Later life sex and Rubin’s ‘Charmed Circle'

Jones, Rebecca (2020). Later life sex and Rubin’s ‘Charmed Circle'. Sexuality and Culture, 24 pp. 1480–1498.



Gayle Rubin’s now classic concept of the ‘charmed circle’ has been much used by scholars of sexuality to discuss the ways in which some types of sex are privileged over others. In this paper, I apply the concept of the charmed circle to a new topic– later life – in order both to add to theory about later life sex and to add an older-age lens to thinking about sex hierarchies. Traditional discursive resources around older people’s sexual activities, which treat older people’s sex as inherently beyond the charmed circle, now coexist with new imperatives for older people to remain sexually active as part of a wider project of ‘successful’ or ‘active’ ageing. Drawing on the now-substantial academic literature about later life sex, I discuss some of the ways in which redrawing the charmed circle to include some older people’s sex may paradoxically entail the use of technologies beyond the charmed circle of ‘good, normal, natural, blessed’ sex. Sex in later life also generates some noteworthy inversions in which types of sex are privileged and which treated as less desirable, in relation to marriage and procreation. Ageing may, furthermore, make available new possibilities to redefine what constitutes ‘good’ sex and to refuse compulsory sexuality altogether, without encountering stigma.

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