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373
Single Living
How have adult single-living patterns changed in the United States?
In what ways do levels of sexual activity differ between single
people and married couples?
Cohabitation
What explains the signicant increase in the number of cohabiting
couples in America?
Marriage
What are the essential differences between marriage in collectivist
and individualist cultures?
How are various governments around the globe attempting to
inuence marriage?
What is unique about adult sexual relationships in Mosuo society?
What are the crucial components of successfully predicting marital
satisfaction?
Nonmonogamy
What are some of the different forms of nonmonogamy that people
engage in?
What are the unique variables of polyamory?
What are the possible consequences of extramarital relationships
for the marriage and for the individual?
Divorce
How have divorce rates changed since the late 1970s?
What are some of the causes of the increase in rates of divorce
since the 1950s?
Sexuality and Aging
What does research nd about sexuality and older adults?
What are some psychological and lifestyle changes that occur in
older individuals that can enhance their sexual lives?
How is the postmarital adjustment of widowhood different from
that of divorce?
373
John Lund/Marc Romanelli/Blend Images/Jupiterimages
13
Sexuality and
the Adult Years
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374 CHAPTER 13
After 44 years of marriage, with our kids in homes of their own, we can really
enjoy ourselves. We often go out to dinner, come back home, talk, kiss, mas-
sage each other, and then maybe even have sexual intercourse. Our lovemak-
ing can take several hours, and we’re both completely satisfied. (Authors’ files)
Intimate relationships of several forms occupy a position of considerable significance
in many adults’ lives. Ones adult relationship status—single, married, or living with
someone—is an important element of one’s identity, both to oneself and to others.
In this chapter, we examine several forms of adult relationships and the influences of
aging on intimate relationships.
Single Living
Remaining single instead of marrying or living together, or following divorce, has become
an increasingly prominent lifestyle in the United States. In contrast to 1970, four times the
percentage of men and women between 30 and 34 years old have never been married—33%
of men and 25% of women (Straus, 2006). Single adults
comprise 45% of the population in the United States
(DePaulo, 2012). The increased number of single adults
is partly due to men and women marrying later (Jayson,
2012). The median age at first marriage has risen since
1970—from age 23 to 28 for men and from age 21 to 26
for women (Wolfers, 2010). However, the main reason for
the increase may be that more people prefer to be single.
A recent survey found that 55% of unmarried individuals
said they were not looking for a committed relationship
(DePaulo, 2012).
Not long ago, women who pursued higher educa-
tion were more likely to remain single. However, today
they are more likely to marry than are women with
lower levels of education, although they marry later
than the average woman due to their desire to establish themselves professionally before
marriage (Romano, 2009).
Single living encompasses a range of sexual patterns and diering degrees of per-
sonal satisfaction. Some people who live alone remain celibate by choice or because of
lack of available partners. Others are involved in a long-term, sexually exclusive relation-
ship with one partner. Some practice serial monogamy, moving through a succession
of sexually exclusive relationships. Some single people develop a primary relationship
with one partner and have occasional sex with others. Friends with benets (FWB)
are relationships with a blend of friendship and physical intimacy outside a committed
romantic relationship. Researchers found that most women and men had more positive
than negative emotional reactions to their FWB relationships, although men were even
more positive about FWB relationships than women were (Owen & Fincham, 2011).
Still other single adults prefer concurrent sexual and emotional involvements with a
number of dierent partners. Regarding one-night stands and single life, a study found
dierences between men and women. Eighty-one percent of men, compared to 54% of
women, said that they enjoyed the experience, and women were much more likely than
men to say that they regretted having had the one-night stand (Campbell, 2008).
Jeff Stahler, © Columbus Dispatch. Dist. By UNIVERSAL UCLICK. Reprinted
with permission. All rights reserved.
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Sexuality and the Adult Years375 375
Most single people are happy with their nonmarried status, whether temporary or
permanent (McGinn, 2006). In terms of how happy singles are about their sex lives,
research suggests that married people experience higher levels of sexual activity and
satisfaction than singles, but many singles claim that their sex lives are more exciting
(Laumann et al., 1994; Schachner et al., 2008).
Singles and the Internet
The more than 1,000 Internet sites in the United States designed for singles to connect
with one another have greatly altered the singles scene. Each month, over 40% of single
adults in the United States visit dating sites (Howes, 2011). The largest demographic
group using these sites consists of higher-income, college-educated individuals, but the
fastest-growing segment of Internet dating traffic is the 50-and-older population (Juarez,
2006; Straus, 2006). Match.com was the first large singles dating site, started in 1995. By
2012 it had expanded its dating sites to 25 countries (Match.com, 2012). Neil Warren,
founder of the site eHarmony, claims to be responsible for 5% of marriages in the United
States (Howes, 2011). On the other end of the continuum, seeking sexual partners with
no strings attached” is ubiquitous on the Internet (Sevcikova & Daneback, 2011).
Although being single has become more acceptable in our society, most people still
choose to live with a partner or marry, and we examine these options next.
Cohabitation
In the past few decades both the number of people choosing cohabitation (living
together in a sexual relationship without being married) and societal acceptance of
what was once an unconventional practice have increased significantly (Kreider, 2010;
Tavernise, 2011a). Census figures reveal that by 2010 about 7.5 million unmar-
ried heterosexual couples were living together in the United States (Kreider,
2010). About 28% of men and women ages 15 to 44 cohabited before their first
marriage, and almost half of the individuals who cohabit transition to marriage
within three years (Goodwin et al., 2010).
e most common reasons people give for deciding to cohabit are to spend
more time together, for convenience, to evaluate compatibility, and to share
expenses (Huang et al., 2011; Rhoades et al., 2009). Sharing living expenses has
become more important during the current economic downturn in the United
States and may be a signicant factor in the increase in cohabitation. Men and
women with low incomes have the greatest percentages of increases in cohabita-
tion, and those without a high school diploma or GED are more likely to cohabit
than individuals with more education, as shown in
Figure 13.1.
Domestic partnership is a term applied to the relationship of straight, les-
bian, and gay couples who live with a partner in the same household in a committed
relationship but who are not legally married. Many local, state, and national gov-
ernments and private businesses have provided established benets such as health
insurance for couples in domestic partnerships. In Sweden the 30% of couples who
share a household and are not married have all the rights and obligations of married
couples, unlike the legal vulnerabilities inherent in cohabitation in the United States
(Mezin, 2006). In contrast, older heterosexual couples may cohabit rather than
marry because remarriage can mean higher income tax rates, the end of alimony
payments, and the loss of spousal pension, military, and Social Security benets.
% of men age 22–44
0
5
10
15
20
Currently cohabiting
No high school diploma or GED
High school diploma or GED
Some college
Bachelor’s degree or higher
Figure 13.1 Percentage of men ages 22 to
44 who are currently cohabiting, by level
of education.
SOURCE: Martinez et al. (2006).
cohabitation
Living together and having a sexual
relationship without being married.
domestic partnership
An unmarried couple living in the
same household in a committed
relationship.
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376 CHAPTER 13
Research shows that marriage involves a higher degree of commitment and stability
than does cohabitation: Seventy-eight percent of marriages last 5 years or more, com-
pared with less than 30% of cohabiting relationships (Goodwin et al., 2010), which may
be one reason that marriage continues to enjoy widespread appeal. About 96% of adults
in the United States have married at some point, and many marry more than once (U.S.
Census Bureau, 2006). However, in 2010, for the rst time in the United States, mar-
ried couples represented a minority of all American households. e percentage of
married couples has declined over time, from 78% in 1950 to 48% in 2010 (Tavernise,
2011a). A closer look at the institution of marriage might provide some insights into
both its continuing allure and decreasing prevalence.
Marriage
Marriage is an ever-changing institution found in virtually every society. It has tra-
ditionally served several functions for society and individuals. It typically provides
stable family units, in which children acquire knowledge about their society’s rules
and mores through the teachings of their married parents or kinship groups. Mar-
riage functions as an economic partnership that integrates child rearing, perfor-
mance of household tasks, and earning an income into one family unit. Marriage also
defines inheritance rights to family property. For thousands of years, marriage has
been about property and politics instead of personal happiness and love (Nordlund,
2009). Arranged marriage prevailed in Europe before the 19th century. Parents in
elite classes arranged their childrens marriages to develop alliances between families,
consolidate wealth and political power, and even maintain peace between countries.
Marriage in lower classes was also an economic arrangement; building a labor pool of
children and combining skills, resources, and helpful in-laws were primary consider-
ations (Coontz, 2005).
