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3 - ‘At YOUR age???!!!’: the constraints of ageist erotophobia on older people’s sexual and intimate relationships

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 April 2023

Paul Simpson
Affiliation:
Edge Hill University, Ormskirk
Paul Reynolds
Affiliation:
The Open University, Milton Keynes
Trish Hafford-Letchfield
Affiliation:
University of Strathclyde
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Summary

It is impossible to talk about sex without talking about relationships or modes of relating, yet sexual relations are assumed to be the preserve of the young. So it seems when older people's attempts to express sexuality or intimacy are commonly met with ridicule, condescension and infantilisation (Simpson et al, 2017). The quote in the chapter title, though fictional, is no less believable, but might seem incredible if not offensive to quite a few older people. Indeed, we can see the mockery of ageing and later life, and particularly of a presumed cognitive, aesthetic, physical and sexual decline, writ large in birthday cards for those aged 40 plus (Bytheway, 1995; Simpson et al, 2018b). This mockery reveals the casual, normalised nature of ageism in consumerist societies, where ageing can be seen as an individual pathology to be avoided (Biggs and Daatland, 2006). The anxieties occasioned by consumerist-driven ageism could well be responsible for the proliferation of sales of agedefying (denying?) cosmetics, as well as the increase in ‘rejuvenating’ cosmetic surgery, which Eagleton (2003) has theorised as an attempt to deny or stave off mortality.

Unlike many other forms of prejudice, ageism directed towards older people seems to be fair game. It also operates more under the radar of consciousness. It is worth noting that ageism can affect the young, who can be defined as insubstantial, inexperienced and the like, though, unlike later life, youth can be regarded as a transitory, experimental stage en route to maturity and usually experiences ageism less intensely (Bytheway, 1995; Simpson, 2015). In terms of ageism as applied to sex and intimacy, older people are stereotypically cast as prudish and beyond interest in such matters (Mahieu et al, 2014). Such thinking informs pressures towards ‘compulsory non-sexuality’ among older

people (Simpson, 2021). Nevertheless, various, intersecting forms of differentiation (class, gender, sexuality and ethnicity) strongly influence the capacity to challenge ageism generally and the presumption of sexlessness or post-sexual status and lack of desirability in later life specifically.

It is also worth noting that ageism may be one of the factors behind the relative paucity of scholarship on an international scale, though a critical literature is beginning to emerge on later life sexuality, especially in Britain, Australasia, Europe and the United States.

Type
Chapter
Information
Desexualisation in Later Life
The Limits of Sex and Intimacy
, pp. 35 - 52
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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