Against the Ugliness of Age: Towards an Erotics of the Aging Sexual Body

Allison Moore, Paul Reynolds

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    Abstract Sexuality is normatively constructed as the preserve of young adults. Within a largely heteronormative construction, older people are positioned as asexual, post-sexual or predatory on young bodies Ageist assumptions about older people either deny their sexual desires exist at all or, if there is an acknowledgement that sexual desire is still present, medical, sexological and cultural discourses construct pathological representations. Aging bodies are subject to sexual dysfunction, frailty, fragility and impaired performance, or fetishized notions of sexual relations, such as ‘old with young’. As such, aging bodies are seen in a range of positions from being incapable of physically engaging in sexual activity, to being sexualised in only fetishised form, to being characterised as grostesque, ugly, unattractive and sexually undesirable. These normative constructions about older people’s sexuality, in different forms of lack, have a negative impact on their sexual subjectivities. The task, then, is to develop a constructive representational form – or erotics - of aging sex and sexuality. Queer, as a deconstructionist, anti-foundational and anti-essential perspective, would seem the most prominent means by which to challenge pathologies of the ageing body and ageing sexuality. However, this discussion will suggest that there is both scope and limitations with regards to the ability of Queer critiques to undermine ageist erotophobia. On the one hand, queer proposes that we are free to construct and reconstruct our sexuality in multiple ways, and that our bodies should be understood as a text upon which we can inscribe and re-inscribe multiple and multi-layered meanings that reflect our changing subjectivities. However, our changing subjectivities are not just experienced emotionally and intra-psychically but are also bounded by our physicality. As such, our corporeality and especially an ageing corporeality, prevents a constant and continuous reinvention of the sexual self. At the same time, an ageing body due to physical and, to a lesser extent, cognitive changes, might require individuals to move away from genito-centric and heteronormative/homonormative constructions of sexuality and open up the potential for queering sex and sexual intimacy. In this discussion, we assess the problems and possibilities of a queer critique of the aged and ugly body and sexuality, and explore the intersection of discursive and materialist critiques to provide a less provisional and more applicable basis for an erotics of aging sex and sexuality
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)88-105
    JournalInteralia A Journal of Queer Studies
    Early online date1 Oct 2016
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Oct 2016


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