Marriage in Current Collectivist
and Individualist Cultures
Scientists who study cultures have identified two
opposing characteristics that differentiate cultures
from each other: collectivism and individualism.
Whether a culture is collectivist or individualist influ-
ences its views regarding the purpose of marriage.
Collectivist cultures—such as those of contemporary
India, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, the Middle
East, and other parts of Asia and Africa—emphasize
group, or collective, goals over individual aspirations.
In such cultures the primary purpose of marriage is
to unite families rather than just two people. Parents
in collectivist cultures often arrange the marriages of
their children. For example, in contemporary India
90% of marriages are arranged (Cullen & Masters,
2008). Individuals are expected not to put their
own feelings for someone above the more important
commitments to the needs of family, community, or
religion.
On their wedding day, a groom in Kenya lifts the veil of his bride, whose
face he may never have seen before.
© Carol Beckwith/Robert Estall Photo Agency, UK
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Sexuality and the Adult Years377 377
As more families from collectivist cultures have immigrated to Western countries,
tradition-bound parents may coerce young women into unwanted arranged marriages.
One study found 3,000 known or suspected cases of forced marriage in the United
States over a two-year period (Goldberg, 2011a). In some parts of the world, conse-
quences for those, especially women, who deviate from the expected norms can be fatal.
A senior ocial in the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that in the rst nine
months of 2010, there were 129 known killings of women by male family members for
marrying without permission (Agence France-Presse, 2011).
In contrast to collectivist cultures, individualist cultures, such as those of Canada,
Europe, Australia, European Brazil, and the United States, stress individual desires
and goals over family interests. People in individualist cultures place considerably more
emphasis on feelings of love as a basis for marriage than do people in collectivist cultures
(Levine et al., 1995). e importance of love in deciding to marry is a recent innovation
in the long history of human existence. It was not until the end of the 1700s that per-
sonal choice based on love replaced family interests as the ideal basis of marriage in the
Western world (Coontz, 2006). When collectivist cultures become more individualist,
people are less likely to remain in marriages, as we see in China. e easing of govern-
ment control over individual choices and an increase in Western inuence contributed
to a 21% increase in divorces in one years time in 2004 (Beech, 2005).
Many societies today are concerned about how marriage aects the social order and
attempt to modify its impact, as discussed in the Sex and Politics box, Marriage in
Crisis on page 378.
Polygamy
Collectivist cultures are likely to practice polygamy—a marriage between one man and
several women. Although it is unfamiliar to much of the Western world, polygamy
has been the most common form of marriage across the ages, and it remains preva-
lent today in the Middle East and other parts of
Africa. The religion of Islam allows a man to have
up to four wives; the mans personal wealth and
his ability to provide for numerous wives usually
determine how many he marries (Arusha, 2008).
In countries where polygamy is the norm,
some people do oppose its practice (al-Mograbi,
2011; Amnesty International, 2011). For exam-
ple, in the African country of Swaziland, a mans
right to polygamy is part of the new constitution.
However, despite the fact that the king has 13
wives, his 18-year-old daughter, Princess Sikh-
anyiso, is leading opposition to the tradition. e
opponentsincluding women in both urban and
rural areasview polygamy as a cover for having
extramarital aairs. Men make their girlfriends
into short-term wives and soon discard them for
new girlfriend-wives. Womens desire to have love
and sexual satisfaction without sharing a man with
other women is the primary motivation for the
opposition and reects a trend toward individual-
ism in collectivist cultures. A study comparing Bed-
ouin Arab wives in monogamous and polygamous
HBO’s Big Love portrayed the tribulations and joys of a family with one
husband, three wives, and their children. Viagra helped the devoutly
religious and hardworking husband keep “up” with his marital duties.
Typical family tensions were multiplied by the dynamics of one man and
three women, and their attempt to keep their marital arrangement secret
from their suburban neighbors.
HBO/Photofest
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378 CHAPTER 13
marriages found that polygamy tended to negatively aect women: Women in polyga-
mous marriages reported more depression, anxiety, and problems in family functioning
and less self-esteem and marital satisfaction than did women in monogamous marriages
(Al-Krenawi & Slonim-Nevo, 2008). Furthermore, the spread of HIV throughout the
family of wives in a polygamous marriage is of great concern.
In the United States’ early history, Mormons practiced polygamy, but the Mormon
Church disavowed the practice in 1890 (Hertzberg, 2008). However, fundamentalist
sects that broke away from the Mormon Church continue to practice polygamydespite
the fact that it is against the law in all 50 states (Kovach & Murr, 2008). Experts believe
that 30,000 to 50,000 polygamists live in the United States, including a growing number
of Muslims and evangelical Christians (Peyser, 2006). Polygamy activist groups are lob-
bying for decriminalization of the practice. ey maintain that individuals should have
the right to engage in the private conduct of polygamy without government interference.
Child Marriage
Around the world, about 60 million girls under age 18—some as young as 8 years
old—are married. In Niger, 82% of girls marry before age 18; in a region of Ethiopia,
50% of girls are married before age 15; and 7% of girls in Nepal marry before age 10.
These child wives face forced sex, denial of education, and special health risks (Tamimi,
2011). They face few, if any, life options after marriage. Most have to leave school when
they marry, thus severely limiting their future economic opportunities (International
Center for Research on Women, 2009).
Health risks for child brides are numerous, and damage can be lifelong (Santhya
et al., 2010). Young wives whose bodies have not fully matured often experience trau-
matic childbirth: ey can be in labor for days, which can result in a dead baby and a
Marriage in Crisis
sex &
POLITICS
Many countries around the world consider the status and
role of marriage to be in crisis, but the specic concerns
vary greatly. For example, economic planners in Spain
would like the 50% of women between ages 25 and 29 who
are single to stimulate the country’s economic growth by
marrying earlier and having more children.
The German,
Austrian, French, Japanese,
Russian, and Korean govern-
ments want to increase the number of births, and some
even provide nancial incentives and preferential access
to housing and child care for people who have children,
regardless of marital status. For example, for a couple
having a second child, the
Russian government offers pay-
ment of $9,200, longer paid maternity leave, and nancial
assistance for child care (Niedowski, 2006).
Several countries are concerned about various kinds
of obstacles to marriage for men. Leaders in Saudi Arabia
and the United Arab
Emirates want families to lower
high bride prices so young men can afford to marry.
In Italy commentators criticize the 33% of single men
between ages 30 and 35 who still live at home, enjoying
their mothers’ cooking and housekeeping.
The govern-
ments and people of India and China are worried about
the millions of men who by 2020 will be without women
to marry as a result of the imbalanced ratio of boys to
girls (Hesketh & Xing, 2006). The Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation funded a study in a rural area of India that
found that, among children under 6 years of age, there
are 628 girls for every 1,000 boys.
The greater number
of boys than girls has occurred because female fetuses
are often aborted and female infants are killed due to the
strong cultural preference for boys (Chung, 2006;
Power,
2006). In India, according to Hindu tradition, sons have
the important role of lighting their parents’ funeral pyres.
Sons will earn future wealth for the family, but the dowries
daughters require in order to marry are a nancial loss to
their families.
The Indian government has begun to offer
families scholarships for girls’ education to attempt to
encourage births of female children. However, the many-
centuries-old tradition of higher status for having male
children will be very difcult to change (Power, 2006).
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Sexuality and the Adult Years379 379
permanently damaged birth canal (Pathnder Interna-
tional, 2006). In Yemen, complications from pregnancy
are the leading cause of death for young women between
ages 15 and 19 (Khalife, 2011). Further, child and teen
wives typically have much older husbands, who are often
polygamous: e husbands age and polygamy increase
the chances that they are already infected with HIV and
will transmit it to their wives soon after marriage (Ali,
2006).
Poverty is a major factor promoting child marriage.
e nancial burden of girls in poor families is elimi-
nated when they are married, and families may receive
a bride dowry payment. Girls who live in refugee camps
are especially likely to become child brides. e United
Nations, UNICEF, and other organizations are cam-
paigning in the Middle East and other parts of Africa
and Asia to prevent girls ages 13 and younger from being
married and to obtain for them the right to full and free
consent to marriage (Veneman, 2009). However, in
countries where child marriage has been a traditional custom, it continues to occur even
after laws against it have been established (Hedayat, 2011). In 2009 the U.S. Congress
passed a bill to provide funding for educational and economic opportunities for girls so
that they and their families have viable alternatives to early marriage (Hedayat, 2011).
