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Later Life Intimacy: Women’s Unruly Practices, Spaces and Representations

Project description

Older women's sexuality reconsidered

A person’s sex drive will likely change as they age. Asexuality is defined as a lack of sexual attraction to others or the lack of interest in sex. Older women are widely perceived as asexual. This perception has resulted in excluding older women from research. Also, their sexuality is considered taboo. The EU-funded LiLI project aims to reverse this trend in research and to promote studies among older women and sexuality. It will pave the way to significant changes in feminist theorisations of ageing and sexual desire. A multi-disciplinary team of scholars from the fields of anthropology, social geography, cultural studies and feminist philosophy will develop a radical multi-method ethnographic research to understand older women’s sexuality.


Almost half a century ago, Simone de Beauvoir (1970) denounced what she called the ‘conspiracy of silence’ in public and scholarly debates about women growing older. Little has changed since then. In spite of the expanding number and proportion of older women in the population and the changing cultural norms regarding sexuality, older women are still often overlooked in research, and their sexuality in particular is still a taboo. Older women are supposed to become asexual and when their sexuality is considered, it is interpreted within a medicalized and phallocentric framework that starts from young adult standards. So far, social sciences and humanities have failed to develop a viable alternative to this line of thinking. The proposed project aims to rectify this significant gap in research and break the silence around older women and sex. A multi-disciplinary team of scholars with expertise in anthropology, social geography, cultural studies and feminist philosophy will collaborate and tackle challenging research questions in order to acquire a fundamentally new, affirmative understanding of women’s later life sexuality. A radical multi-method ethnographic research methodology will be developed, (1) based on long-term participant observation in various settings and (2) with a specific focus on ‘unruly’ sexual strategies of older women across different social categories. By uncovering counter-hegemonic knowledge of older women—knowledge that usually stays under the radar of academic attention—the project has great potential to revolutionize how we look at women, old age, and sex. A shift in thinking is needed because the prevalent conceptualizations are blatantly oppressive for older women. Moreover, the project’s methodological-theoretical design that brings older women’s subversive sexual strategies to the forefront of research has also the potential to open the way for radical changes in feminist theorizations of intersectional power, sexual desire and ageing.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 486 000,00
9000 Gent

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Vlaams Gewest Prov. Oost-Vlaanderen Arr. Gent
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 486 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)