The sexual health educator and author, Takayanagi Michiko, has published a range of popular books and articles (Takayanagi 2004a, 2004b: 55-57, 2005, Horiguchi and Takayanagi 2010: 190-92; Kitamura and Takayanagi 2012: 190-92) on the sexuality of older persons. Her expressed goal is to liberate people from misconceptions about aging and what happens to sexuality with advancing age. Takayanagi observes that a large majority of older Japanese women who are engaging in sexual relations are doing so out of a sense of duty but not real desire or interest (2004: 55). She traces this to the tendency among women to conceptualise sexual activity as a vehicle to satiate men’s sexual urges. In her view, this is an unfortunate outcome of a patriarchal culture that teaches women to subordinate their own needs in order to meet the sexual needs of men and respond to men’s desires for sexual fulfillment. She cites the influence of patriarchy and male-centered sexual practices as obstacles to older women enjoying sex. She says this influence creates unhappiness not only for women, but also for the men who miss out on a richer experience of women’s sexual pleasure (Takayanagi 2004b: 57).

In a discussion with Kitamura Kunio, a gynecologist and author on sexual health, Takayanagi asserts that people remain sexual beings until the day they die (Kitamura and Takayanagi 2012: 199); therefore older persons ‘have nothing to be embarrassed about’, and the rest of us should find nothing untoward about older persons having, and being interested in, sexual relations. The title of their article, which appears in the popular weekly magazine, Shukan Gendai [Con­temporary Weekly] whose readership is predominantly male, is ‘Let go of embarrassment and see what’s here. By outgrowing shyness about sex, life can change for the better’ (2012: 201). It is implied that what will change for the better is not simply the older person’s experience of sexual activity, but life in its totality.

Takayanagi states that, in order for both older women and men to experience a richer sexual life in old age, they need to move on from two ideas: that sex is shameful and embarrassing, and that increasing age erases the possibility of having sexual relations (Kitamura and Takayanagi 2012: 198). She rejects the use of the word kareru (wither) to refer to older persons, saying it is a misnomer that misrepresents what actually happens to sexuality with aging. She decouples age and decline, and seeks to define aging in positive terms by making a link between age and experience. Claiming that with age comes sexual skill and knowledge, she observes, for example, that older women have a much easier time reaching climax in sex than they did when younger.

What kinds of advice does Takayanagi provide that will make for a more satisfying sexual life for older women and men? Turning to men, she encourages married men to reflect on their married lives, particularly their approach to sex with their spouses, thus contributing to an ‘increased sense of interiority surrounding the “couple relationship”’ (McLelland 2012: 135; see pp. 131—58 for discussion of advice about sex to married couples in post-war Japan.) Takayanagi tells men to help with the cooking, go shopping with their wives, go for walks, bathe together, and wash their wives’ bodies. She recommends that couples try using vibrators and watching adult videos to enhance the mood for sexual relations. She admonishes husbands who call their wives ‘oi’ (hey). Instead, she says, they can call their wives by name and add an endearing or more respectful form of address such as X-chan or X-san. She also recommends focusing on touch, such as holding hands and providing massages of feet and necks, and gradually building up to sexual activity.

The gynaecologist, Kitamura Kunio, agrees with Takayanagi that people retain their sexual identity until the day they die. He cites a conversation between Ooka Echizen (1677—1752), a famous magistrate during the Edo period (1603—1868), and his mother; they discuss how long people retain the capacity for sexual relations, and they establish that the capacity lasts until death (see Moore 2010: 160). Kitamura tells readers that as long as the heart is healthy, even if sexual function gradually declines, it is possible to engage in sexual relations. He states that older couples need to think creatively about sex by changing the view that sexual activity is only about sexual intercourse. He advises older men to expand their sexual repertoire. Kitamura also advises men on how to think of their role in sexual relationships and how to relate to their female partners: they should approach their partner as a ‘sacred woman who allows him to have sex with her’. This attitude, he says, will foster trust in a woman, and it is far preferable to approaching sex with the mind-set of ‘I will make her climax’ (Kitamura and Takayanagi 2012: 201). Accompanying his advice, and placed at strategic points in this article, are photographs of young female nudes in suggestive poses, who look to be women in their twenties. These women’s bodies, from the neck down, invite a voyeuristic gaze by the reader. This placement creates an interesting tension in the message of the article: male readers are advised to think creatively about engaging in sexual activity with their older wives, but the photos invite them to fantasise about younger women’s bodies. These photos objectify the female body and in doing so may in fact take these male readers further away from having a meaningful sexual relationship with their wives.

To seniors who are not in relationships, Kitamura offers encouragement: they can build friendships with people they are attracted to. He states that spending time with people with whom they fantasise about engaging in sexual relations is an extremely enlivening process for single seniors. The sexual desire they experience in the company of these people will be life-enhancing. Understanding this simple fact and creating a schedule of activities with persons of the opposite sex to whom they feel an attraction will make old age very rich (Kitamura and Takayanagi 2012: 201). Gradually these seniors can find ways to visit love hotels together.

Deploying a common rhetorical strategy found in Japanese sexual health magazines, Kitamura cites surveys and data conducted in other parts of the world to show how Japan ranks unfavourably compared to other countries. He refers to an international survey by Durex, the British condom manufacturer, about frequency of sexual relations. It found that Japanese people had sexual relations less often than people in any of the other nations in the survey. Kitamura sees this as a problem. Older Japanese should increase the frequency of their sexual relations, keeping in mind that they can also expand their range of sexual techniques. The assumption informing this comparison is that Euro-American standards of sexual activity are a norm to be aspired to. Nowhere is it stated that Western ‘standards’ may be flawed. This rhetorical strategy is also evident in Taiwanese medical journals addressing Taiwanese senior sexuality, where researchers compare the lower incidence of sexual relations among Taiwanese senior citizens to statistics in the United States in order to provoke change in behaviour. These comparisons are drawn in ways that construct East Asian older persons as demonstrating a problematic resistance to having sex, which needs to be corrected with sexual education programs. Such programs will teach them about their sexuality and how to engage in appropriate sexual activity in later life. It is assumed that with access to classes about sex, older persons who are currently abstaining will naturally want to engage in sexual activity (Wang et al. 2008: 449; Chao et al. 2011: 387—88).