Few cultures recognize unions between one woman and several men (polyandry),
and even fewer approve of sexual activity outside marriage. However, a matriarchal cul-
ture in China turns common concepts of marriage upside down, as discussed in the
following Sexuality and Diversity feature.
sexUALITY and DIVeRsITY
Where Women Choose
In a remote part of China, on the shore of a lake at a high altitude, surrounded
by towering mountains, the Mosuo society has one of the most unusual marriage
arrangements in the world. This ancient matriarchal society of about 50,000 people
has lasted nearly 2,000 years and thrives today. Because of their isolated location, the
Mosuo people have been successful in resisting the imposition of patriarchal family
traditions common in other parts of China. Since the society is a matriarchy, women
carry the family name and govern the economic and social affairs of the extended
family. All of the sons and daughters of each woman live their entire lives together in
their mothers house.
After an initiation ceremony into adulthood at age 13, each girl is given her own
room in the family house. ere she can welcome lovers of her choice to come in the
evening and stay overnight with her. Each dawn, her lover returns to his own mother’s
home, where he lives. is tradition is called “walking marriage because men walk to
womens houses to be with them overnight. A woman initiates a walking marriage by a
glance or a special touch on the palm of her chosens hand. Men never initiate, but they
can decline an invitation.
When a Mosuo woman becomes pregnant and bears a child, the child stays in the
family house of the womans mother. e womans brothers help raise their sister’s chil-
dren. e biological father assumes no fathering role except for his sisters’ children.
e only reasons men and women get together are for love and sexual intimacy, not for
In Afghanistan this 11-year-old girl had to quit school when she
became engaged to her 40-year-old husband-to-be.
Stephanie Sinclair/VII
matriarchal society
A society in which women carry
the family name through the gen-
erations, and women govern the
economic and social affairs of the
community.
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380 CHAPTER 13
child rearing. erefore, walking marriages are easily begun and ended. Once love dies
for either partner, the walking marriage is over: e woman might nd that her lover’s
nightly visits stop, or her lover might arrive to nd her door locked (Bennion, 2005;
Ryan & Jetha, 2010).
Marriage in the Western World
Marriage based on love promises regular companionship, sexual gratification, a loving and
enduring involvement, and parenting options—all within the security of a legitimized
social institution. And on the whole, married people are happier and healthier, both physi-
cally and psychologically, than unmarried people (Pew Research Center, 2009a). Married
men move up the career ladder faster and earn more money than single men (Elder, 2005).
However, such benefits hold only for certain marriages. Individuals in distressed marriages
are in poorer health than those in nondistressed marriages, as found by a national longitu-
dinal survey. In fact, they have greater health risks than divorced individuals. Furthermore,
the adverse health effects of a distressed marriage have a cumulative effect, increasing with
time in the marriage and therefore greater at older ages (Umberson et al., 2006).
Changing Expectations and Marital Patterns
A large discrepancy exists between the American marriage ideal and actual marriage
practices. Although cohabitation, high divorce rates, and extramarital sexual involvement
are all antithetical to the traditional ideal, they are widespread. In fact, the most politi-
cally conservative area of the country—the so-called Bible Belt—has some of the high-
est rates of divorce and numbers of unwed mothers, which may be partially correlated
to younger ages at marriage and higher poverty rates (Coontz, 2005; Stockdale et al.,
2011). Some reasons for the contradictions between ideal marriage and actual marriage
practices have to do with changes in both the expectations for marriage and the social
framework of marriage.
Contemporary couples usually marry for love and enter marriage with expectations
for fullling their sexual, emotional, spiritual, social, nancial, and perhaps coparenting
Each Mosuo house is usually a home for two to three generations of women and
their sons and daughters.
Dressed for an annual festival, this
Mosuo woman invites men of her
choosing to spend the night with her
in her room at her mothers home.
Peter Ellegard/peterellegard.co.uk
© Jacques Langevin/Sygma/Corbis
FPO
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
Sexuality and the Adult Years381 381
needs (Li & Fung, 2011). One survey found that three times as many respondents
believed the main purpose of marriage was mutual happiness and fulllment rather than
bearing and raising children (Crary, 2007). Ironically, as peoples expectations for mar-
riage have risen, our society’s support networks for marriage have declined. Extended
families and small communities have become less close-knit and supportive, placing
increased demands on marriage to meet a variety of needs. Couples are often hard-
pressed to nd outside resources for help with household tasks, child-care assistance,
nancial aid, and emotional support. Although the challenges of sharing everyday life
in marriage can enrich and fulll some couples, such challenges can disillusion others
(Patz, 2000). Furthermore, people now live much longer—life expectancy is in the high
70s—than they did in the past, requiring marriages to keep pace with the ever-changing
needs of each partner over many more years (Bennett & Ellison, 2010).
e arrival of children poses signicant challenges to marital happiness for couples
(Ali, 2008). An analysis of 90 studies found a 42% drop in marital satisfaction follow-
ing the birth of a rst child, and a slightly smaller drop with each additional child. Up
to 50% of new-parent couples experience as much marital distress as couples who are in
marital therapy to address their problems, and men and women report similar amounts
of deterioration in relationship functioning (Doss et al., 2009; Picker, 2005). In mar-
riages most likely to remain happy in parenthood, research has found that the husband
understands his wifes inner life, admires her, and actively keeps romance alive (Gottman
& Silver, 2000).
Interracial Marriage
As recently as 1967, interracial marriage was banned in more than a dozen states. Mis-
cegenation—sex between members of different races, whether or not the people involved
were married—was also illegal until the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated those laws in
1967. Since the elimination of those discriminatory and racist laws, interracial marriage
has increased dramatically—from less than 3.2% of all marriages in 1980 to over 8.4%
in 2010. Further, in 2010 about 15% of all new marriages in the U.S. were of mixed race
and ethnicity (Wang, 2012). Public approval of interracial marriage has also risen sig-
nificantly, from 54% in 1995 to 80% in 2009 (Meacham, 2009). Younger people are, in
general, more accepting of interracial marriage than are older adults (Herman & Camp-
bell, 2012; Poulin & Rutter, 2011). In addition, 1 in 19 children born today—compared
with 1 in 100 in 1970—is of mixed race (Pew Research Center, 2006).
One of the few studies on relationship quality in interracial couples found that inter-
racial and same-race couples were similar in conict and attachment styles. However,
interracial couples reported signicantly higher relationship satisfaction than same-race
couples. e researchers concluded that either interracial relationships are less burdened
with problems than same-race relationships, or individuals in interracial relationships
are more eective in coping with problems (Troy et al., 2006).
Predicting Marital Satisfaction
Studies conducted by psychologist John Gottman and his colleagues have revealed sur-
prisingly accurate criteria for predicting marital success. Gottman did not study long-
term cohabiting gay and lesbian couples. Some of his findings would apply to same-sex
couples, but the patterns based on male–female relationships do not. Gottman and his
associates identified a number of patterns that predict marital discord, unhappiness,
and separation. Identifying such patterns has provided the basis for predicting with
better than 90% accuracy whether a couple will separate within the first few years of
marriage. These patterns included the following:
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382 CHAPTER 13
A ratio of at least ve positive interactions to each negative interaction
Facial expressions of disgust, fear, or misery
High levels of heart rate
Defensive behaviors, such as making excuses and denying responsibility for dis-
agreement
Verbal expressions of contempt by the wife
Stonewalling by the husband (showing no response when his wife expresses her
concerns)
For successful marriages, the ratio of ve positive interactions to one negative inter-
action is key. Gottman summarized, It is the balance between positive and negative
emotional interactions in a marriage that determines its well-being—whether the good
moments of mutual pleasure, passion, humor, support, kindness, and generosity outweigh
the bad moments of complaining, criticism, anger, disgust, contempt, defensiveness, and
coldness” (1994, p. 44). e 5:1 ratio is even more important than how much a couple
ghts or how compatible they are socially, nancially, and sexually. When couples maintain
or improve this ratio, they can have long-lasting, satisfying marriages regardless of their
particular relationship style. Gottmans research found that both men and women say that
the quality of the friendship with their spouse is the most important factor in marital sat-
isfaction (Gottman & Silver, 2000). Another study found that people in marriages where
individuals believed in shared decision making and husbands shared a greater proportion
of housework had greater satisfaction and less conict (Dush & Taylor, 2012).
Gottman found other critical patterns in newlyweds who wind up in stable and
happy marriages (Gottman et al., 1998). ese successful patterns are distinct for
women and men. Women typically initiate discussions about concerns and problems in
the marriage. To the extent that women use a softened start-up”—a calm, kind, diplo-
matic beginning to the discussion—they have stable and happy marriages. Conversely,
men who accept inuence from their wives end up in long-term good marriages. Hus-
bands who reject their wives requests and concerns—in essence, husbands who refuse
to share their power with their wives—nd themselves in unstable, unhappy marriages
that are more likely to lead to divorce. A husband’s ability to accept his wife’s inuence is
unrelated to his age, income, occupation, or educational level. e following Your Sexual
Health box on the next page contains a quiz devised by Gottman.
