other agencies,- and medical and legal professionals have flourished in these communities. As a tradition of greater openness emerged, it was possible for some gay men and lesbians to be "open" to all the important persons in their lives as well as to the general public, whereas others remained either selective or constrained in their openness. Despite these changes, however, there floes not seem to have been a reduction in homophobia among the general population, at least as measured by attitude questions about homosexuality on national surveys (see Figure 7-2 in Chapter 7~. The relation of the gay male and lesbian communities to the larger society has come to Took more like that of other minority com- munities based on ethnicity, religion, and race, which prized both their cultural singularity and their relation to the larger culture, polity, and economy (Paul et al., 1982; D'Emilio, 1983~. Some gay men and lesbians live their entire lives within their own communities, spending the majority of their lives working ant! living with persons having the same sexual preference. Others work and live partially in the social world populated by a majority of heterosexuals, some- times open, and sometimes not, but have most of their important affectional ties and interpersonal connections in the gay and lesbian communities. Still others retain strong ties to members of the hetero- sexual majority (including parents and children)sometimes open about their sexual preference and sometimes notand sustain con- nections of the widest variety with members of the larger society. Although an imperfect analogy, one might think of the relations of Jews to the non-Jewish majority in the United States at an ear- lier stage in history a relationship that ranged (and still ranges, though with less anti-Semitism) from the insularity of the Hasidic communities to the invisibility of secular Jews in the larger society. Given these restrictions on the universality of life course models or even the lack of a dominant model in the United States, it is still
506 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS useful to attempt to characterize the sexual life course in the United States in order to identify modal sexual processes and experiences as well as those that vary substantially from them. It is important to point out that the presentation of the age/stage periods in a time order from early to late does not mean that earlier experience is always strongly determinative of later experience (Brim and Wheeler, 1966~. The demands of current social circumstances are often more determinative of current sexual conduct than are early experiences that are post hoc thought to connect earlier to later behavior. Sexual conduct at later moments in the life course should not be thought of as a simple reenactment of, or as preformed by, earlier patterns of nonsexual or sexual conduct (Gagnon and Simon, 1973~. What follows then is a heuristic framework for the life course of those with other-gender and same-gender preferences in erotic re- lations in the United States for the last two decades and perhaps extending into the future until the turn of the century. There are many variations from this framework. It is not meant to be prescrip- tive or normative, although it may be treated by some as such, but rather descriptive and indicative of sexual patterns in one culture and at one point in time. In addition it should be emphasized that both the life course and the patterns of sexual conduct are changing in relatively unpredictable directions as a result of the influence of much larger social forces. CHILDHOOD Infancy Infancy stretches in time from birth to the middle of the third year of life when independent locomotion and language skills have been developed. The center of the child's life moves from the mother (and less often a father or other caretaker) to a more extended group of individuals in and out of the family. Although, historically, the psychoanalytic tradition viewed these years as critical for mature psy- chosexual development, more contemporary research suggests that the importance of these early experiences (e.g., weaning, toilet train- ing, parental attachment) to adolescent and adult sexual patterns is quite limited. This is in accordance with other work in human devel- opment which suggests that early experience may be less critical for later development than previously assumed, although this remains a serious point of controversy among developmental psychologists (Ka- gan, 1971~. Perhaps of most importance in the United States is the
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 507 successful acquisition of some elements of a conventionalized gender identity, and perhaps the most important of these is the preliminary sense of being a boy or a girl. Although it has been argued that this acquisition of gender identity is an all or none process some- what like imprinting, a more cautious formulation would be that the components of the conventional gender identity package are proba- bly learned in a more cumulative fashion over the entire period of childhood (Luria, 1979~. The intensity and consistency of environmental demands for con- forming gender conduct among the- young may make the acquisition of gender identity appear to be a form of natural development, but there is evidence that various elements of gender identity seem to be accessible to change later in life (Maccoby ant! Jacklin, 1974~. Thus gender-linked differences in the behavior of small children, such as assertiveness, often wash out in the context of the demands of adult work lives (Epstein, 1981~. In most Western societies and partic- ularly in the United States, this earliest portion of the life course is linked to sexuality as expressed by most postpubertal individuals primarily through cumulative gender role and nonsexual learning, which serve as a frame for the future acquisition and practice of both heterosexual and homosexual conduct in adolescence (Money and Ehrhardt, 1972; Kessler and McKenna, 1974; Gagnon, 1979~. Preschool In the preschool period, say from ages 3 to 6, children enter an expanding world of interpersonal and media experiences. Moth- ers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, same-age peers, the mass media through television, and preschool and day-care experiences rapidly complicate and enrich the world of children. Here, the differences among various cultures and points in the history of any given culture become more sharply focused. The presence or absence of the mass merlin, churchgoing, full-time care by mothers, and urban or village living shape not only the daily life of the child but also the ways in which knowledge about sexuality is acquired and the systems of meaning to which it is linked. (The historical study of sexual life is rapidly expanding; for examples, see Foucault, 1978; Boswell, 1980; Weeks, 1981; Gay, 1984; and Crompton, 1985.) Few children in the world are as bombarded with gentler role models linked to the con- sumption of toys and other products, or to explicit models of personal attractiveness that become the basis of sexual attractiveness later in
508 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS life, as are chiTciren in the United States (for a review, see Brown et al., 1988~. The aspects of the conventional gender identity package acquired in infancy are systematically reinforced and policed by the widest va- riety of audiences. Children first learn about modesty and shame, and systematic restrictions are placed on their access to various bod- iTy pleasures. Their earliest inquiries about sexuality are commonly unanswered, their bodily parts and reproductive processes are either mislabeled or nonTabeled (Sears et al., 1957; Gagnon, 1965~. It is characteristic of the majority of families to avoid references to sexual matters and protect children from sexual information. Nearly all retrospective studies of adolescents and adults on sources and timing of sexual learning indicate the limited role that parents play in these matters. Later Childhood} The transition of children from the home to elementary school has clearly changed with the increase of working mothers and day-care or preschool programs. Many of the experiences that once charac- terized the first day of school are now spread out over a much longer period. The significance of the first six years of school has probably not changed a great clear, however. The elementary school in its nor- mal practices extends and further reinforces the conventional gentler role package in still another set of environments. School opportu- nities and peer relationships sharpen the gender divisions between boys and girls in both formal and informal school programs. Fail- ure in schools for either academic or other reasons begins to set the stage for nonconformist and risk-taking behaviors that characterize young people who are reached inadequately by the schools them- seIves. Pressures toward general conformity to rules and regulations offer other opportunities for deviance among chiTciren. There are still strong tendencies for children to spend the major- ity of their time and emotions in same-gencler peer groups. Whereas the strength of gender divisions has been growing weaker among ur- ban, upper middle class groups, the support for same-gender frien(l- ships remains strong among most social groups in the society (Hess, 1981~. Schools tend to reinforce these patterns through both the cul- tural preferences of teachers and the institutionaTizecl gentler prac- tices of the school itself.
