The sexual identity available to women in general is conflicted and constrained. Across the lifespan, narrow bands of identity are offered to women. For instance, adolescent girls’ developing sexuality is considered problematic (see chapter 5, this volume, by Welsh, Rostosky, & Kawagu­chi). According to traditional sex-role socialization, girls and young women should be virtually asexual until marriage. This view likely impacts the actual experiences of girls and young women. For example, self-report data indicate that girls typically discover masturbation later than boys. Unlike boys, girls’ discoveries mostly occur in a context of privacy with less like­lihood of comparing experiences and meanings with peers (Hyde, 1996; Oliver &. Hyde, 1993). Another typical sexual script of adolescence centers on sexual initiation. It is not uncommon for girls’ first erotic experiences to occur, not in early self-exploration and masturbation, but in dating re­lationships where male partners assume the initiative. Sexuality then evolves in a social context of negotiation, often covert in nature. Not surprisingly, the question of whose body it is and whose sexuality it is may become blurred for women.

In contrast, one may argue that boys and young men receive a message of acknowledgment of, if not affirmation and approval of, their sexuality. Although boys and young men may fairly infer that their sexuality is only tangentially derived from social negotiation and relationship, girls and young women typically are led to believe and perhaps to actually experi­ence their sexuality as something that emerges only in close relationships. In fact, in chapter 10 in this volume Travis et al. suggest that women may come to experience erotic arousal largely as a function of their perceptions of themselves as desirable objects and their abilities to evoke desire in men.

We would be surprised if this theme of mixed messages and uncer­tainty did not also affect older women. We supposed that the research literature on older women and sexuality would in some way address these dilemmas and conflicts from the perspective of hindsight, if not mature wisdom. Instead we found a heavy emphasis on “Doing It.” Goldstein and Teng (1991) note that major geriatric textbooks have companion chapters on sexuality and aging. The chapters on men discuss sexual function, whereas those on female sexuality discuss estrogen deficiency, reflecting the general tendency to avoid discussing the sexual functioning of older women. This emphasis on the frequency of sexual intercourse and the hormonal correlates of intercourse reinforces a reductionist view of sexu­ality as primarily a biological act involving penetration. As a result, there is a heavy emphasis on anatomy, especially dysfunctional anatomy (e. g., dyspareunia [pain during intercourse], atrophic vagina [vaginal dryness and thinning of vaginal walls], and vaginismus [constriction of the vagina]). In the next section we discuss the significance of this sort of research focus; in this section we summarize the general findings on frequency of inter­course and hormonal correlates of intercourse.