Key concerns in the literature
Sexual health experts and gerontologists in East Asia have been vocal in problematising the lack of public awareness about the sexuality of older persons. They have played a prominent role in shaping the dialogue around the sexual needs and rights of older persons (Komatsu et al. 2001: 41; Araki 2004: 60; Rim 2011: 34-38; Kitamura and Takayanagi 2012: 198). They claim that people remain sexual beings until the day they die. Sexual health experts and gerontologists in East Asia argue that it is entirely normal and natural for older persons to be interested in engaging in sexual relations, which they define as erotic physical contact, including but not limited to sexual intercourse. Sexual relations refer to partnered sexual activity including oral and anal sex, individual sexual activity (masturbation), sexual feelings, sexual fantasy, and sexual thoughts (Araki 2005: 481). Chao et al. (2011: 394) note that as people grow older, they may replace sexual intercourse with other intimate contact such as touching, holding hands, hugging, and kissing.
Asserting that human beings have a sexual identity and sexual needs until they die, these authors identify a series ofproblems in the way older persons are living their sexuality. They note a lack of interest in sex on the part of older women, a lack of a proactive approach to sex among elders, and an under-appreciation of what sexual satisfaction can do for countries experiencing large increases in older populations. They see sexuality as an untapped source of well-being that, if recognised and nurtured, will serve to increase the quality of life of older persons.
Such researchers appeal to older persons to embrace an interest in sexual activity, claiming that such interest is desirable if elders are to be healthy in later life. For example, Rim Choon-Seek, a Korean gerontologist, states that for senior citizens, the experience of ‘love and sex’ provides physical fulfilment and also emotional stability (Rim 2011:198). It has further benefits in that it improves their overall quality of marriage, contributing to a healthy old age. He argues that it is crucial for societies with aging populations to acknowledge, recognise, and accept these points.
Some of these authors situate their arguments within a framework of human rights: that is, the human right of older persons to pursue a satisfying, safe, and pleasurable sex life. Connected to this is the right to access correct information about sexuality to replace limiting thoughts about the subject (Araki 2004: 60; Rim 2011:38). Others situate their arguments within a discourse of quality nursing care, stating that the well-being of older persons, especially those who are in nursing homes, is impacted by caregivers’ ability and willingness to acknowledge the special needs associated with senior sexuality (Araki 2005: 481-82).