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 509 Television maintains its continuing pressure on gender role con- formity through Saturday morning programming for children, partic- ularly the advertisements, as well as through programming directed toward aclults that is seen by children. Of particular importance to sexuality are the effects of these materials on what children expect to happen in adolescence and adulthood. Indeed, perhaps the most important training that children receive about the social context of their sexual futures comes from the mass media, largely television, but also from the cinema shown on television. Thus, the importance of physical attractiveness, success with the opposite gender, falling in love, being a member of a couple, and high consumption standards are the staples of adult television that children watch (Brown et al., 1988). Although there is evidence of an increase in more explicit sexual or sexuaTity-related mass media materials, the effect of these materi- als on prepubertal children is unknown. This new explicitness exists at two levels. The first is the one that attracts attempts at social control: programs or magazines that contain nudity, open references to sexuality, or language that may offend. Although this material often evokes attempts at censorship, the majority of prepubertal chiTciren may not understancl much of it. The second aspect of the new explicitness is the relatively constant public debate conducted in the mass media about such topics as pornography, contraception, abortion, and adolescent sexuality, as well as public education pro- grams about AIDS prevention. This openness of debate and public discussion about sexuality, without any explicitly sexual depictions, may offer more informal sexual information to older children than pornography. For example, the access of girls to mass market maga- zines intendecl for women, which heavily emphasize issues of sexual adjustment, orgasm, extramarital sex, and sexual dysfunction, may be more critical than the availability of more sexually open materials in movies or on television. The recency of this increased sexual open- ness means that we do not yet have a generation that has grown up under this informational regime. These mass media forces in sexual eclucation of the prepubertal young are also relevant to the adoles- cent and young adult periods as well, but equally little is known about their consumption or influence. It may well be that exposure to these materials actually has no consequence for the current or future lives of children or young people; the dilemma is that there is no acceptable scientific evidence one way or the other. This is also the period! in life when sex play among children begins to take place. In the early years, most sex play among younger
510 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS children has motives specific to their developmental stage (Gagnon, 1965~. In these cases, adult interpretation of the conduct as sexually motivated (i.e., motivated by sexual desires possessed by adults) is probably in error. Among most children, even when they are close to puberty, the motivation for such exploration is probably not the full complement of adult sexual desires or preferences. However, there is evidence that some older chiTciren, who live in environments in which the sexual conduct of-adults is more observable and acceptable or who are targets for the sexual interest of postpubertal youth, may be involved in sexual experimentation which in techniques and motives is more like that of adults. Much of this evidence comes from studies of child sexual abuse (FinkeThor, 1984~. Despite the growth of sexual knowledge from media sources, there is little evidence that either parents or schools have engaged in vigorous attempts to reduce the general sexual ignorance of children during these years, although this may be changing as a consequence of the dangers associates! with AIDS. For example, the recent Na- tional Health Interview Survey found that approximately 60 percent of parents with children and adolescents from ages 10 to 17 reporter! that they had talked to these youngsters about AIDS (Dawson and Thornberry, 1988~. It is not clear what their children would re- port about the same matter. Most pre-AIDS research reports that teaching about sex and reproduction remains limited in the schools (Jones et al., 1986:57-58~. Even AIDS risk prevention programs for children tend to be less informative than they might be. Studies in the last decade suggest that even youthful parents rarely tell their children much about sexuality (Kline et al., 1978~. What seem to be most strongly reinforced publicly are conventional marriage, family, and reproductive roles, whereas sexual knowledge remains part of a covert underground fed indirectly by the media and peers. Both the physical assault of children and the sexual contacts of children with adults are important experiences that have only recently become the focus of intense public debate, criminal proceed- ings, and social movements (FinkeThor, 1984; Russell, 1984~. Both of these experiences, in combination or separately, may have important consequences on adult social and sexual adjustment. There is esti- mated to be a substantial amount of sexual contact between adults (usually male) and young children of both genders which varies in du- ration, level of sexual intimacy, and degree of consanguinity (Finkel- hor, 1979~. However, the actual amount of such contacts and their impact are often obscured by research methods and classificatory
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 511 decisions that have the possibility of inflating rates and conflating serious with less serious events (Cook and HowelIs, 1980~. YOUTH The transition from childhood! to adolescence, roughly the years from 12 to 15, is most clearly marked by the physical changes associate<] with puberty. These changes signal somewhat diffusely to most children and more precisely to most oilier persons that the child is now potentially a sexual being anti might/can/should be treated as such. Such treatment can vary from an increasing protectiveness by parents in terms of association with the opposite sex (more likely for girls than boys) to an increased frequency of being the object of the expression of sexual interest by older peers. The interaction between biological changes and social context in the shaping of sexual conduct during this period is now beginning to be studied carefully, and there is discussion of the significance of biological potentiation in the context of newly available social roles and opportunities for sexual expression (Uclry, 1985; for a general discussion of this period, see Kagan and Coles, 1973~. The timing of specific physical changes (breast development, axilIary and genital hair, voice changes, changes in the genitalia) are spread out over the period from 11 to 14 years, with many changes occurring at ages 12 and 13 (Tanner, 1973~. The first menstruation, increases in the frequency of erection, and the first ejaculation tend to be concentrated in this period, with the first orgasm somewhat less common in this early period for girls than boys due to Tower rates of masturbation (Kinsey et al., 1953; Atwood and Gagnon, 1987; Gagnon, 1987~. The practice of social skills needed for heterosexuality begins during early adolescence through the heterosocial pattern of associa- tion with the opposite gentler, pairing off from other young people, developing a strong emotional bond (falling in loved, and sexual experimentation (for a summary of the pattern, see Gagnon and Greenblat, 1978:167-169~. Conventionally, young people have a se- ries of such relationships across the adolescent period, with each relationship increasing in its emotional-sexual intimacy. This pat- tern anticipates in some ways the pattern of serial monogamy found in adults. These levels of sexual activity at various ages differ subs stantially according to ethnicity and socioeconomic status. In some inner-city populations, sexual intercourse may begin at ages 13 and
512 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS 14 for some boys and girls, whereas for others, from more affluent- groups interested in attending college, intercourse will not begin until the late teens or early 20s (Furstenberg et al., 1987; U]ry and Billy, 1987; Weinberg and Williams, 1988~. It is unclear how much of the overt sexual activity of adolescence is motivated by sexual desire and how much results from the desire for peer acceptance and other nonsexual motives. This is particularly true among younger adolescents whose motivations for sexual activ- ity still differ between girls and boys (Newcomer and U]ry, 1985~. Sexuality remains strongly colored by affection and caring among the former and by desires for sexual conquest and male peer approval among the latter (Jessor and Jessor, 1978; Jessor et al., 1983; Car- roll et al., 1985~. However, it is in the relationships young people have cluring this period that a somewhat greater commonality of sexual motives between girls and boys tends to emerge (Miller and Simon, 1974~. At the same time, one should not underestimate the extraordinary power of gender differentiation in shaping the sexual relations even between women and men who have been married for many years. For example, Leiblum and Rosen (1988) report that many sexual difficulties among couples may be attributer! to rigid gender role expectations about sexuality (see also Rubin, 1976~. These emergent sexual relations between male and female ado- lescents are generally not attendee! to by adults unless something untoward occurs that forces an adult to notice. Young people are often left on their own to work out their intrapsychic and interper- sonal sexual adjustments (Fox, 1981~. Eviclence from clinical and other descriptive sources suggests that this period is often one of psychological and social confusion for many young people. This is probably even more true of those young people who fins! themselves, for one reason or another, attracted either sexually or emotionally to persons of the same gentler or who find, for one reason or another, that other-gender relations are unattractive or implausible (Coleman, 1982~. Young people who have unconventional desires often must adopt or modify the minimal social guideposts set up by the me- dia and youth culture for the conventional heterosocial/heterosexual pattern to guide their early practice of sexuality. The "coming-out process" for those with same-gender preferences has always been a complex one (Dank, 1971) with many dimensions. One can recog- nize the preference privately, have overt sexual activity with a person of the same sex, be open with various other persons (from parents to strangers), and engage in political activity in any combination and in any time order. The parallel process of coming out sexually
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 513 is less marked among young people who have sex with persons of the opposite gender, appearing to be part of the natural order of things. Indeed many adolescents, simply by not disobeying the rules, can drift into conventional heterosexuality and finch elements of this pattern acceptable without any strong sexual desires of their own. In contrast, a great clear of unsystematic clinical and literary evi- dence produced even into the 1970s suggested that self-identification as "homosexual" and the expression of emotional and sexual desires for the same gender were often guilt producing and conflict laden (White, 1983~. The sexual developmental pattern was often one in which adolescent sexual experience with persons of the same gender was intermittent and a fuller participation in a homosexual life-style occurred only in the very late teens or early 20s after some years of emotional difficulties. "Coming out" was often linked to partici- pation in the institutions of the "homosexual community" (Hooker, 1966~. It should be notec3 that the methods of gathering evidence used to select young persons in many clinical studies often overlooked untroubled and eager acceptance of same-gender desire and sexuality among some young people. What has happened to young people with the feelings identified above since the emergence of the gay male and lesbian communities (there is overlap, but these communities are not identical) is rela- tively unknown. The visibility of gay and lesbian life-styTes in the tnass media (television, the cinema, and the press) may often provide young people a more concrete version of a possible sexual future and allow both intrapsychic and interpersonal experimentation with the emotional and sexual possibilities of being gay or being lesbian. This is particularly true in large cities where gay mate and lesbian com- munities exist. The contemporary process of "coming out" should be more complex among young people, with some following the more traditional secretive path, whereas others find their way to a gay or lesbian identity both more openly and much earlier in life. Even in current circumstances, development of same-gen(ler (lesires is of- ten repressed by the overwhelmingly heterosocial and heterosexual character of the institutions of adolescent life and by adults who view same-gencler sexual experience and desire as pathological. The reception that these desires receive is usually dependent on family and community factors that are well outside the control of the young person. Only recently has this period in the lives of young people been studiecI, and most of this research has been undertaken after the beginning of the AIDS crisis (see the work of Herdt, no...
