The Intersection of LGBTQ and Aging: An Interview with Jane Fleishman

The Massachusetts Society for a World Free of Sexual Harm by Youth (MASOC) is hosting its annual conference, Preventing Sexual Violence through Assessment, Treatment, and Safe Management, on April 3-5 in Marlborough. The MASOC Annual Conference is an NEAFAST-supported continuing education event; LMFTs in Massachusetts can use CEs from this conference toward their biannual continuing education requirements.

Jane Fleishman, PhD, is presenting a workshop called "Queering the Lens on Sexuality Education: How to Create a More LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Program". Jane is a certified sex educator and has her doctorate from the Center for Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University. Check out her Ted Talk: Is It Okay for Grandma to Have Sex? Lessons from an Aging Sexuality Educator.

We interviewed Jane about her work as a sex educator and its connection to systemic therapy.

NEAFAST: How did you get interested in doing sexuality education?

JF: After a successful 30-year career in the public sector (my last job was director of staff and medical education at a large public psychiatric facility in Connecticut), I wasn’t ready to actually retire. I was always interested in and worked in organizational change. I felt I had one more change left in me. So I went back to grad school and got a Master’s in Education and then a PhD in Human Sexuality from Widener University at the Center for Human Sexuality Studies. I finished my doctorate at the age of 62 and it was one of the greatest achievements of my lifetime (right up there with raising kids). I went in to sexuality education because I knew there were many areas of our lives that were impacted by a lack of frank and honest conversations about sex and pleasure. I wanted to play a part in changing that.

As a certified sexuality educator, my focus on older adults diverges from many other sex educators. Many of my peers in grad school were interested in teens, college students, parents, people with disabilities, people of color, people with chronic disease, veterans, and so many other parts of our population. I knew I was interested in older adults partly because there was so little research on these people and partly because it is a group for whom sex is thought to be taboo. And I love taboo topics.

And what’s more taboo than sexual satisfaction?

NEAFAST: At the MASOC/MATSA Conference, your presentation is called "Queering the Lens on Sexuality Education". What does it mean to "queer the lens"? How can queer theory effectively inform the way that we do sex education?

JF: In addition to my focus on older adults, I am interested in those who do not identify as heterosexual. Among the scant literature of sexual satisfaction and older adults, there is even less research on people who identify as a sexual minority. When I say I want to queer the lens on sex education, I am concerned with the intersection of age, orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, and all the ways these parts of one’s identity impact one’s sexuality. I want to counter the prevailing notion that sexual equals heterosexual. So many young people identify as LGBTQIA+ and are coming out at a younger age.

NEAFAST: Your presentation at MASOC/MATSA focuses on doing sex education for adolescents, but the bulk of your professional work is around sexuality and aging. What are similarities and differences between doing sex ed for teenagers and older adults?

JF: One of the interesting commonalities between teaching older adults and teaching teens is family. For older adults who are expressing their sexuality, adult children often feel quite uncomfortable. For teens who are expressing their sexuality, parents and guardians often feel quite uncomfortable. That is so interesting to me.

NEAFAST: Your research explores relationship satisfaction in same sex relationships, and you suggest that resilience from internalized homophobia is significantly linked to relationship satisfaction. What are ways that aging same-sex couples have developed resilience in ways that can inform resilience in same sex couples in their teens, 20s, and 30s?

JF: I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. Resilience is measurable but so difficult to understand all the factors that go into it. I’d suggest resilience in LGBTQIA+ older adults comes from years of dealing with the stressors of being part of a sexual minority (homophobia, discrimination, harassment, internalized homophobia) along with the stressors of being an older adult (chronic disease, death, divorce, chronic pain, job loss, economic instability, etc.). It’s certainly an area that needs more research.

NEAFAST: On your website, you define yourself as an “organizational consultant”. What are the differences between doing sex education with organizations (i.e. government agencies, elderly facilities) and individuals/couples?

JF: When I was in grad school we had two choices: we could pursue the Sex Therapy track or the Sexuality Education track. I chose the latter because I find that groups are dynamic and places of great potential for change. I don’t work with couples or individuals. I am working now with a number of assisted living communities and senior centers who are interested in changing their organizational culture, behaviors, policies, and procedures to include sexual well-being. It’s very exciting to see these kinds of changes.

NEAFAST: Intersectionality is a growing, necessary concept for doing culturally competent therapy. What are some of the stressors that come with the intersection of aging/ageism and queerness/homophobia?

JF: Clinicians, academics, policy makers, community organizers all have a part to play in developing new ways of thinking about and talking about aging and sexuality to overcome the oppressions that have caused so much suffering. Barbara Smith of the Combahee River Collective first introduced me to the notion of intersectionality in the 1970s and has informed much of my work since then.

I was surprised in my research that internalized homophobia was so low and relationship satisfaction was so high among the 60-75 year olds in same-sex relationships. How did that happen for these individuals living often closeted lives, feeling the stressors of not just one part of their identity but many? Taking an intersectional perspective has allowed us to go beyond binaries and silos and offer new ways of thinking. I haven’t got the answers but I’ve got many more questions to ask, and that keeps me moving forward.

Jane Fleishman, PhD is a certified sexuality educator and the Eastern Region Representative for AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists). She writes and presents regularly on topics related to sexuality and aging, including LGBTQIA+ populations. You can reach her at

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