The single women on Desperate Housewives don't seem to have much of a problem finding sexual partners, but real life single women over the age of 40 may not be having as much luck, say researchers from Vanderbilt University. Their new study, appearing in the Journal of Aging Studies finds that as women get older, they report having fewer sexual partners - often no sexual partners - as a result of cultural beliefs and the biological and social effects of aging. Somewhat predictably, more women than men report having no partners.
The study focused on those aged 40 to 59 who are single, divorced or widowed; a group, the researchers say, that is typically underrepresented in sexual studies. "We've all seen the seductive 40- or 50-something divorcee portrayed in the movies who attracts men like honey draws flies. Think of Susan Sarandon's character in the film Bull Durham. However, this appears to be the exception rather than the rule and maybe that is part of these characters' allure," said the leader of the study, Vanderbilt's Laura Carpenter.
The study found that a combination of factors contributed to this enforced celibacy, including:
- Older women being viewed by both men - and the women themselves - as less attractive as they age
- Conservative beliefs about premarital sex
- The trend of older men/younger women pairings
- Higher male mortality rates
Which the researchers say add up to women having fewer - or no - sexual partners; particularly after the age of 50.
The study also revealed that, paradoxically, having a college education seems to both increase women's chances of having no sexual partners and having multiple sexual partners. Carpenter attributed this contradictory finding to heterosexual men's preference of partners with similar or lower educational attainment, which would result in a smaller pool of partners for women with higher levels of education. However, better-educated women may also enjoy more opportunities to meet potential partners than less well-educated women.
But the grim outlook for middle-aged single women may change in the future as younger Baby Boomers age and Generation X enters middle age. "We will probably see an increase in mass media and other market-driven institutions catering to this sizable group so new cultural images of middle-aged and older women and men may emerge, which could have an impact on younger generations' views on sexual desire and activity in later life," Carpenter said. "Baby Boomers and Generation X typically have more liberal sexual attitudes and behaviors - so we may see a decline in the number of women, and men, who do not seek sexual partners because of conservative views regarding sex outside of marriage," she concluded.
Source: Vanderbilt University