514 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS Such sexual experiences with persons of the same gender are, however, not uncommon even among those who ultimately become exclusively heterosexual as adults (Kinsey et al., 194S, 1953; Pay et al., in press). It should also be pointed out that many aclolescent and adult mates who have sexual experience with other men on some regular basis as adults do not view themselves as gay or homosexual (Schwartz and Blumstein, 1977~. At the same time, manythough surely not all men who, as aclults, have substantial sexual experi- ences with other men usually have had some such sexual experience in their youth (Bell and Weinberg, 1978; Bell et al., 1980~. The patterning of adolescent or adult female experiences with the same gender appears to be more diffuse; the acquisition of a strong com- mitment to sexual experiences with other women is spread out over adolescence and young adulthood (Wolf, 1979; Peplau and Gordon, 1983~. Equally concealed by the code of silence about sexuality in early adolescence is masturbation. Masturbation, in adolescence and adulthood, is usually ~lefine(l, following Kinsey, as primarily geni- tally focused self-stimulation that results in orgasm. The infrequent inquiries about this form of sexual conduct until the middle 1970s fount! that the incidence of such conduct was far more common among mates and that the frequency of masturbation (so defined) was also far higher among mates than females (Kinsey et al., 194S, 1953; Atwood and Gagnon, 1987; Gagnon, 1987~. These gentler (lif- ferences in the incidence and frequency of masturbation seemed to remain throughout the entire life course. Cross-sectional data on students in West Germany gathered in 1966 and 1981 suggest that there may have been a greater convergence in the masturbatory pat- terns of young people in the last two decades, but comparable recent data for the United States do not appear to be available (Clement et al., 1984~. In the past, male masturbatory patterns were more often associated with explicit fantasies of unconventional sexual behavior than were those of women, but again few data on this matter exist for more recent periods. This emphasis on genitality, erotic fantasy, and orgasm as the criteria for identifying masturbation may have effectively excluded from the sexual arena the more romantically focused fantasies of many adolescent women and their bodily activities that are more diffusely satisfying, but nonorgasmic. This difference points up the critical role of gender prescriptions in setting the normative bound- aries of what is or is not a sexual experience for both sexual actors and sexual scientists. Many women scholars have pointed out that
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 515 most research on sexuality has taken mate sexual interests and mod- els of desire as normative (Tiefer, 1987~. Both Fiend and Kinsey viewed women as somehow "less sexual" than men because they did not have the same repertoire of sexual activities and gratifications. Kinsey's concern with mate sexual urgency and search for variety led him to pose differences in the central nervous systems of men ant! women to account for what were largely the results of social and historical differences in culture and social organization (Kinsey et al., 1953~. Although sexual conduct is shaped by gender and there are obvi- ous gender patterns for all conduct in the society, gender differences are not monolithic, either psychologically or socially (Gagnon, 1979; Stoller, 1985~. There is a great variety in the sexual lives of women, a variety which tends not to be noticed because of the usual focus on the tension that exists for women between passionate and repro- ductive sexuality. There is a tendency to see both women who are reprocluctively "out of control" (unplanned pregnancy) and women who are reproductively "in control" (successful contraception outside marriage) as sexually "out of control" (Snitow et al., 1984; Vance, 1984~. This confusion between contraceptive and sexual readiness is only one of the double binds in which girls and women find themselves as they take greater control of their sexual lives. Adolescence is the first period in the life course when variation from the conventional expectations of adults becomes explicitly sup- porte(l, particularly by peers and the mass media. In some cases, adults find themselves nearly entirely separated from the important aspects of young people's lives by the grounding of the latter in youth culture, although more often, there continue to be important, although more attenuated, points of contact between parents or other adults and young people. This transitional character of contempo- rary adolescence makes it, unlike other periods in the life course, more devoted to various forms of risk taking, including the sexual. This is in contrast to other, more stable, stages in the life course when either status transitions or untoward events initiate changes in relationships that thrust persons into new forms of conduct which may involve risks of various sorts. During adolescence, overt sexual experimentation by relatively untutored young people is as common as experimentation with drugs, alcohol, and ([riving. Overt sexual activity is usually insulated from adult notice so that only the nega- tive consequences of such conduct are identified pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease (STD), and socioemotional crisis are the events that mobilize adult concern.
516 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS The mass media play an ambivalent role in facilitating adoles- cent sexuality and risk taking. Whereas the media often reinforce conventional aclult roles and point up the dangers of deviating from sexual/gender norms, they usually JO so in the course of portray- ing "attractive nuisances." In films such as Fatal Attraction, after clisplaying a goof! deal; of exciting and provocative extramarital sex between very attractive people, one of the two persons (usually the woman) is somehow punished for the transgressions. In this way the audience may be sexually excited and still have the opportunity to see the deviants punished (Brown et al., 1988~. Although reinforcing conventional outcomes, the media offer more explicit sexual models for conduct anti, perhaps more important, attach sexual and gender success to particular norms of attractiveness, consumer values, and practices. The linkage of sex and gender to consumption probably permeates all adolescent subcultures. As young people move closer to the end of high school, more and more of them are involved in the cycle of finding opposite-gender partners, pairing off with them in emotional-sexual relationships, and then breaking off these relationships (for changes since the 1940s, see Reiss, 1960, 1967; Cannon and Long, 1971; Simon et al., 1972; U]ry et al., 1975; Chilman, 1978; Clayton and Bokemeier, 1980; Hofferth et al., 1987~. There are both an increase in experimenta- tion with novel sexual techniques (particularly oral sex, DeLamater and MacCorquodaTe, 1979:59; Newcomer and U]ry, 1985; Gagnon and Simon, 1987) and increasing frequencies of sexual intercourse. Involvement in this cycle of coupling and recoupling also increases the numbers of both primary (relations of significant duration anal emotional commitment) and secondary sexual partners that young persons have before the end of their teens (see Chapter 2 of this volume, and ZeInik et al., 1981~. Perhaps the greatest change from the past is that much of the heterosexual activity that occurs can no longer be described simply as "premarital" intercourse. Although it floes occur before marriage, only some of it is actually in service of the marriage institution. If, for instance, a young person's first intercourse occurs at 15 or 16 and first marriage in the mid-20s, with a number of affectional-sexual relationships (including intercourse) in between, the first experience and many of the later ones will have been undertaken for their own sakes, not in a search for marriage partners (F`urstenberg, 1982~. Even early cohabitations may not be directed toward finding a one and only partner. This sexual exper- imentation is in important ways no longer premarital in the sense that similar conduct might have been three decades ago.
