About the project
Later-in-life intimacy is still a taboo. It is often ignored or assumed not to exist. And if there is attention for older people’s sexuality, it is often from a medical point of view. This taboo affects all genders, but women often face more negative judgement than men and do so earlier in life. Moreover, women are presumed to lose sexual interest earlier than men, and their purported attractiveness is more negatively affected by the fading of youthful looks than men’s. Women’s sexual desires are assumed to disappear with ageing, and the idea of older women and sex is often perceived as inappropriate or subject of mockery and jokes.
More positive narratives that promote lifelong sexuality and attractiveness exist, yet are equally ageist as they are still premised on standards of youth. Successful ageing narratives stress that women can (and should) remain sexually active and attractive with ageing. However, in this narrative, sexuality is seen as both resulting from and a necessary condition for a healthy and energetic old age. While successful ageing discourses create acceptance for sexuality later in life, they hold sexuality reserved for those older people who keep themselves looking young and fit, and relegate asexuality to the realm of pathology.
Both the narratives of decline and the successful ageing narratives reproduce ageist, stereotypical and harmful views on older women’s intimacy and sexuality. We urgently need a different story.
The LiLI project aims to develop an affirmative story of intimacy and (a)sexuality that is grounded in the knowledge and lived experiences of older women themselves. We are particularly interested in the diverse experiences and ideas that have the potential to destabilise prevailing stereotypes. The ‘unruly’ experiences and insights of women who don’t fit in the mainstream – because of aspects such as their age, gender, sexuality, relationship style, ability, ethnicity, etc. – are crucial for the development of a critical and affirmative theory of older women’s sexuality.
We ground this research in several disciplines, notably anthropology, social geography, cultural and media studies and feminist philosophy:
The research is made possible thanks to funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement 851666). The host institution is Ghent University, and all team members are affiliated with the Research Centre for Culture and Gender (CRCG), within the Department of Languages and Cultures of the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy. The project started on 1 May 2020 and runs until 31 October 2025.
We are looking for 50+ women who are willing to participate in an interview or focus group to discuss and share their ‘unruly’ knowledge and experience of intimacy and sexuality later in life.
We look for:
Do you want to participate in the scientific research and thus help us change the prevalent negative imagery of ageing and sexuality? Send a message to email@example.com and we will get back to you with more information about interviews or other possibilities for participating. Or do you know someone who could help us? Do not hesitate to send them our contact information.
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Are you a woman over 50 and would you like to share your experience of intimacy and (a)sexuality on this website? Send us your story! We are interested in personal testimonies of women on the experience of their ageing body, and of relationships, intimacy and sex.