Although these patterns are unique for each sex, the positive interaction between
them is evident: A wife will be more inclined to use a softened start-up if she knows her
husband will be responsive to her, and a husband will be more likely to accept the inu-
ence of a wife who begins a conict discussion in a diplomatic fashion.
Sexual Behavior and Satisfaction in Marriage
Compared with Kinsey’s research groups, married women and men in the United States
today appear to be engaging in a wider repertoire of sexual behaviors and enjoying
sexual interaction more. The frequency and duration of sexual play before intercourse
have increased, with more people focusing on such play itself rather than viewing it as
preparation for coitus. Oral stimulation of the breasts and manual stimulation of the
genitals have increased; so has oral–genital contact, both fellatio and cunnilingus (Cle-
ments, 1994; Herbenick et al., 2010b; Laumann et al., 1994).
Sexual satisfaction and relationship quality in marriage are often found together—as
in relationships other than marriage, in which sexual satisfaction is associated with rela-
tionship satisfaction, love commitment, and stability (Aponte & Machado, 2006; Spre-
cher, 2002). Data indicate slightly greater sexual satisfaction for married people than for
single people, as shown in
Table 13.1. In an extensive analysis of the National Health
and Social Life Survey (NHSLS) data, couples reported that the quality of sex in mar-
riage became slightly less with greater duration of marriage (Liu, 2003). However, a recent
The Obamas’ marriage—a union of
self-sufcient and devoted equals—
embodies the post-1960s marriage
ideal (
Romano, 2009).
Scott Olson/Getty Images
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
Sexuality and the Adult Years383 383
study found that some couples sustain romantic love—dened as
intensity, engagement, and sexual interest—in long-term relationships.
As might be expected, the more intense the romantic love, the more
satisfaction with their relationships and the greater sense of individual
well-being and high self-esteem they reported (Acevedo & Aron, 2009).
Men and women in marriages are not equally satised with their
sexual lives. Research indicates that married women report lower levels
of sexual satisfaction than do their husbands (Liu, 2003). is dierence
is a complicated issue, and the causes for it are unknown. Liu speculated
that the lower satisfaction wives express stems from two factors. First,
wives experience orgasm in fewer sexual experiences than their husbands
do. Second, because women typically invest more time and energy in the
general relationship than men, women may have greater expectations for
the quality of the sexual relationship than men do.
Sexless unions are not uncommon in marriage. A psychologist who
interviewed married people between the ages of 25 and 55 stated, I
was astonished at how many married couples said they hadnt had sex
in years” (Murray, 1992, p. 64). Former U.S. labor secre-
tary Robert Reich made a point about the pressures faced
by overworked couples when he applied this acronym
to them: DINS—dual income, no sex (Deveny, 2003).
Demands of employment, doing laundry, xing the lawn
mower, socializing with two sets of relatives and friends,
and countless other activities can reduce the time and
energy a couple has for intimate sharing. It is important
to note, however, that a lack of sexual interaction does
Test the strength of your relationship in this quiz prepared
by John Gottman.
True or False
1. I can name my partners best friends.
2. I can tell you what stresses my partner is currently
facing.
3. I know the names of some of the people who have
been irritating my partner lately.
4. I can tell you some of my partner’s life dreams.
5. I can tell you about my partners basic philosophy of life.
6. I can list the relatives my partner likes the least.
7. I feel that my partner knows me pretty well.
8. When we are apart, I often think fondly of my partner.
9. I often touch or kiss my partner affectionately.
10.
My partner really respects me.
11.
There is re and passion in this relationship.
12.
Romance is denitely still a part of our relationship.
13.
My partner appreciates the things I do in this relationship.
14.
My partner generally likes my personality.
15.
Our sex life is mostly satisfying.
16.
At the end of the day, my partner is glad to see me.
17.
My partner is one of my best friends.
18.
We just love talking to each other.
19.
There is lots of give-and-take in our discussions (both
partners have inuence).
20. My partner listens respectfully, even when we
disagree.
21. My partner is usually a great help as a problem solver.
22.
We generally mesh well on basic values and goals in life.
Scoring
Give yourself 1 point for each true answer.
Above 12: You have a lot of strength in your relation-
ship. Congratulations.
Below 12: Your relationship could stand some improve-
ment and could probably benet from some work on the
basics, such as improving communication.
Copyright © 2012 The Gottman Institute. Used with permission.
http://www.gottman.com/qz1/HowWellDoYouKnowYourPartner.html
Know Your Partner
YOUR sexUAL
HEALTH
TABLE 13.1 Relationship Status and Orgasm Experience
Always or Usually Have an Orgasm with Partner
Men (%) Women (%)
Dating 94 62
Living together 95 68
Married 95 75
SOURCE: Laumann et al. (1994).
Married couples are engaging in a wider variety of
sexual behaviors and enjoying sexual interaction more
often than in previous eras.
© Mark Hanauer/CORBIS
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384 CHAPTER 13
not necessarily mean the marriage is bad. For some, sex is not, and perhaps
never was, a high priority. And, as the psychologist previously mentioned
observed, “ere are many forms of human connection. ese couples are
not willing to sacrice a marriage that is working on other levels (Murray,
1992, p. 64).
Nonmonogamy
The term nonmonogamy refers to sexual interaction outside a cou-
ple relationship, whether the couple is married, is living together, or
identifies themselves as a couple. Nonmonogamy is a general term that
makes no distinction between the many ways in which extramarital
sexual activity occurs. Such activity can be secret or based on an agree-
ment between the married partners. The outside relationship may be
casual or may involve deep emotional attachment; it may last for a brief time or an
extended one. Extramarital relationship is a term used only for married couples.
Most societies have restrictive norms pertaining to extramarital sex, norms typically
more restrictive for women than for men. For example, historically women in Pakistan
who were convicted of adultery were sentenced to death or given mandatory prison
sentences. In 2006 Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf amended the law so the more
than 6,000 women in prison on adultery charges could be released on bail (UN Oce
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aairs, 2006). However, the Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan reported at least 675 honor killings by male relatives of Paki-
stani women and girls in the rst nine months of 2011, and many were murdered after
being accused of having “illicit relations” (Agence France-Presse, 2011).
In contrast, some societies have allowed extramarital sex for both men and women,
as described in the following Sexuality and Diversity discussion.
sexUALITY and DIVeRsITY
Extramarital Sexuality in Other Cultures
The Aborigines of Western Australias Arnhem Land openly accept extramarital sexual
relationships for both wives and husbands. They welcome the variety in experience and
the break in monotony offered by extramarital involvements. Many report increased
appreciation of, and attachment to, their spouse as a result of such experiences.
e Polynesian Marquesans, although not open advocates of extramarital aairs,
nevertheless tacitly accept such activity. A Marquesan wife often takes young boys or her
husband’s friends or relatives as lovers. Conversely, her husband may have sexual rela-
tions with young unmarried girls or with his sisters-in-law. Marquesan culture openly
endorses the practices of partner swapping and sexual hospitality, in which unaccom-
panied visitors are oered sexual access to the host of the other sex. Some Inuit groups
also practiced sexual hospitality, in which a married female host had intercourse with a
male visitor (Gebhard, 1971).
e Turu of central Tanzania regard marriage primarily as a cooperative economic
and social bond. Aection between husband and wife is generally thought to be out of
place; most members of this society believe that the marital relationship is endangered
by the instability of love and aection. e Turu have evolved a system of romantic love,
called Mbuya, which allows them to seek aection outside the home without threaten-
ing the stability of the primary marriage. Both husband and wife actively pursue these
outside relationships (Gebhard, 1971).
Why do you think married women tend to
be less satised with their sex lives than
married men are?
Critical Thinking Question
© The New Yorker Collection 2004 Christopher Weyant from cartoonbank.com. All
Rights Reserved.
nonmonogamy
Sexual interaction outside a couple
relationship.
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Sexuality and the Adult Years385 385
Consensual Extramarital Relationships
Consensual extramarital relationships occur in marriages where both partners know
about and agree to sexual involvements outside the marriage. A variety of arrange-
ments fall under the category of consensual extramarital involvements. We briefly
examine three arrangements: swinging, open marriage, and polyamory.