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 517 Even though there has been a general change in the experience of the young with intercourse (in terms of both increasing incidence and numbers of partners), it (toes not appear that young persons are any better prepared by adults in the society for such relationships than they were in the 1950s. High rates of risk taking in terms of both pregnancy and STD are common, as are relatively weak sources of support when relationships are in emotional or sexual difficulty (Ooms, 1981; McClusky et al., 1983; O 'Reilly and Aral, 1985~. Al- though sex among adolescents is understood to be widespread, it remains covert and largely supported by peer groups and the youth culture of the school or of the mass media. Although prior discussion describes the modal pattern, it should be understood that there is considerable heterogeneity in adolescent sexual patterns, depen(ling on ethnicity, religion, income, education, and class. Some of these differences may be substantial enough to create quite different patterns of sexual life. Indeed, there are in- creasing numbers of young people who, by the end of aclolescence, have moved into parental roles with and without marriage. In minor- ity communities, this has resulted in an increase in young women ant! children in poverty and a serious decline in the life chances of these young people (Rainwater, 1964; Hofferth and Hayes, 1987; Wilson, 1988~. The role of early pregnancy and its contribution to the cycle of poverty are now well understood. The impact of the schools (both miclclle and high schools) is extraorclinarily complex because they are the primary institutional context in which the sexual development of young people takes place. The school has two important stratifying effects, one systematic and the other adventitious, on the general lives of young people and on their sexuality. The former is the effect of academic tracking in schools, which directs young people into college or into the labor force after high school, or forces young people out of high school before graduation; this can occur either within a school or between different schools that serve different race/ethnic/class strata of young people. The clelay of marriage, the improved social placement, and the "liber- aTizing" sociosexual attitudes offered college attenders will systemat- ically change their future sexual lives in a number of ways. The more adventitious effects of the high school on sexuality depend on the level of sex-relatecl educational, social, and health services that the school offers young people, particularly clisadvantaged young people. Limiting these services makes sexual development more problematic during this period, even though the provision of services does not
518 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS provoke additional sexual activity (Jones et al., 1986; Marsiglio and Mott, 1986~. YOUNG ADULTHOOD AND FAMILY FORMATION Young Aclulthooc} At the end of high school, that is, from ages 17 to 19, young people have begun to be stratified along socioeconomic lines independent of the socioeconomic status of their family, and this early stratification will be associated with important differences in their sexual present and future. Many young people will not have completed high school, and some portion of these will have been sexually very active and may even have children. Of the far larger number who have finished high school and will enter the job market, many will cohabit or marry in the five years after completing high school. Those going on to various levels of higher education (two-year, four-year, and professional or graduate education) will differentially delay marriage to fit with their educational and occupational goals. The pattern of social life during this period between the end of high school and about age 23 is increasingly heterogeneous socially as young people disperse in terms of their life-styles. Some go to work in the labor force; some start work in the household; some enter the military; some live at home and work toward a two-year college degree; others enter Ivy League colleges and plan careers in law, medicine, or businesseach life-style carries with it different patterns of sexual opportunities. The sexual lives of nearly all young people who are sexually and emotionally interested in the other gender will continue in the cy- cle of finding new sexual partners with relationships of differential durability (Hofferth and Upchurch, 1988; Tanfer and Schoorl, no... Some young people will already have completed this cycle, married, and started families; others will continue the pattern begun in high school of having a mix of transient and more permanent sexual rela- tionships, a pattern that often concludes in cohabitation or marriage; still others may have sexual lives that involve many transient sexual relationships; others remain virgins until marriage. The duration of the period prior to marriage and the social contexts within which this period is spent often determine the numbers of these sexual partners and the characteristics of these relationships. The sexual careers of young people who marry their high school sweethearts in June after graduating from the twelfth grade look very different from the sex- ual career of a young person who enters the military, serves overseas,
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 519 returns to the United States to attend college, and marries in the late 20s. This period is one in which there is increased legitimation of sexual activity by peers, me(lia, and, in some cases, parents. Parental values and wishes may be more attended to as young people come closer to marriage; however, usually the longer marriage is delayed, the lower is the influence of parents over the characteristics of the person their child marries. Parents often find themselves dealing with their children's cohabitational and sexual-emotional partners while understanding that these relationships may-not turn into marriages. There is a sharp tension in this period between the freedoms offered to the young and the responsibilities attached to growing up (Simon et al., 1972~. Young people are often torn between the attractions of youth and those of aclulthoocI, and this is expressed in their sexual patterns during this period. The mass media, particularly films and music directecl toward the young, emphasize these themes of mate freedom (the rowdy sexuality of Animal House), party life (beer advertisements on television), and passionate sexual attachments (cosmetic advertisements), as opposed to the values of settling down with one true love, finding a place to live, and having children. These opposed attractions are expressed in practice by patterns of sexual risk taking by young adults, usually between, but sometimes during, couplet] affectional relationships. Persons with strong same-gender erotic desires and experience often separate some parts of their lives from the heterosexual world during this period. The end of high school and the ability to move away from home are often used as an opportunity to explore the social, emotional, and sexual possibilities of the gay and lesbian communities that can be found in larger cities. There is also the possibility of migration from small towns anal cities to environments that are more tolerant of gay and lesbian life-styles. Prior to the AIDS epidemic, this period often involved high levels of sexual activity and large numbers of sexual partners as young men entered the gay mate community in which their own sexual interests could be expressed (Bell and Weinberg, 1978; Goode and Troiden, 1980~. This burst of sexual activity associated with entry into community membership seems less common at the present time, but rigorous data Lo not exist. Current studies of the lives of gay men focus almost entirely on the cohorts of men over 30 in the epicenters of AIDS, who are most at risk for infection (Hessol et al., 1987; Joseph, 1987~; younger cohorts and minority men are relatively unstudied. Even in the recent past when large numbers of sexual partners were common among
520 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS gay men, many gay men (and the majority of lesbians) engaged in patterns of sexual-affectional coupling that were quite like those of heterosexuals (Gagnon and Simon, 1967; Bell and Weinberg, 1978; Peplau and Amaro, 1982; McWhirter and Mattison, 1984; Kurdek and Schmitt, 1985-1986~. Gay men and lesbians have shared most of the socialization experiences of heterosexuals and, as a consequence, believe in and may search for (whereas others reject) durable sexual- affectional relationships with other persons. Cohabitation, Marriage, ant} Family Formation Although the average age at first marriage is no longer such a precise measure of a change in sexual life-style, it remains at least a rough marker of when most heterosexuals have settled down into a rela- tively durable and (what is expected to be) permanent relationship. By their late 20s nearly all persons in the society who will marry have Greatly been married for the first time. This involves the legit- imization, regularization, and, often, routinization of sexual activity for the couple. Rates of intercourse often start fairly high during these years and decline over time, influenced by the presence of chil- dren and the escalation of work and other obligations (James, 1981; Greenblat, 1983~. In such relationships a relatively conventional repertoire of sexual techniques evolves and stabilizes as part of the usual sexual practices of the couple. Experiences of modest sexual disappointment may begin in this period, as Lo the beginnings of sex- ual dysfunction in some relationships (Masters ant! Johnson, 1970; Leiblum and Rosen, 1988~. Most individuals are "settling down" sexually in this period. The move into a coupled relationship occurs most often with a married partner, but also through cohabitation (about one-third of men now in their 30s have reported cohabiting at least once: Michael and Willis, 1988~. This is a continuation of the dominant national heterosexual pattern of having one stable partner at a time and appears to be becoming part of the coupling process among a substantial portion of the youthful population (Bumpuss and Sweet, 1988~. As children are born and the marriage/cohabitation turns into a family, family values are reinforced both by the presence of chil- dren and by the attitudes of the families of origin. In many such relationships there is a decline in the erotic character of the rela- tionship which is replaced by the increasing importance of paternal and maternal roles (Byrne, 1977~. This is reinforced by changes in friendship patterns in which there is a decrease in social contact with
