Sex for Life

From Virginity to Viagra, How Sexuality Changes Throughout Our Lives

373 pages

28 illustrations

February, 2012

ISBN: 9780814772539



Also available in



Part of the Intersections series


Laura M. Carpenter is Associate Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University and author of Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences.

All books by Laura Carpenter

John DeLamater is Conway-Bascom Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, co-author of Understanding Human Sexuality, 11th Edition.

All books by John DeLamater

Sexual beliefs, behaviors and identities are interwoven throughout our lives, from childhood to old age. An edited collection of original empirical contributions united through its use of a distinctive, cutting-edge theoretical framework, Sex for Life critically examines sexuality across the entire lifespan. Rooted in diverse disciplines and employing a wide range of research methods, the chapters explore the sexual and social transitions that typically map to broad life stages, as well as key age-graded physiological transitions, such as puberty and menopause, while drawing on the latest developments in gender, sexuality, and life course studies.
Sex for Life explores a wide variety of topics, including puberty, sexual initiation, coming out, sexual assault, marriage/life partnering, disability onset, immigration, divorce, menopause, and widowhood, always attending to the social locations – including gender, race, ethnicity, and social class – that shape, and are shaped by, sexuality. The empirical work collected in Sex for Life ultimately speaks to important public policy issues, such as sex education, aging societies, and the increasing politicization of scientific research. Accessibly written, the contributions capture the interplay between individual lives and the ever-changing social-historical context, facilitating new insight not only into people’s sexual lives, but also into ways of studying them, ultimately providing a fresh, new perspective on sexuality.


  • “In this important and ground-breaking book, Laura Carpenter and John DeLamater have assembled a stunning collection of articles on human sexuality from a life course perspective. A must-read for anyone who wants to understand sexuality as it unfolds from childhood through late life.”

    —Debra Umberson, author of Death of a Parent: Transition to a New Adult Identity

  • Sex for Life demonstrates the importance of broader cultural and historical factors to an individual’s experiences of sexuality at different life stages. The chapters highlight the range of research methodologies used in this rapidly developing field and provide a wealth of new directions for future theorizing and research.”

    —Cynthia Graham, editor of The Journal of Sex Research

  • “This volume promises to be an important scholarly resource for the study of human sexualities from a life course perspective.The chapters present critical reviews of existing literature and new findings on a range of substantive topics that showcase how people’s sexuality across life stages and transitions are influenced by broader cultural and historical contexts; the intersections of gender, race, and social class; and prior life events and experiences."

    —Sue Sprecher, co-editor of Encyclopedia of Human Relationships

  • "This collection demonstrates the importance of understanding how sexuality changes throughout a life course. Likewise, it shows the diversity of factors that influence sexuality both by providing an analysis of seldom studied areas (e.g., childhood sexuality, a difficult subject to study for varied reasons) and by looking into the unique experiences of subgroups within the overall population (e.g., immigrants and those with spinal cord injuries). Such diversity shows how much research remains to be done on sexuality throughout life."

    Library Journal

  • "This book offers great breadth and a far-reaching multi-disciplinary approach to the study of sexuality. There is a very high standard of authorship...[it] is both an excellent starting point for students and researchers, and a useful resource for practitioners."

    Ageing and Society

  • "This book is equally as useful for scholars of sexuality as it is for a sexualities classroom. The chapters are engaging and accessible while capturing the nuances and intricacies of sexual lives from childhood to old age. Additionally, the chapters are relatively short; Carpenter and DeLamater clearly opted for a greater variety of chapters over depth of analysis. In general this balance is right, though the reader is left wanting more detailed analysis from some chapters. By highlighting the unique insights that a life course perspective can bring to light, the volume makes a compelling argument for integrating this approach into the sociology of sexuality. In so doing, Sex for Life has staked out new territory in the study of sexualities from which exciting new scholarship is sure to come."

    American Journal of Sociology