Love, sex and intimacy in new late-life romantic relationships


Malta, Sue

Available versions


Few studies exist which describe the actual initiation and progression of new late-life romantic relationships, particularly within an Australian context. This is surprising, as it is likely that the dynamics of romance in later life differ from romance amongst younger adults. Previous research which has looked specifically at heterosexual older adults has largely described their sexual functioning rather than the meaning they give to their loving partnerships. Because of this dearth of research, little is known about late life dating and mating habits. This thesis attempts to fill this gap, by investigating romantic relationships which begin in later life---after divorce or widowhood, or for those who have never married---with a special focus on relationships which are mediated via online technology. It presents findings from qualitative semi-structured interviews with 45 older adults, aged 60 years of age and over residing in Australia. The findings show that the older adults in this study found new romantic partnerships as a consequence of their offline social activities and also by deliberately joining online dating websites. These partnerships were meaningful, important and sexually intimate. However, very few progressed to cohabitation or marriage, with most of the older adults preferring to date or live functionally separately, even when their relationships were long-term and committed, in order to avoid providing care-giving and instrumental support. This phenomenon, which is known in Europe as living apart together (LAT; Levin & Trost 1999), is only now coming to the attention of the Australian research community and only in a quantitative sense (see Reimondos, Evans & Gray 2011). With its qualitative focus, the current study therefore presents novel information. The findings indicate that these older adults were looking for and finding egalitarian 'pure'-type relationships (Giddens 1992) based on emotional and sexual equality but not necessarily based on cohabitation or monogamy. The thesis argues that these older adult LAT relationships embody a new family form within Australia and one which will only become more prevalent as society ages.

Publication year


Thesis supervisor

Karen Farquharson, Michael Gilding

Publication type

Thesis (PhD)


Copyright © 2013 Sue Malta.

Thesis note

Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Swinburne University of Technology