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 521 unmarried persons of the other gender unless they are in couples (Bell, 1981; Hess, 1981~. There is a general escalation of interaction with same-gencler friends (men with men, women with women) and with persons who also are married and have children. Cohabitation is more likely to be less permanent than marriage during this period, and in most cases the differences between cohab- itation and marriage are probably qualitative; it has been argued (Blumstein ant! Schwartz, 1983) that as Tong as marriage retains its economic and legal advantages, cohabitation among heterosexuals will remain unequal to it (see also-Risman et al., 1981~. Some mar- riages terminate within the first year as do many cohabitations; how- ever, other cohabitations turn into marriages (about three-quarters, Michael and Willis, 1988; Thornton, 1988~. What both cohabitation ant! marriage imply is sexual ficlelity, and such quasipermanent cou- plings offer the opportunity to have sexual relationships outside of the couple. These extracouple relationships vary enormously in duration, emotional commitment, and impact on the primary relationship (Thompson, 1983; Richardson, 1985~. Most are with persons of the other gender, although some are with same-gender partners. Some of these same-gender contacts are signals of a change in the gender of the preferred sexual partner for both women ant! men. This pat- tern of extramarital or extracouple sexual relationships seems to be relatively common throughout the life course, at least until the early 50s for both men and women (for earlier data, see Kinsey et al., 194S, 1953; later ciata are more anecdotal and sparse: Atwater, 1982, Reiss, 1983; for data from a convenience sample of older persons, see Brecher et al., 1984~. Recent increases in the rate of nonmarital contacts on the part of women are thought to be associated with increased participation in the labor force. For some couples this sexual activity will be a signal of the impending termination of the relationship, whereas for others the sexual relations outside the couple will have little eject on the dura- tion of the relationship; this, however, varies by culture (Reiss, 1986~. Existing evidence about the interaction between sexual activity out- side a coupled relationship and the stability of the couple over time suggests that extramarital relationships often lead to the breakup of couples, but many of these studies depend on samples of divorced or separated persons (Spanier and Margolis, 1983~. Whatever the impact of such relationships on marriages, it is clear that they are (lisapprovec3 by a large majority of the population (Singh et al., 1976; Reiss et al., 1980~.
522 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS There are similarities between some marriages and cohabita- tions of equivalent duration cluring these years especially among those who do not have children, particularly in the ways in which couples break up and return to single status. In both cases there is considerable emotional ant! social disruption (although cohabitants cannot divorce, they can have emotional and material experiences similar to a married couple when dissolving a relationship); how- ever, both parties reenter the world of the child-free unmarried. This means that their social and sexual relations will look quite similar to those who have been continuously single and who are the same age. Among those who have children, and this is more common among the married, couple disruption has quite different consequences. In this case, both partners may be burdened with the expenses of child care and the woman in particular becomes a single mother rather than a single woman. This will affect her economic status as well as her value in the sexual marketplace in contrast to women without children (Weitzman, 1985~. First breakups of cohabiting and married couples are followed by a period of looking for new partners and, in most cases, by new sexual relationships, some of which eventuate in new cohabitations or marriages (Michael and Willis, 1988~. In these periods between coupled status, there is an increased likelihood of additional sexual partners for both men and women (Tanfer anct SchoorT, In... Some of the extracouple sexual relationships by men in this pe- riod, as well as in later life, are with partners whom they pay (Winick, 1962; Gagnon, 1968; James, 1977~. This is more characteristic of men who do not marry or who are between coupled relationships. The patterns of contact with women for pay slider substantially by class and ethnic groupings, as well as by more adventitious factors. Par- ticipation in military service early in this period and membership in all mate groups also increase the frequency of sexual contacts of men with women for pay. These all mate groups can be college fraterni- ties, men's organizations, or conventioneers, as well as occupational groups such as sailors, migrant workers, and others separated for periods of time from "appropriate" sexual partners. The period from the late teens to the late 20s is one in which there is some reshuffling of an incliviclual's sexual preference as well as patterns of social and sexual relations within gay and lesbian groups. Historically many persons who adopted an other-gender sex- ual preference early in life found it less satisfactory after unsuccessful marriages or after participating more fully in heterosexual life. In some cases a heterosexual life-styTe was adopted to satisfy the wishes
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 523 of others or because it was thought that heterosexual participation would limit homosexual desires. These factors account for some of the numbers of married persons, many of whom have children, who leave their spouses to live as lesbians and gay men both in their 20s and in their 30s (it is estimated from convenience samples of gay men and lesbians that up to one in five have been married in the past: Bell and Weinberg, 1978~. In the past, during this period many lesbians lived in quite stable relationships with relatively Tow rates of turnover, whereas gay men participated in a wider variety of couples (some only sexual, others sexual-affectional, others purely af- fectional). There is some evidence that, more recently, lesbians have more sexual partners and less stable relationships, whereas because of the AIDS epidemic many gay men have fewer sexual partners and are concentrating somewhat more on coupled relationships (Wolf, 1979; Levine, 1988~. How extensive these practices are outside the metropolitan areas where research is being conducted is not known. ADULTHOOD Middle Adulthood The period from the late 20s and early 30s into the late 40s and early 50s is rather poorly understood. In part, this may be more a measure of limited data and a limited perspective on life course changes than of the actual potential for complex changes in the status of individuals that affect their sexual lives. Adulthood is a curiously unmapped terrain even though the lives of adults are transformer! in a variety of ways by an extraordinary number of life events (Albrecht and Gift, 1975; Einhorn et al., 1981~. Perhaps this is because the microdramas of childbearing, divorce, work change, or love affairs reverberate through small networks rather than being reflected in larger scale collective effects such as the more synchronized cohort changes that characterize more youthful groups. Life course markers and collective transitions become increas- ingly clifficult to identify between ages 30 and 50 because persons are moving in and out of stable relationships based on individualized contingencies often dependent on short-run historical or biographical processes (Elder, 1979; Furstenberg, 1982~. Even transitions rele- vant to larger collectivities (e.g., divorce and remarriage) are not keyed to ages or institutional settings in the same way as transitions in the preadult years (for general reviews of this period, see Neu- garten, 1968; Smelser and Erikson, 1980~. Other events (changes in
524 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS health, death of parents, accidents) signaling life course transitions are entirely independent of age cohorts and occur probabilistically at many different points in time (Hultsch and Plemons, 1979; Brim and Ryff, 1982; Reese and Smyer, 1983~. Further, the multiplicity of roles that people play in these years complicates our understanding of their lives. Persons in this period of life may have both primary and secondary sexual and affectional partners (with some turnover through divorce and remarriage); they often have children (and stepchildren) of various ages whose demands are quite different; they have a set of relations with other couples and work peers (often both the husband and the wife), leisure time pur- suits, and obligations to their families of origin. Such high densities of role demancis are probably more characteristic of this period in the life course. This floes not mean that there are no developmental changes to be faced during this period (Smeller and Erikson, 1980~; however, the issues to be dealt with are increasingly unlinked with chronological age. The crisis of midlife does not occur exactly on a person's 40th birthday, but can range from the late 30s to the early 50s. This is the period when there are often declining levels of sexual activity in continuous relationships and the emergence of identifiable sexual dissatisfactions that may be ignored or dealt with in a variety of ways (mussel and Westoff, 1980; Uclry, 1980; Jasso, 1985, 1986; Kahn and U]ry, 1986~. Sexuality in the couple is experienced less and less as erotic and more and more as a routine sexual experience, signaling reassurance and affection rather than passion (Leiblum and Rosen, 1988~. There are increases in nonmarital or noncoupled sexual experiences by both men and women, although not necessarily as a response to the technical qualities of coupled sexuality. The erotic and romantic desires in nearly all coupled relationships conflict with increases in occupational commitments, a child-centered family life, and the demands of maturing children (Atwater, 1982~. For most people, their first experiences with visible declines in physical attractiveness and aging occur in the 40s, along with their first anxieties about aging. These are sharpened by the emphasis on youth and beauty in the mass media, which contrast with their own aging. During this period there is a relatively constant rate of couple dissolution and formation of new couples, with many men finding younger female partners. Women with children are increasingly left out of the market for heterosexual partners and in some cases fall into poverty during this period.
