9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN23 Sexuality

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Sexuality Across the Life Course Building I, 1E8

Changing Times, Changing Lives. Midlife Men and Women Doing Heterosexualities in Italy

The paper illustrates the findings of a research on the transformation of intimacy and sexuality in midlife in a North-Western Italian region, Piedmont. On the basis of 60 in-depth interviews with self-identified heterosexual men and women aged between 50-70, we have investigated their sexual biographies, looking in particular at how they account for sexual practices as a site of re-production and negotiation of masculinity and femininity within institutionalised heterosexuality. Representations and discourses on heterosexuality and midlife have been further explored in 9 focus groups. Data from a recent national survey on Italians? sexual behaviour and attitudes are also used, as a background for identifying the specific features of these cohorts.
Starting with largely homogeneous experiences of sexual socialisation, during their life course these men and women have experienced structural transformations in gender relations and changes in the cultural scenarios regarding sexuality, with the emergence of the new permissive and intimacy scripts. Many elements of our finding support the thesis of women's qualitative and men's quantitative experience of these changes: women share a clear perception of a fundamental shift in the socially legitimate model of femininity, including agency and autonomy, and experience it as a strong generational break, while many of the men draw upon socially available and legitimised discourses on male sexuality, without experiencing any relevant lack of continuity and consistency in their biography. Our focus on sexual practices, however, questions simplistic pictures of change or continuity, and point to situated changes in heterosexualities, depending, especially for men, on breaks in their individual biographies, triggering processes of redefinition of male sexuality and masculinity.