Contemporary Issues in Gerontology: Promoting Positive Ageing

By V. Minichiello; I. Coulson | Go to book overview

4

Sexuality, sexual intimacy and sexual
health in later life

Victor Minichiello

Samantha Ackling

Chris Bourne

David Plummer

The long-held assumption that older people are asexual is no longer tenable (Minichiello et al 1996a). To perpetuate such misconceptions can only be considered ageist, particularly when current political discourses acknowledge older people as citizens with equal rights, needs and privileges. Yet it is not easy to correct the myth of the asexual older person, given the cultural predisposition to favour youthfulness and to associate sexual attraction with being young (see Chapter 1). Another indication of the tendency to understate the sexual interest of older people is the limited space given to this topic in popular and scientific culture. Until recently, few studies treated sexuality in later life as a legitimate subject for investigation, despite longstanding scientific, religious and medical preoccupations with sexuality. For example, in a study labelled the 'definitive study of sex' in the United States (Michael et al 1994), not one of the 3432 respondents was over the age of 60! Moreover, the waves of studies on sexuality in the era of HIV/AIDS by and large ignored older people (Donovan et al 1998). Even a recent study of health relationships in Australia, which surveyed a representative sample of 10 173 men and 9134 women, claiming to study 'the sexual practices of the Australian population' and for the first time provide 'an extensive and reliable portrait of the sexual health of the Australian population', it did not

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