Swinging
Swinging refers to a form of consensual extramarital sex that a married couple shares
(de Visser & McDonald, 2007). The emphasis is on recreational, nonemotionally inti-
mate encounters (Megan, 2008). Couples do not have individual contact with outside
partners but participate together at the same location—usually in suburban homes,
at clubs, or sometimes at conventions for adventures into sensual living with other
couples (Nelson, 2010). In an online survey of about 1,400 swingers, the most common
reasons given for engaging in swinging activities were sexual variety and fantasy fulfill-
ment. Both men and women scored at the high end of marital and sexual satisfaction
scales, but men were more likely than women to have initially suggested swinging, and
over half the women involved in swinging considered themselves bisexual (Fernandes,
2008). A documentary released in 2000 titled The Lifestyle: Group Sex in the Suburbs,
features interviews of typical swingers: middle-class, middle-aged, suburban married
couples who look to the recreational sex of swinging for enhancement of the sex in their
long-term marriage.
A variation on swinging, called hotwing by Cody Alston, author of a book by that
name, is where a couple enjoys the woman having sexual contact with one or more
men, even though the male partner is sexually exclusive to his partner. e boyfriend
or husband usually initiates hotwing because he nds it highly sexually arousing
to share his partner with other men. Couples prefer various contexts for the sexual
encounters—some women are sexual with the other men while their partners are
present to watch, and other women meet alone for their liaisons (Alston, 2012).
Open Marriage and Polyamory
The 1972 book Open Marriage, by George and Nena O’Neill, brought widespread
public attention to the concept of open marriage, in which wife and husband agree to
have intimate and sexual relationships outside their marriage. A more current term,
the new monogamy, involves a primary attachment of the couple, while allowing out-
side involvements of varying types (Nelson, 2010; Perel, 2006). Writer Dan Savage
has coined the word monogamish, for couples who have a primary bond yet allow one
another various parameters for sexual relationships with others (Karpel, 2011).
Polyamory is a term many people use to describe multiple consensual sexual rela-
tionships. Polyamorists distinguish their relationships from other nonmonogamous
relationships by their emphasis on emotional commitment in multiple sexual relation-
ships (Megan, 2008). Polyamorist literature emphasizes honest, ethical relationships
that consist of trios, groups of couples, and intentionally created families (Wise, 2006).
All parties in polyamorous relationships are expected to communicate fully about
whom they are involved with and what they do together (Williams, 2008). In 2005 the
Dutch government recognized a three-person cohabitation contract between a married
couple and another individual, who formed the rst government-recognized polyam-
orous union (Hanus, 2006a).
Nonconsensual Extramarital Relationships
In nonconsensual extramarital sex a married person engages in a sexual relationship
outside the marriage, without the consent (or, presumably, the knowledge) of his or her
consensual extramarital
relationship
A sexual relationship that occurs
outside the marriage bond with the
consent of one’s spouse.
swinging
The exchange of marital partners for
sexual interaction.
open marriage
A marriage in which spouses, with
each others permission, have inti-
mate relationships with other people
as well as with the marital partner.
polyamory
Multiple consensual sexual relation-
ships of trios, groups of couples, and
intentionally created families that
emphasize emotional commitment.
nonconsensual extramarital sex
Sexual interaction in which a married
person engages in an outside sexual
relationship without the consent (or,
presumably, the knowledge) of his or
her spouse.
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386 CHAPTER 13
spouse. Affairs vary from one-night stands to deep emotional involvements (Allen &
Rhoades, 2008). Nonconsensual extramarital sex has been given many labels, includ-
ing cheating, adultery, infidelity, having an affair, and fooling around. These negative labels
reflect the fact that more than 90% of the general U.S. public says that extramarital sex
is always” or almost always wrong (Treas & Giesen, 2000).
How Common Are Extramarital Affairs?
It is difficult to determine accurately how many people have affairs because people
may be reluctant to admit to an affair, even for research. For example, a study of
almost 5,000 married women found that in face-to-face interviews, 1% of the women
said that they had been unfaithful to their husbands in the last year, but with the
anonymity of a computer questionnaire, 6% of the same group of women answered
yes to this question (Whisman & Snyder, 2007). The NHSLS, with its
sample of 3,432 Americans ages 18 to 59, found reported rates of extra-
marital involvement at some time during marriage of 25% of married men
and 15% of married women (Laumann et al., 1994). A more recent study
in 2011 found that over 23% of men and 19% of women said that they
had cheated during their current relationship (Mark et al., 2011).
Table
13.2 shows a global comparison of the percentage of adults who say they
have had an extramarital affair.
Why Do People Have Affairs?
Various complex theories abound on the reasons for nonconsensual extra-
marital sex. In part, intrinsic conflicts in human nature contribute. As author
Erica Jong explained, We are pair-bonding creatures—like swans or geese.
We can also be as promiscuous as baboons or bonobos. Those are the two
extremes of human sexuality, and there are all gradations of chastity and
sensuality in between (2003, p. 48). Sometimes nonconsensual extramarital
relationships are motivated simply by a desire for excitement and variety, even
when an individual has no particular complaints about his or her marriage
and even says the marriage is happy (Nelson, 2010; Straus, 2006). A recent
study found that men who had a higher propensity for sexual excitement
were more likely to have sex outside their relationships. This correlation was
not found for women (Mark et al., 2011).
Often, the reason for outside involvements is the unavailability of sex
within the marriage. A lengthy separation or a debilitating illness of one
partner can leave one vulnerable to an aair. A partner’s disinterest or unwill-
ingness to relate sexually can inuence a person to look elsewhere for sexual
fulllment. A recent study found that sexual incompatibility was a stronger
predictor of sexual aairs for women than for men (Mark et al., 2011).
In other cases, people are highly dissatised with their marriages. If emo-
tional and sexual needs are not being met within the marriage, having an
aair may seem particularly inviting. Aairs in which emotional involvement
is strong have been shown to be related to dissatisfaction with the primary
relationship prior to the aair to a greater degree than have aairs with low
emotional involvement. Aairs with strong emotional involvement are also
more likely to lead to divorce (Allen & Rhoades, 2008). Recent research has
found that women are more likely to have aairs when they are unhappy in
their relationship, whereas this correlation was not found with men (Mark
et al., 2011). In some situations, aairs also provide the impetus to end a
marriage that is no longer satisfying.
TABLE 13.2 Percentage of Population
in 2005 Global Sex Survey That
Say They Have Had at Least One
Extramarital Affair
Extramarital Affair (%)
Israel 7
Poland 10
Spain 10
Germany 11
Hong Kong 11
Ireland 12
United Kingdom 14
China 15
Greece 15
India 15
Australia 16
Thailand 16
United States 17
Canada 18
Japan 21
Global percentage 22
Czech Republic 24
Portugal 24
France 25
Italy 26
South Africa 26
Sweden 26
Chile 30
Netherlands 31
Finland 36
Vietnam 36
Iceland 39
Norway 41
Denmark 46
Turkey 58
SOURCE: Durex (2006).
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Sexuality and the Adult Years387 387
A study of couples in marital therapy found several dierences between couples
in which indelity was occurring and couples in which it was not. Couples in which
it was occurring had more marital instability, dishonesty, arguments about trust, self-
centeredness, and time spent apart (Atkins et al., 2005). e important question to ask
about these negative marital characteristics is which came rst—the dissatisfaction or
the indelity? It is just as possible for the dissatisfaction to have increased because of the
indelity as for the dissatisfaction to have motivated the indelity. e person having
the aair may treat his or her spouse dierently due to feelings of guilt or to comparing
the marriage with the excitement of the new relationship.
Living circumstances can play a role in regard to sexual exclusivity. When individu-
als have weak ties to their spouses friends, family, and activities and are not involved in
a religious community, the chances are greater of having aairs (Ali & Miller, 2004).
People are more likely to be unfaithful if they have greater access to potential partners
at work, through out-of-town travel, or simply by living among many people in the rela-
tive anonymity of a large city. e increased number of women in the workforce may
account in large part for the increased number of women having aairs (Carollo, 2011).
In the United States, we are accustomed to media headlines about prominent men
being discovered having aairs. e lack of women in the same predicament creates the
impression that many more men than women are unfaithful in their marriages. How-
ever, recent research ndings suggest that power may be a stronger predictor of indel-
ity than gender. An anonymous online survey of over 1,500 people by a prestigious
business magazine found that men and women who were in top positions of power in
their professions were equally likely to have had aairs and to be considering them in
the future. ese men and women were also much more likely to have had aairs, and
to have had more aairs, than people who had less power in their professional lives. e
gender imbalance in media headlines may be due to the fact that fewer women than men
are in positions of power (Lammers et al., 2011).