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 525 Later Adulthood For the majority of persons in coupled heterosexual relationships the patterns of social life cluring their early 50s clo not differ dramat- ically from the mict-40s. Intergenerational relationships grow more complex as children enter aclulthood and as older parents often grow dependent both psychologically and economically. There is an in- tensification of leisure, work, and family commitments as primary sources of life satisfaction move away from children. Sexuality seems to have a declining salience after the midlife crises of the 40s. Although a variety of more "exciting" patterns do appear, particularly among the more affluent, the picture one gets from the limited data is a "settling in" by the coupled and a somewhat more sexualized life among the clivorced and remarries! (Luria and Meade, 1984~. The important point is that little new is happening socially as the same pattern of coupling, uncoupling, and recoupling is repeated. Something new is happening in individual networks, but less so in social structure. There is a continuing decline in the rate and significance of sex- ual activity in marriages and in other stable coupled relations. This is often a period of difficult sexual adjustment as some men and women experience increases in anxiety about their failed sexual aspi- rations, which are often accentuated by invidious comparisons with the youthfulness constantly emphasized by the media. These diffi- culties are expressed in complicated and often contradictory ways; some men and women experience the decline in marital sexuality with considerable relief, glad to be relieved of sexual responsibilities, whereas others increase their desire for affectional-sexual relations both in and out of marriage. The midlife crisis is often expresser! by attempts at sexual rejuvenation to compensate for the increased evidence of physical aging and decline in attractiveness. This crisis is often reflected in the desire for, and enactment of, sexual relationships outside the couple. There seems to be consider- able potential in these relationships for emotional commitment and, in some cases, disruption of ongoing marriages. In other cases, men who do not wish to disrupt a marriage will engage in paid relation- ships with women which clo not involve emotional complications and may offer the eroticism that is absent in the long-term relations. The marital dissolutions that occur during this period continue to result in remarriage, particularly for men. As in earlier peri- o(ls, such remarriages may occur with younger women, whereas the
526 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS women in these divorces are often left with the full care of adolescent children. Women who divorce in this period are often much less marriageable than their former spouses. The importance of the mass media as a source of fantasy or reassurance may increase in these years. Soap operas and sporting events may serve similar functions for gender-segregated audiences. The crisis of aging may be particularly acute for gay men among whom youth, at least in the recent past, was an important aspect of sexual relations. This may not be as acute among lesbians, partic- ularly of the same generation, who may be involved in quite stable Tong-term relationships. What impact the AIDS epidemic will have on the traditional focus on youth in the gay community is unclear. Sharp declines in the number of partners of older gay men may well have impact on the youthful orientation of gay life, at least in prac- tice if not in fantasy. In this period, both gay men and lesbians with children will experience the transition of these children into young adults. Depending on the relationships to their families of origin, they will share the same problems as maTe-female couples in dealing with aging parents. The problem of aging particularly among gay men has been adciressed by McWhirter and Mattison (1984) and Kimmel (1978). THE LATER AGES MicIdle Age As most individuals move into their middle 50s ant! early 60s, they move out of the parenting role and their lives increasingly rotate around their primary affectional-sexual partners, friends, and work peers. Grandchildren may be reminders of family life, but for most this is far more attenuated than their own experiences of chiTc! rearing. Their aclult children and their grandchildren are independent markers of a transition in the life course. This is a period of continuing, reduction in sexual relations in marriage, and some marriages may be almost entirely asexual. It is also a period when sexual relationships outside the couple decline in number ant] intensity, regardless of gender preference. There is a steady increase of nonsexual commitments between the individuals in the couple as the erotic core of their relationship disappears. At least some individuals in this period have ceased to conceive of themselves as sexual actors. This may be connected to clecTines in health and physical attractiveness. Nonmarital or noncoupled sex
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 527 may be affected by this process because the psychological plausibility of an individual being a potential sexual partner floes rest upon attractiveness and health. The Young OIL As indivicluals move out of the labor force in their middle 60s, there is often a reduction in their interaction with persons younger than they are. This accentuates the importance of their spouse or Tong-term partner, friends, and adult children. This is true of those with same- or other-gender sexual preferences. Traclitionally, during this period! in the life course, there is often the substitution of nonsexual com- mitments, leisure, hobbies, memories, and sometimes grandchildren, as the basis for the couple. There is some evidence that in the past there was a substantial reduction in sexual relations among most older couples and that the majority of couples may have been entirely asexual by age 70 (Kinsey et al., 194S, 1953; Christensen and Gagnon, 1965~. There is, however, some more recent longitudinal data suggesting that stable, Tow rates of sexual activity do occur among some couples and that asexuality is not a necessary accompaniment of aging (George and Weiler, 1981~. Health status is absolutely critical to sexual life in these years (as it is in earlier portions of the life course), because life-threatening illnesses are psychological as well as physical threats to sexuality (Martin, 1981; Weizman and Hart, 1987~. However, it is important to note that changes in the general health of the population are also changing the life course itself. Thus the phenomena of "youth creep" (i.e., healthy 70-year owls in 1980 are more like 60-year ol(ls were in 1960; healthy 60-year olds in 1980 are more like 50-year olds were in 1960; and so forth, to some upper limit, in both the physical health and the social desires of older persons) will have unknown consequences for sexuality. This process may well reduce the "desexualization" of older persons commonly notes] in earlier generations (Brecher et al., 1984~. The business sector of the society has been taking notice of this more affluent and active older population by providing new leisure, housing, travel, and mass media products for them. Each of these products focuses on the greater youthfulness and continued sexual potential of this group. Women are being widower! at a relatively high rate during this period, and some recoupling that involves sexuality does occur.
