Abstract: Black Matriachy and Sexuality (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Black Matriachy and Sexuality

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Margaret Salisu, Phd, Adjunct Professor, Hunter College, Bayshore, NY
Background and Purpose: Studies in the literature on sexuality and aging pertain to older married people almost exclusively, and the few available studies on widows focus solely on White women. Little is known about the sexual experiences of older, single, and widowed Black women. To address this gap, this study focused on older, widowed, and single Black women aged 65 to 75 years. Since the need for the expression of sexual intimacy is highly individualized, the subjective experiences of these women and the personal meanings that they attributed to sexuality, largely a private and secret matter, were explored in this phenomenological study.

Methods: Fourteen women aged 60 to 75 years who self-identified as widowed, single, heterosexual Black women residing in New York City were interviewed. The participants responded to flyers and were also recruited at a NYC women’s event. The sample comprised a heterogenous Black community (10 U.S- and 3 Caribbean-born women, and 1 Africa- born woman ) The semi-structured, open-ended interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. NVivo® software was used to organize and analyze the data.

Results: Although the women had robust social circles, they looked outside their support networks to mitigate loneliness. They sought an emotional connection, but none of them wanted to remarry, so they pursued less conventional arrangements. Loneliness motivated them to seek intimate, sexual, and/or romantic relationships with men, but they did not live with them. They had become accustomed to being single and having the freedom to do whatever they liked. They perceived that getting married would erode that freedom. The women were torn between maintaining their status as influential maternal figures and their sense of themselves as sexual beings. They would not date younger men, especially men their children’s age, for fear of losing their families’ respect. Each woman felt responsible for her family’s safety because of her role as its protector and worried about the consequences if she had a negative dating experience, for example, with a molester, abuser, or someone who was mentally unstable. As the women aged, their sexual identity was sublimated. Each woman’s role as the protector and as a powerful, influential decision-maker in her family was a barrier to her ability to date. Traditionally, Black matriarchy has not been associated with sexuality. Older Black women were afraid to display these tendencies because they assumed that doing so would bring them shame and embarrassment.

Conclusions and Implications: It was demonstrated in the current study that older, single, and widowed Black women sought new relationships with older men to overcome loneliness. The perceived role of Black matriarchy was a barrier to their ability to experience sexual intimacy. Social workers should explore and provide therapeutic support to these women to enable them to cope with loneliness. Specifically, they could achieve this through the creation of a forum to help them balance and understand their roles as matriarchal figures and sexual beings without the pressure of having to live in a paradox and fear of being stigmatized or labeled as sexual deviants.