The Internet’s Role in Affairs
With access to the Internet and websites designed specifically for those interested
in extramarital affairs, the opportunity for an individual to develop intimate, secret
relationships outside his or her committed relationship has taken on new dimensions
(Hymowitz, 2011; Wysocki & Childers, 2011). Even a secret e-mail relationship can
become emotionally charged and easily cross the line from friendship to loving someone
romantically (Teich, 2006). More women than men believe that cybersex is cheating
(Knox et al., 2008). While the Internet makes it very easy to reconnect with past loves
and to find people for extramarital sexual relationships, this means of communication
makes it almost as easy for a spouse (or an employer) to discover such relationships.
Media headlines in the United States
have a parade of prominent men
who have been discovered to have
affairs, including
Tiger Woods, Arnold
Schwarzenegger, and Jesse James.
Lori Moffett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
ZUMA Press/Newscom
Patrick Wymore/ABC via Getty Images
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
388 CHAPTER 13
Most marital therapists have seen a significant increase in couples coming to therapy
in crisis following a spouse’s discovery of an Internet-initiated affair (Cooper, 2004).
Also, online contact is increasingly part of the cause of divorce (Hovde, 2011).
The Impact of Extramarital Sex on Individuals and Marriage
Involvement in an extramarital affair can have serious consequences for the partici-
pants, including loss of self-respect, severe guilt, stress associated with leading a secret
life, damage to reputation, loss of love, and complications of sexually transmitted infec-
tions. The dynamics of the secrecy typically have damaging effects on the quality of
the couples relationship. The secrecy and lying (even by omission) erode the connec-
tion between spouses and amplify emotional intensity and the illusion of closeness to
the affair partner. Frank Pittman, author of Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of
Intimacy, maintains that a person becomes more distant from whomever he or she lies
to, and closer to whomever he or she tells the truth to (Pittman, 1990). Researchers
examined secrecy in relationships and found that subjects spent more time thinking
about former lovers who were kept secret than about those whom their current partner
knew about (Wegner et al., 1994). The researchers also set up a laboratory experiment
involving male and female university students. Subjects were seated in mixed-sex pairs
for card games, and couples were asked to touch feet under the table while playing
cards with another couple. Sometimes this game of footsie was secret; at other times it
was not. Couples in the secret footsie group reported greater attraction to each other
after the game than did couples whose foot touching was not secret.
Research nds that marriages usually fare better when an unfaithful spouse proac-
tively discloses an aair to the other spouse than when the other spouse discovers it on
his or her own (Aaronson, 2005). Regardless of how a betrayed spouse nds out about
indelity, he or she often feels devastated. e betrayed spouse can experience a variety
of emotions, including feelings of inadequacy and rejection, extreme anger, resentment,
shame, and jealousy.
Research has found that in heterosexual couples, men are more likely to believe their
female partners would have an emotional aair, and women believe their male partners
are more likely to have an aair for the sake of the sex. Psychological distress for both
men and women was greater if their partners had aairs that violated their expectations.
More women were distressed by imagining a partner falling in love with someone else;
in contrast, imagining a partner having sex distresses more men than women (Cramer
et al., 2008).
Divorced individuals often mention extramarital relationships as a cause of their
breakup. However, the discovery of indelity does not necessarily end a marriage or
ultimately erode the quality of a marriage. In some cases such a crisis is benecial, in
that it motivates a couple to search for, and attempt to resolve, sources of discord in the
relationship—a process that can ultimately lead to an improved marriage (Kalb, 2006).
Divorce
Almost 96% of adults in the United States today have married during their lifetime,
and more than 50% of couples in the United States remain in their first marriage (Hei-
man et al., 2011). Research confirms that the proportion of all marriages—first, sec-
ond, or more—ending in divorce increased dramatically since the 1950s, when one in
four marriages ended in divorce. By 1977 the ratio was one divorce to every two mar-
riages. Since 1977 the ratio of divorces to marriages has tended to level off and has held
relatively steady, with the exception of one age group. The divorce rate has doubled in
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
Sexuality and the Adult Years389 389
the past 2 decades for people ages 50 and older (Thomas, 2012). Most divorced people
remarry: Approximately 26% of men and women ages 40 to 44 have been married two
or more times (Goodwin et al., 2010).
Explaining the High Divorce Rate
A number of investigators have speculated on the causes of the high divorce rate in the
United States. One cause is the comparative ease of obtaining no-fault divorces since
the liberalization of divorce laws in the 1970s. Obtaining a divorce has become a sim-
pler, less expensive legal process, and as divorces have occurred more often, the social
stigma of divorce has lessened. A frequently mentioned cause is increased expectations
for marital and sexual fulfillment, which have caused people to be less willing to persist
in unsatisfying marriages.
e increased economic independence of women (one third of married women
earn more than their husbands) increases the importance of relationship satisfaction
over nancial dependence in womens decisions to divorce (Goad, 2006). ere also
appears to be an inverse relationship between level of education and divorce rate; that
is, the lower the educational level, the higher the divorce rate (Schoen & Cheng, 2006).
e one exception is a disproportionately high divorce rate among women who have
achieved graduate degrees. Perhaps the increased economic and social independence of
professional women with advanced degrees contributes to this exception in divorce rate
patterns (Amato & Previti, 2003).
Research has revealed another variable associated with marriages ending in divorce:
age at marriage. People who marry in their teen years are more than twice as likely to
divorce as those who wed in their 20s. Individuals who marry after age 30 have even
lower divorce rates. e correlation between age at marriage and divorce rate is of par-
ticular interest in light of a clear upward trend in the median age at rst marriage. Before
1900 most couples in the United States married while they were still in their teens. In
1950 the median marriage age was 22 for men and 20 for women (Bergman, 2006).
e median age at rst marriage has continued to rise, to age 28 for men and age 26 for
women (Wolfers, 2010). Later age at marriage may contribute positively to the stability
of marriage: e likelihood of divorce is reduced for every year older a person is when
she or he marries (Bennett & Ellison, 2010). e leveling o and even slight decline in
the U.S. divorce rate reects, in part, the inuence of older age at rst marriage.
Because divorce has become more common, more children have been raised by
divorced parents. Research shows that people raised by divorced parents have more
negative attitudes about marriage and are themselves more likely to divorce than are
people raised by parents who remained married (Amato, 2001; Riggio & Weiser, 2008).
However, parents who stay together in unhappy marriages may not help prevent their
children from divorcing a future spouse. Young adults who believe that their parents
should end their marriage are more likely to have positive views of divorce, even when
their parents have negative views (Kapinus, 2005).
Reasons People Give for Divorce
A study has provided some much-needed empirical evidence of what divorced people say is
the cause of their divorce (Amato & Previti, 2003). The researchers readily admit that the
study cannot identify whether peoples perceptions of their divorces represent actual causes
or are after-the-fact reconstructions. In the randomly selected national sample of divorced
individuals, the respondents gave infidelity as the most commonly reported cause of
divorce. Poor general quality of the relationship—lack of communication, incompatibility,
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390 CHAPTER 13
personality clashes, and growing apart—are other factors people reported. Serious prob-
lems, such as drinking, drug use, and mental and physical abuse, were further reasons for
divorce. Men and women tended to give different reasons for divorce. Women were more
likely to report that their husbands problematic behavior led to divorce, whereas men were
more likely to say that they did not know what caused the divorce.
Socioeconomic status (SES) was another variable resulting in dierences. High-
SES divorced individuals were more likely to attribute their divorces to lack of love
and communication, incompatibility, and their spouses self-centeredness, but low-SES
divorced individuals described nancial problems, abuse, and drinking as major factors.
In terms of positive emotional adjustment following a divorce, people who perceived
that they initiated the divorce did better than those who said their partner initiated the
divorce (Amato & Previti, 2003).
Adjusting to Divorce or Breakup of Long-Term Relationships
Although the chain of events leading to marriage is unique for each individual, most
people marry with the hope that the relationship will last. Divorce often represents loss
of this hope as well as loss of one’s spouse, lifestyle, the security of familiarity, and part
of ones identity and self-worth (Park et al., 2011). Divorce also often represents stress-
ful changes in parenting time and circumstances (Schrodt, 2011). In the following
discussion, we refer to a breakup as divorce, but people who end nonmarital intimate
relationships also can experience these losses (Sbarra, 2006).
e loss a person feels during a divorce or a breakup of a meaningful relationship is
often comparable to the loss experienced when a loved one dies (Napolitane, 1997). In
both cases one undergoes a grieving process, but no recognized grief rituals are provided
by society to help one ending a relationship. Initially, a person may experience shock:
“is cannot be happening to me. What might follow is a feeling of disorientation—
a sense that ones entire world has turned upside down. Volatile emotions may unex-
pectedly surface. Feelings of guilt may become strong. Loneliness is common. Learning
to reach out to others for emotional support can help diminish feelings of aloneness.