528 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS There is often some intergenerational conflict with children about these recouplings because they provoke both sexual and property · ~ anxieties. Among the elderly after age 70, the forces that affected sexuality in the years after 60 should retain their impact. What consequences the very large number of persons of this age in the early years of the twenty-first century will have on their sexuality is unknown. AFTERWORD The density of references in the latter half of this preliminary at- tempt to suggest some links of sexuality to the life course decreases steadily as the focus of discussion moves from childhood and youth to later life. This decline follows the national cultural prejudice that finds sexual learning and sexual conduct among the young far more interesting than the changes in the sexual life of their elders. This may be due to the fact that the sexual activities of the young seem to generate more passion as well as more social problems. Whatever the reasons, the research literature on sexuality (which is not very abundant in any case) nearly evaporates as our attention-moves from the first 25 years of life. Perhaps the graying of the population will retirees this imbalance, but given the dominant cultural represen- tations of sexuality in which sexual desire after 40 appears slightly comic, one cannot be entirely sure. However just because the sex- ual pleasures and problems in the last two-thirds of the life course are private and socially invisible does not mean that they are not important parts of the lives of most women and men. REFERENCES Albrecht, G., and Gift, H. (1975) Adult socialization: Ambiguity and adult life crises. In N. Datan and L. Ginsberg (eds.), Life Span Developmental Psychology: Normative Life Crises. New York: Academic Press. Atwater, L. (1982) The Extramarital Connection: Sex, Intimacy and Identity. New York: Irvington. Atwood, J., and Gagnon, J. H. (1987) Masturbatory behavior in college youth. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy 3:35-42. Baltes, P., and Brim, O. G. (eds.) (1979) Life Span Development and Behavior, Vol. 2. New York: Academic Press. Bell, A. P., and Weinberg, M. (1978) Homosexualities: A Study of Diversity Among Men and Women. New York: Simon and Schuster. Bell, A. P., Weinberg, M., and Kiefer-Hammersmith, S. (1980) Sexual Preference, 2 vols. New York: Simon and Schuster. Bell, R. R. (1981) Worlds of Friendship. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage. Bell, R. R., Turner, S., and Rosen, L. A. (1975) A multivariate analysis of female extramarital coitus. Journal of Marriage and the Family 37:375-384.
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530 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS Dawson, D., and Thornberry, O. T. (1988) AIDS knowledge and attitudes for December 1987, Provisional data from the National Health Interview Survey. NCHS Advance Data 153(May 16~. Delamater, J., and MacCorquodale, P. (1979) Premarital Sexuality: Attitudes, Rela- tionships, Behavior. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. D'Emilio, J. (1983) Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. D'Emilio, J., and Freedman, E. (1988) Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. New York: Harper & Row. Dover, K. J. (1978) Greek Homosexuality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Duberman, M. B. (1974) The bisexual debate. New Times (June 28~:34-41. Duberman, M. B. (1986) About Time: Exploring the Gay Past. New York: Gay Presses of New York. Einhorn, D. H., Clausen, J., Hann, N., Honik, N., and Mussen, P. (eds.) (1981) Past and Present in Middle Life. New York: Academic Press. Elder, G. H. (1979) Historical changes in life patterns and personality. In P. Baltes and O. G. Brim (eds.), Life Span Development and Behavior, Vol. 2. New York: Academic Press. Elder, G. H. (1984) Family history and the life course. In R. Parke et al. teds.), The Family. Chicago: University of Chicago. English, D., Hollibaugh, A., and Rubin, G. (1981) Talking sex. Socialist Review (July-August). Epstein, C. F. (1981) Women in Law. New York: Basic Books. Escoffier, J. (1985) Sexual revolution and the politics of gay identity. The Socialist Review 82:119-153. Fay, R., Turner, C. F., Klassen, A., and Gagnon, J. H. (in press) Prevalence and patterns of homosexual contact among men. Science. Featherman, D. (1980) Schooling and occupational careers: Constancy and change in worldly success. In O. G. Brim and J. Kagan (eds.), Constancy and Change in Human Development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Finkelhor, D. (1979) Sexually Victimized Children. New York: Free Press. Finkelhor,D. (1984) Child SexualAbuse, New Theory and Research. New York: Free Press. Finkelhor, D., Gelles, R. J. Hotaling, G. T., and Straus, M. A. (1983) The Dark Side of Families: Current Family Violence Research. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage. Ford, C. S., and Beach, F. A. (1951) Patterns of Sexual Behavior. New York: Harper & Row. Foucault, M. (1978) The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, An Introduction. New York: Pantheon. Fox, G. L. (1981) The family's role in adolescent sexual behavior. In T. Ooms (ed.), Teenage Pregnancy in a Family Context. Philadelphia: Temple. Furstenberg, F. F., Jr. (1982) Conjugal Succession: Reentering Marriage After Divorce, Life Span Development and Behavior, Vol. 4. New York: Academic Press. Furstenberg, F. F., Jr., Morgan, S. P., Moore, K. A., and Peterson, J. L. (1987) Race differences in the timing of adolescent intercourse. American Sociological Revie?v 52:511-518. Gagnon, J. H. (1965) Sexuality and sexual learning in the child. Psychiatry 28:212-228. Gagnon, J. H. (1968) Prostitution. In The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 14. New York: Crowell-Collier.
SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 531 Gagnon, J. H. (1973) Scripts and the coordination of sexual conduct. In J. K. Cole and R. Dienstbier (eds.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Gagnon, J. H. (1977) Human Sexualities. Glenview, Ill.: Scott Foresman. Gagnon, J. H. (1979) The interaction of gender roles and sexual conduct. In H. Katchadourian (ed.), Human Sexuality: A Comparative and Developmental Approach. Berkeley: University of California Press. Gagnon, J. H. (1987) Masturbation in Two College Cohorts. Presented at the meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research, Tutzing, G.D.R. Gagnon, J. H., and Greenblat, C. S.~ (1978) Life Designs. Glenview: Scott Foresman. Gagnon, J. H., and Simon, W. (1967) Femininity in the lesbian community. Social Problems 15:212-221. Gagnon, J. H., and Simon, W. (1973) Sexual Conduct: The Social Sources of Human Sexuality. Chicago: Aldine. Gagnon, J. H., and Simon, W. (1987) The scripting of oral genital sexual conduct. Archives of Sexual Behavior 16:1-25. Gay, P. (1984) Education of the Senses, Vol. 1 in The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud. New York: Oxford University Press. Gebhard, P. H., Gagnon, J. H., Pomeroy, W.. B., and Christensen, C. (1965) Sex ~ 7 7 Offenders: An Analysis of Types. New York: Harper. George, L. K., and Weller, S. J. (1981) Sexuality in middle and late life. The effects of age, cohort and gender. Archives of General Psychiatry 38:919-923. Goode, E., and Voided, R. (1980) Correlates and accompaniments of promiscuous sex among male homosexuals. Psychiatry 43:51-59. Greenblat, C. S. (1983) The salience of sexuality in early marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family 43:121-132. v Groth, A. N. (1979) Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender. New York: Plenum. Herdt, G. (1984) Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia. Calfornia Press. Berkeley: University of Herdt, G. (n.d.) Gay and Lesbian Teenagers. Committee on Human Development, University of Chicago. Hess, B. B. (1981) Friendship and gender roles over the life course. In P. Stein (ed.), Single Life: Unmarried Adults in Social Context. New York: St. Martin's Press. Hessol, N., et al. (1987) The natural history of human immunodeficiency virus in a cohort of homosexual and bisexual men: A 7-year prospective study. Presented at the Third International Conference on AIDS, Washington, D.C., June. HoRerth, S. L., and Hayes, C. D. (1987) Risking the Future: Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy, and Childbearing, Vol. II. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Hofferth, S. L., Kahn, J. R., and Baldwin, W. (1987) Premarital sexual activity among U.S. teenage women over the past three decades. Family Planning Perspectives 19:46-52. Hofferth, S. L ., and Upchurch, D. M. (1988) Breaking Up: Dissolving Non-Marital Unions. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, New Orleans, April. Hooker, E. (1966) The homosexual community. In J. C. Palmer and M. J. Goldstein feds.), Perspectives in Pathology. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Hultsch, D., and Plemons, J. (1979) Life events and life span development. In P. Baltes and O. G. Brim (eds.), Life Span Development and Behavior, Vol. 2. New York: Academic Press.
