Sexuality Through the Life Cycle

I met with a young teenager today to talk about sex and sexuality. I asked her to think about and then list how a person might express their sexual being in the following six life phases:

Young Adulthood
Middle Adulthood
Old Age

The question was fascinating for her. She came up with a complete blank on anything sexual in infancy or old age. She only listed masturbation under childhood and adolescence. Once we got into the process, though, and really started expanding on the idea of what sexuality meant, and what might instigate a beginning or an end of different expressions of sexuality, her lists became much more inclusive and insightful.

I’m interested in what you think about this question. How does sexuality express itself through the life cycle?

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Masturbation can, of course, happen at any age. But I think our human need for touch and affection is connected to sexuality (though not overtly), and this is an issue at every age.

    The OWL training manual claims that breastfeeding is a sexual experience for the baby, but I wouldn’t go that far.

  2. I find it difficult to comment – anything I think of to say seems too self revealing. That is interesting to me, I know that part of the reason we have so much difficulty talking about sexuality is because it is such an intimate topic, but what I’m realizing for me is that as open as I usually feel comfortable being, I don’t feel comfortable being open about my sexuality and I have trouble talking about sexuality in general terms without self-referencing. Anyone else?

  3. I was asked today by a friend when I was going to have “the talk” with my children. I responded that I really thought it was more of a conversation, not just a one-time chat, and that it was important to begin that conversation when they were young. It was clear from the rest of our conversation that she hadn’t considered talking about sexuality, even in an age appropriate way, with children, or more broadly about the sexuality of children.

  4. Dorian – I agree with you, it is difficult. It’s hard to answer “how does sexuality express itself…” without answering “how does YOUR sexuality express itself.”

  5. There are definitely discussions about sexuality from which I have run screaming even though they weren’t supposed to be about my (or any specific person’s) individual sexuality. (Including class discussions!)

  6. I agree that it’s healthy to talk more about sex and sexuality. But for me, that’s balanced by the very public nature of the forum. So I’m still more likely to discuss things in the abstract.

  7. It IS hard to answer the question without being personal, and we live in such a hysterical world about sexuality, what a bind that puts us in!

  8. Well, I’ve NEVER run screaming from a discussion about sexuality. Sexuality is not talked about enough, which is why this blog is so terrific. None of the posters on this blog “sound” like adolescents – I’ll be interested to see if any of them join in the conversation.

    This is a fascinating concept, thinking about how “a person” might express their sexual being in the differing life phases. And since I’m almost 50 years old, post-menopausal, I do have experience with most of these phases. But, I’m also reminded of a piece of wisdom a male friend recounted to me many years ago (this was in the context of his feeling confident about his talents and abilities in the sexual arena): “You have to remember: All women are different; and most women are different every day!”

    I don’t want to make gender generalizations here, but I’d warrant that this goes both ways. We’re all different each day; we lessen our relationships when we rely solely on the past for today’s interactions and judgments with each other. So, obviously, we will all express our sexuality differently, throughout our different life cycles. And for that reason, this is so very personal … because we’re all so different, and we all change all the time, we just can’t generalize too much.

    Personally, I don’t recall any infant sexuality in my own life. I don’t remember any childhood sexuality before I was shattered by being abducted and molested by a pedophile (total stranger) when I was 9. And that colors everything else, of course. (As it does for the many other girls, boys, men and women who were abused sexually as children.) My adolescence (and young and middle adulthood) was very sexual, in many ways, with many people. I’ve never quite accepted the term “promiscuous,” although of course, many people might apply that notion. In more of a Susie Bright vein, I’ve simply been very pleased to share sexual moments with wonderful people. It wasn’t all about “looking for love in all the wrong places” or trying to find the love I’d been missing, etc. That’s too easy of a pop-psychological out.

    I’m enjoying the slowing of my years; I am no longer driven so much by sexual desire as I have been so often in life. My life is calmer, quieter. That sexual wonder and enjoyment is still there, can be teased out; its just not front and center like it used to be.

    Let’s keep up the conversation!

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