Finally (usually not for several months or a year), a sense of relief and acceptance may
come. After several months of separation, a person who is not developing a sense of
acceptance may benet from professional help.
Although many of the feelings that accompany ending a relationship are uncomfort-
able and painful, a potential exists for personal growth in the adjustment process. Many
people come to experience an exciting sense of autonomy. Others nd that being single
presents opportunities to experience more fully dimensions of themselves that had been
submerged in the marriage. e end of an important relationship or marriage can oer
an opportunity to reassess oneself and ones past, a process that may lead to a new life.
Sexuality and Aging
In general, people are living longer and being sexually active for a greater portion of
their lives (Elders, 2010). In the later years of life, most people begin to note certain
physical changes taking place in their sexual response patterns (Herbenick et al.,
2010b), as described in Chapter 6. Some women and men who understand the nature
of these changes accept them in stride. Others observe them with concern.
An important source of the confusion and frustration that many aging people feel is
the prevailing notion that old age is a sexless time (Kellett, 2000). Why has aging in our
society and in other societies often been associated with sexlessness? (See
Figure 13.2
In the research on the reasons people give
for their divorce, men are likely to say that
they do not know why their marriage ended
and women are likely to attribute the divorce
to their husbands’ problematic behavior. How
might you explain this difference?
Critical Thinking Question
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Sexuality and the Adult Years391 391
for a global comparison.) Part of the answer is that U.S. culture is still inuenced by a phi-
losophy that equates sexuality with procreation and makes it seem not quite acceptable for
older people to have and express sexual needs. Moreover, the media usually link love, sex,
and romance to the young. However, as the percentage of seniors in the population contin-
ues to increase, the consumer goods market more frequently presents vibrant, sensual ads
featuring older women and men (Jarrell, 2000). In addition, as the generation that reached
adulthood during the so-called sexual revolution era moves into senior citizenship, the
notion of a sexless old age may become obsolete, and the view of sexuality as a potential for
a lifetime of pleasure will become more common (Elders, 2010).
The Double Standard and Aging
In previous chapters we have discussed the double standard as it relates to
male and female sexual expression during adolescence and adulthood. The
assumptions and prejudices implicit in the sexual double standard continue
into old age, imposing a particular burden on women. Although a womans
sexual capabilities can continue throughout her lifetime, the cultural image
of an erotically appealing woman is commonly one of youth.
In contrast, the sexual attractiveness of men is often considered enhanced
by aging. Gray hair and facial wrinkles are often thought to look distinguished
on men—signs of accumulated life experience and wisdom. Likewise, it is
relatively common for a mans achievements and social status—both of which
usually increase with age—to be closely associated with his sexual appeal.
However, the professional achievements of women may be perceived as
threatening to some potential male partners.
e pairing of powerful older men and young beautiful women reects this
double standard of aging. e marriage of a 55-year-old man and a 25-year-old
woman generates a much smaller reaction than that of a 55-year-old woman and
a 25-year-old man. And as you might expect, pairings of older men and young
women occur much more commonly than the reverse. However, a survey found
that 34% of women over age 40 were dating younger men, and more women
marry younger men now than in the past (Coontz, 2006; Mahoney, 2003).
Older women are appearing more often in
advertising as the baby boomer generation ages.
Courtesy of the Advertising Archives
0
10
20
30
40
50
Thailand Turkey Egypt Algeria,
Brazil
Malaysia,
Morocco
Mexico,
Korea
Singapore,
France
India Israel,
China,
Belgium,
Germany
Spain,
Taiwan
New
Zealand
United
Kingdom
Japan,
Italy,
Sweden
Canada USA,
Australia
Percentage of respondents
Figure 13.2 The percentage of respondents in each country who agreed with the statement Older people no longer
have sex.
SOURCE: Adapted from Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors (2002).
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392 CHAPTER 13
In response to the double standard of aging, writer Susan Sontag presented an alter-
native view:
Women have another option. ey can aspire to be wise, not merely nice; to be
competent, not merely helpful; to be strong, not merely graceful; to be ambitious
for themselves, not merely themselves in relation to men and children. ey can
let themselves age naturally and without embarrassment, actively protesting and
disobeying the conventions that stem from this society’s double standard about
aging. . . . [T]hey can . . . remain active adults, enjoying the long, erotic career of
which women are capable. (1972, p. 38)
Sexual Activity in Later Years
We have seen that our society tends to perceive the older years as
a time when sexuality no longer has a place in peoples lives. What
does research show about the reality of sexuality among older peo-
ple in our own society? For many older adults sexuality is part of
what makes their lives full and rich. In fact, research indicates that
sexual interest and activity continue as a natural part of aging. For
some, sexuality can actually improve in later life. Of a representative
sample of adults over age 60, 61% of those who were sexually active
said that their sex life today was either the same as or more physi-
cally satisfying than in their 40s (Dunn & Cutler, 2000).
A research study that asked older adults the questions, Has
sex gotten better or worse over your life course?” and When did
improvements occur and why?” found it was common for women to
say that their later-life sexuality was more fullling than their early-
in-life experiences. As young women, ignorance of their own bodies and a gender-role
sexual passivity led them to defer sexual interaction to often ill-informed male partners.
Many reached middle age before they had enough experience to discover their own
sexual desires and be condent enough to initiate them, which enhanced their sexual
lives considerably (Gullette, 2011).
How sexually active are older adults? A nationally representative survey of men and
women age 60 and older found that about half are sexually active. “Sexually active was
dened as engaging in vaginal intercourse, oral sex, anal intercourse, or masturbation at
least once a month (Dunn & Cutler, 2000). Frequency of sexual activity for people who
continue to be sexually active does not decrease signicantly until after age 74 (Lindau
et al., 2007). New sexual relationships may also develop in later adulthood (Cheever,
2011; Vasconcellos et al., 2006). A 67-year-old woman explained:
Eight years after my husband died, I met a widower on a tour of New Orleans.
The physical attraction was intense for both of us. Neither of us had had sex
for many years, but two days after discovering each other we were in bed with
clothes strewn all over the floor. The sex (which neither of us was sure wed
be able to achieve) was sensational. We’re very much in love but have decided
not to marry because we both love our homes, need “space,” and are finan-
cially independent. Our children accept our lifestyle and are very happy with
our respective “significant other. (Authors’ files)
Many older adults are dating and many use dating websites, and it is not unusual for
individuals to have a new sexual partner later in life. Several studies have reported that
The need for affection and intimacy extends into the older
years, which can be a time of erotic sharing and closeness.
© Bruce Ayres/Getty Images
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Sexuality and the Adult Years393 393
women were most likely to experience orgasm with someone they were sexual with
who was not a relationship partner. Eighty-one percent of women reported having an
orgasm in their last sexual encounter if their partner was a non-relationship partner,
compared to 58% who experienced orgasm with a relationship partner. Perhaps women
find a new partner more arousing, or women who seek out new partners are inherently
more sexually motivated. In contrast, men were more likely to experience orgasm with a
relationship partner (Schick et al., 2010).
Sexual activity of older adults is, unfortunately, evidenced by the rising incidence of
HIV/AIDS in this group (Harvard Womens Health Watch, 2012). Only about 20%
of sexually active older men and 24% of women who are not in an ongoing exclusive
relationship say they used a condom during their last sexual experience (Schick et al.,
2010). Many health-care professionals do not routinely screen for sexually transmitted
infections in seniors, but some public health agencies oer safe-sex seminars to seniors
(Levy, 2001; McGinn & Skipp, 2002).
Factors in Maintaining Sexual Activity
Aging does affect the number of people who engage in sexual activity, and the percentage
of sexually active adults does decline with each decade (Doskoch, 2011), as shown in
Table 13.3.
What factors contribute to remaining sexually active in later years? Research has
consistently revealed a close correlation between the level of a persons sexual activity in
early adulthood and his or her sexual activity in later years (Kinsey et al., 1948; Kinsey
et al., 1953; Leiblum & Bachmann, 1988). Lifelong consistent sexual activity may reect
an overall higher sex drive and positive attitudes toward sexuality, since both are signi-
cant inuences on sexual desire and response (DeLamater & Sill, 2005).