532 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS Humphrey, L. (1978) Tea Room Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. Chicago: Aldine. Humphreys, R. A. L. (1972) Out of the Closets: The Sociology of Homosexual Liberation. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. James, J. (1977) Prostitutes and prostitution. In E. Sagarin and F. Montanino feds.), Deviants: Voluntary Actors in a Hostile World. Glenview, Ill.: Scott Foresman. James, W. (1981) The honeymoon effect on marital coitus. The Journal of Sex Research 17:114-123. Jasso, G. (1985) Marital coital frequency and the passage of time: Estimating the separate effects of spouses' ages and marital duration, birth and marriage cohorts and period influences. American Sociological Review 50:224-241. Jasso, G. (1986) Is it outlier deletion or is it sample truncation? Notes on science and sexuality (reply to Kahn and Udry). American Sociological Review 51:738-742. Jessor, R., and Jessor, S. L. (1978) Problem Behavior and Psychological Development: A Longitudinal Study of Youth. New York: Academic Press. Jessor, R., et al. (1983) Time of first intercourse: A prospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 44:608-626. Jones, E. F., et al. feds.) (1986) Teenage Pregnancy in Industrialized Countries. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. Joseph, J. G. (1987) Two-Year Long Longitudinal Study of Behavioral Risk Reduction in a Cohort of Homosexual Men. Presented at the Third International Conference on AIDS, Washington, D.C., June. Kagan, J. (1971) Change and Continuity in Infancy. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Kagan, J. (1980) Perspectives on continuity. In O. G. Brim and J. Kagan (eds.), Constancy and Change in Human Development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Kagan, J. (1981) Infancy. Kagan, J., and Coles, R. (eds.) (1973) Twelve to Sixteen: Early Adolescence. New York: Norton. Katz, J. (1983) Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary. New York: Harper & Row. Kahn, J. R., and Udry, J. R. (1986) Marital coital frequency: Unnoticed outlier and unspecified interactions lead to erroneous conclusions (Comment). American Sociological Review 51:734-737. Kessler, S. J., and McKenna, W. (eds.) (1974) Gender. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Kett, J. (1978) Curing the disease of precocity. In J. Demos and S. Boocock (eds.), In Turning Points: Historical and Sociological Essays on the Family. Vol. 84, Supplement. Chicago: American Journal of Sociology. Kimmel, D. (1978) Adult development and aging: A gay perspective. Journal of Social Issues 34:113-130. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., and Martin, C. E. (1948) Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: Saunders. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C. E., and Gebhard, P. H. (1953) Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia: Saunders. Kline, D., Roberts, E., and Gagnon, J. (1978) Family Life and Sexual Learning, a Report of the Project on Human Sexual Development, 3 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Project on Human Sexual Development. Kurdek, L. A., and Schmitt, J. P. (1985-1986) Relationship quality of gay men in closed or open relationships. Journal of Homosexuality 12:85-99. Leiblum, S. R., and Rosen, R. C. (1988) Sexual Desire Disorders. New York: Guilford.
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SEXUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE ~ 535 Sears, R. R., Maccoby E., and Levin, H. (1957) Patterns of Childrearing. Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson. Simon, W., Berger, A., and Gagnon, J. H. (1972) Beyond fantasy and anxiety: The coital experiences of college youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 1:203-222. Simon, W., Buff, S., and Gagnon, J. H. (1972) Son of Joe: Continuity and change among working class adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 1:13-34. Simon, W., and Gagnon, J. H. (1967) Homosexuality: The formulation of a sociological perspective. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 8:177-185. Simon, W., and Gagnon, J. H. (1987) Sexual scripts, permanence and change. Archives of Sexual Behavior 15:97-120. Singh, K. B., Walton, B. L., and Williams, J. S. (1976) Extramarital sexual per- missiveness: Conditions and contingencies. Journal of Marriage and the Family 38:701-712. Smelser, N. J., and Erikson, E. H. t1980? Themes of Love and Work in Adulthood. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Snitow, A., Stansell, C., and Thompson, S. (eds.) (1984) Desire: The Politics of Sexuality. London: Virago. Socarides, C. W. (1978) Homosexuality New York: Aronson. Spanier, G. B., and Margolis, R. L. (1983) Marital separation and extra-marital sex. Journal of Sex Research 19:28-48. Staller, R. (1985) Presentations of Gender. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. Straus, M., Gelles, R., and Steinmetz, S. (1980) Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family. New York: Anchor/Doubleday. Tanfer, K., and Schoorl, K. (n.d.) The Extent and Context of Sexual Promiscuity. Unpublished manuscript. Tanner, J. M. (1973) Sequence, tempo and individual variation in growth and development in boys and girls between twelve and sixteen. In J. Kagan and R. Coles (eds.), Twelve to Sixteen: Early Adolescence. New York: Norton. Thompson, A. B. (1983) Extramarital sex: A review of the scientific literature. Journal of Sex Research 19:1-22. Thornton, A. (1988) Dynamics of Cohabitation and Marriage in the 1980s. Presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, New Orleans. Tiefer, L. (1987) Social constructionism and the study of human sexuality. In P. Shaver and R. Kendrick (eds.), Sex and Gender. Beverly Hills, Cali£: Sage. Trussel, J., and Westoff, C. (1980) Contraceptive practice and trends in coital frequency. Family Planning Perspectives 12:246-249. Udry, J. R. (1980) Changes in the frequency of marital intercourse from panel data. Archives of Sexual Behavior 9:319-325. Udry, J. R. (1985) Serum androgenic hormones motivate sexual behavior in adolescent boys. Fertility and Sterility 43:90-94. Udry, J. R., Bauman, K. E., and Morris, N. M. (1975) Changes in premarital coital experience of recent decade-of-birth cohorts of urban American women. Journal of Marriage and the Family 37:783-787. Udry, J. R., and Billy, J. O. G. (1987) Initiation of coitus in early adolescence. American Sociological Review 52:841-855. Uhlenberg, P. (1978) Changing configurations of the life course. In T. Haraven (ed.), Iransitions. New York: Academic Press. Vance, C. (1984) Pleasure and Danger. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Verwoerdt, A., Pfeiffer, E., and Wang, H. S. (1969) Sexual behavior in senescence: Patterns of sexual activity and interest. Geriatrics 24:137-144. Warren, C. A. B. (1974) Identity and Community in the Gay World. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
536 ~ BACKGROUND PAPERS Weeks, J. (1981) Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800. London: Longmans, Green. Weinberg, M. S., and Williams, C. J. (1974) Male Homosexuals: Problems and Adaptations. New York: Oxford University Press. Weinberg, M. S., and Williams, C. J. (1988) Black sexuality: A test of two theories. Journal of Sex Research 25:197-218. Weitzman, L. (1985) The Divorce Revolution. New York: Free Press. Weizman, R., and Hart, J. (1987) Sexual behavior ',n healthy married elderly men. Archives of Sexual Behavior 16:39-44. Westoff, C. F. (1974) Coital frequency and contraception. Family Planning Perspectives 6:136-141. White, E. (1983) A Boy's Own Story. New York: E. P. Dutton. White, E. (1980) States of Desire. New York: E. P. Dutton. Willis, R., and Michael, R. (1988) Innovation in Family Formation: Cohabitational Unions from the 1986 Follow-Up of the NLS/72 Sample. Presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, New Orleans. Wilson, W. J. (1988) The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, The Underclass and Public Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Winick, C. (1962) Prostitutes clients' perception of the prostitutes and themselves. International Journal of Social Psychiatry 8:289-297. Wolf, D.G. (1979) The Lesbian Community. Berkeley: University of California Press. Zelnik, M., Kantner, J. F., and Ford, K. (1981) Sex and Pregnancy in Adolescence. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage.