The construction of aging sexuality
In this section, I explore in more depth how older persons are being educated about sexuality and what purpose it is made to serve in these accounts. I do so by considering a series of related themes. The first theme is that patriarchal sexual attitudes which construct sex as a duty, and misconceptions about aging, have a negative impact on later life. Countering these misconceptions and correcting old sexual habits will allow seniors to embrace and enjoy old age, and their sexuality, more fully. The second theme is that senior citizens can take greater initiative to realise their sexual potential. Here, well-being is constructed as a choice that seniors can make – and they are made responsible for making that choice. Senior citizens are asked to take greater initiative for changing themselves. The third theme is that nursing staff, such as caregivers of the elderly, need to educate themselves about the sexuality of older persons, as they can inadvertently reduce the well-being of those under their care by reacting negatively to seniors’ attempts to have their emotional and sexual needs met. The idea here is that failing to attend to these needs reduces the quality of life that seniors should enjoy in old age.
These articles and books also contain a norm about the importance of personal initiative. Elders are held responsible for changing their attitudes towards sexual activity, and shedding old beliefs about sex. We see that well-being is constructed as a choice that seniors can make. The advice engages in a process of individualisation. By doing so, the discourses of sexual well-being produce a subject position of the individual elder sexual being. The social problem of aging hence becomes individualised, and the question becomes whether and how individual elders take initiative for improving their health by forming bonds, taking care of their bodies, and being proactive and positive about fulfilling their desires for ‘love and sex’.
The material I draw on to explore these themes includes articles in weekly magazines, books about sex and well-being aimed at the general public, and nursing care journals. Although literature on the sexuality of older persons remains scarce, especially when compared to that on younger persons, these materials represent dominant genres of writing about the sexuality of older persons in East Asia. This chapter contributes to the emerging literature in this field of later-life sexuality. Where possible, I have selected authors who have published widely on the topic and have influenced public discussions about senior sexuality.