Typically the most crucial factor inuencing sexual activity in older adulthood is
health. Poor health and illness have a greater eect on sexual functioning than does age
itself. In long-term relationships, the poor health and loss of sexual interest by one person
limits the partners sexual expression as well (Fisher, 2010). Besides contributing to gen-
eral and sexual health, regular physical exercise, a healthy diet and
weight, and light or no alcohol use help maintain sexual desire and
response (Harvard Health Publications, 2006).
Older adults often nd new techniques for maintaining or
enhancing their enjoyment of sex despite progressive physiological
changes. Oral sex, viewing sexually explicit materials, fantasy, manual
stimulation, and use of a vibrator are some of the variations older cou-
ples may integrate into their sexual experiences. Openness to experi-
menting with and developing new sexual strategies with a supportive
Critical Thinking Question
What factors might be involved in the
difference between men and women
with regard to experiencing orgasm with
a relationship partner versus a non-
relationship partner?
TABLE 13.3 Percentage of Sexually Active Adults
Men (%) Women (%)
Sexually active in their 60s 71 51
Sexually active in their 70s 57 30
Sexually active in their 80s 25 20
SOURCE: Dunn & Cutler (2000).
Stone Soup © Jan Eliot. Reprinted with permission of Universal Press
Syndicate. All rights reserved.
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394 CHAPTER 13
partner is instrumental in continuing sexual satisfaction (Trudel et al., 2008). When genital
contact becomes less frequent, interest and pleasure in and frequency of nongenital activi-
ties, such as kissing, caressing, and embracing, may remain stable or increase (Kellett, 2000).
In fact, a study of 1,000 couples (in the United States, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and Spain)
who had been together an average of 25 years found that cuddling and caressing are impor-
tant for long-term relationship satisfaction. Contrary to gender stereotypes, tenderness was
rated as more important to men than to women (Heiman et al., 2011).
Homosexual Relationships in Later Years
Although most of the challenges and rewards of aging are experienced by adults regard-
less of sexual orientation, gay men and lesbians experience some unique aspects. Some gay
men and lesbians are better prepared for coping with the adjustments of aging than are
many heterosexual men and women. Facing the adversities of belonging to a stigmatized
group throughout their lives may help prepare them to deal with the losses that come
with aging (Altman, 1999). Many have created a more extensive network of supportive
friends than have most heterosexual individuals (Alonzo, 2003). Retirement centers ori-
ented to gay men and lesbians have been developed (Lisotta, 2007), and New York City
opened the nations first full-time senior center for sexual minorities (Tucker, 2012). As
acceptance of homosexuality and gay and lesbian relationships continues to increase in
the United States, stigma from antihomosexual attitudes will become a less stressful fac-
tor in the lives of older gay men and lesbians (Kuyper & Fokkema, 2011a; Jones, 2011).
Further, as laws establishing same-sex marriage expand, more gay and lesbian couples
will be able to experience an increased sense of security and recognition (Lannutti, 2011).
Overall, studies nd that older gay men and lesbians match or exceed comparable
groups in the general population on a measure of life satisfaction (Woolf, 2001). A study of
gay men revealed a change over time toward fewer sexual partners, but frequency of sexual
activity remained quite stable, and 75% were satised with their current sex lives. Most
of these men reported that they socialized primarily with same-age peers. Socializing and
partnering with same-age peers is likely an important aspect of life satisfaction for older gay
men, because the sexual marketplace setting of bars and bathhouses, where youth and phys-
ical appearance dene desirability, is often inhospitable to older gay men (Berger, 1996).
As a group, older lesbians have some advantages over older heterosexual women.
Research shows that most older lesbians prefer women of similar age as partners (Daniluk,
1998). erefore, an older lesbian is less likely
to be widowed than is a heterosexual woman,
because women tend to live longer than men. If
her partner does die, she does not face the lim-
ited pool of potentially eligible male partners.
Furthermore, women are less likely than men to
base attraction on a physical ideal, so the double
standard of aging is less of an issue for lesbians
than for straight women (Berger, 1996).
Last Love
People who continue to grow in age can
develop a wholeness of self that transcends
the limited roles and life experience of youth.
Intimacy can then involve a sharing of that
integrated multidimensional self (Friedan,
The 2011 lm Beginners is about the son’s experience of his 75-year-old father
coming out as gay after his wife’s death.
Focus Features/Photofest
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Sexuality and the Adult Years395 395
1994; Wales & Todd, 2001). A sex and marital therapist
further explains:
e essence of sexual intimacy lies not in mastering
specic sexual skills . . . but in the ability to allow one-
self to deeply know and to be deeply known by ones
partner. So simple to articulate, so dicult to achieve,
this ability of couples to really see each other, to see
inside each other during sex, requires the courage,
integrity, and maturity to face oneself and, even more
frightening, convey that self—all that one is capable
of feeling and expressing—to the partner. . . . Adult
eroticism is more a function of emotional matura-
tion than of physiological responsiveness. (Schnarch,
1993, p. 43)
As a Turkish proverb observes, Young love is from
the earth, and late love is from heaven (Koch-Straube,
1982).
Widowhood
Although a spouse can die during the early- or middle-adult years, widowhood usually
occurs later in life. In most heterosexual couples the man dies first, a tendency that became
more pronounced during the 20th century. There are more than four widows for every wid-
ower (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). Older men without partners often seek young female
companions, which reduces the pool of potential partners for older heterosexual women.
e postmarital adjustment of widowhood is dierent in some ways from that of
divorce. Widowed people typically do not have the sense of having failed at marriage.
e grief may be more intense, and the quality of the emotional bond to the deceased
mate is often quite high. For some people this emotional tie remains so strong that other
potential relationships appear dim by comparison. However, many people who have
lost a spouse through death do remarry—about half of widowed men and one fourth of
widowed women (Lown & Dolan, 1988).
A network of close friends and connection with the gay community
can add quality to the lives of older individuals and couples.
© Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum Photos
Summary
Single Living
e increase in numbers of single adults is partly due to
men and women marrying at later ages than in the 1970s.
Cohabitation
Almost 7.5 million couples were cohabiting (living together
without marriage) in 2010.
Increases in cohabitation rates may be partly due to an
increased need to share expenses because of the economic
downturn.
Marriage
In 2010 married households represented less than 50% of
all households in the United States.
Many governments across the globe see marriage in crisis
and are attempting to inuence its role in shaping society.
In a unique matriarchal culture in China, women and men
live their entire lives in their mothers’ homes. A woman
chooses the man she is interested in, and he comes to her
room in the evening and leaves in the morning for as long as
they both feel love and attraction.
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396 CHAPTER 13
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Media Resources
e expectations of marriage to fulll many needs and the
reduced support networks for couples and their children are
part of what makes marriage a challenge.
As recently as 1967, interracial marriage was banned in
more than a dozen states. Young adults are most accepting
of interracial dating and marriage.
Research can predict with a high degree of success the prob-
ability that a couple will experience marital happiness and
remain married.
Married couples are engaging in a wider variety of sexual
behaviors than in the past.
Nonmonogamy
Consensual extramarital relationships occur with a spouses
knowledge and agreement.
Swinging is a practice in which couples have sexual relations
with other couples simultaneously and in the same location.
e sexually open marriage and polyamory can include
emotional, social, and sexual components in an extramarital
relationship.
Nonconsensual extramarital relationships occur without the
partners consent.
e NHSLS found that 25% of married men and 15% of
married women have had an extramarital involvement at
some time during their marriages.
It is not clear to what extent problems in a marriage are a
cause or a result of a nonconsensual extramarital aair.
e Internet has made it easier for people to get involved in
extramarital aairs and for spouses to discover the aairs.
Divorce
Forty-three percent of rst marriages end in divorce within
15 years.
Divorces increased dramatically from the 1950s to the late
1970s. Since the 1970s there has been about one divorce for
every two marriages.
Some of the causes of the high divorce rate are the liber-
alization of divorce laws, a reduction in the social stigma
attached to divorce, high expectations for marital and
sexual fulllment, and increased economic independence
of women.
Women tend to report that their husband’s problematic
behavior led to divorce, and men are more likely to say that
they do not know what caused the divorce.
Divorce typically involves many emotional, sexual, interper-
sonal, and lifestyle changes and adjustments.
Sexuality and Aging
e options for sexual expression change in the older
years, and many individuals continue to enjoy their sexual
relationships.
Good physical health and an available partner are often the
most important variables in maintaining sexual functioning
and satisfaction.
Gay men and lesbians may be better prepared to cope with
aging, given the adversity they have already learned to face
and the extensive network of friendships they have often
established.
Since men tend to die earlier, there are more than four wid-
ows for every widower.
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.