MENOPAUSE AND SEXUALITY:. AGEISM AND SEXISM UNITE
SHARON S. ROSTOSKY AND CHERYL BROWN TRAVIS
Images and stereotypes of women over 40 are overwhelmingly negative. The popular literature conveys a message, based on a medical model, that older women are sicker and more frail than younger women, and less optimal than the male norm. We discuss the implicit and not-so-implicit messages about women’s sexuality in general and the sexuality of older women in particular. In this chapter, we delineate some serious methodological problems common to the medical literature that support these negative images, including such fundamental errors as failure to acquire baseline data, failure to establish dose-response relationships, and blatantly pejorative language. Finally, we consider feminist alternatives to biomedical conceptualizations that encompass the lived experiences of mid-life women.
As with other chapters in this volume, we have adopted a social constructionist perspective. Previous chapters in this volume have set the stage for this philosophical approach, which we use as the context for a feminist critique of both popular media images and scholarly writing on aging women, sexuality, and menopause. We argue that the basic picture of menopause and sexuality constructed both in the popular media and in
published medical literature is replete with negative biases. Furthermore, we show that scientific conclusions in established medical journals are often based on flawed theory and slipshod methodology. Following this critique, we point to new, more positive research results that are beginning to make inroads into the literature. We also describe several new feminist models for research and health care. We conclude that getting beyond negative cultural views propagated by the medical model requires more than a careful adherence to reliable techniques or the use of more precise instruments. Instead, the collective view regarding older women and sexuality needs be reworked.