2: Consent and sexual literacy for older people


Consent is generally regarded as a problem for the young and the inexperienced. The focus of academic literature, sexuality education and legal and cultural debate is upon those who are entering the sexual world, rather than those who are mature within it (selectively, Archard, 1998; Cowling and Reynolds, 2004; Moore and Reynolds, 2016; Popova, 2019; Stryker, 2017). In part, this is a product of the naturalised and normalised developmental model of sex that identifies sexual risk and danger primarily around the young (Moore and Reynolds, 2018, pp 24–26). It reflects a minimalist notion of sexual learning, regarded as a part of child social development that is adequately completed with maturity. For older people, consent is principally seen as an issue accompanying concerns about diminished capacity. This reflects the desexualisation of older people, where mainstream cultural representations and articulations of sex and sexuality involve stereotypes of youthful, ‘beautiful’, vigorous bodies and acute and rational minds. Older people do not conform to those dominant representations and its stereotypes (Moore and Reynolds, 2016; Hafford-Letchfield et al, 2020, passim; and this volume). Underlying this is a hetero- (and more recently homo-) normative sexuality that is focused on genito-centric, penetrative sexual functionality and in phallocentric vigour and fecundity (in respect of men) (selectively, Beasley, 2005; Jackson and Scott, 2011; Weeks, 2016). This normativity frames older sexual desires as risk and problem oriented, whether the focus is on desexualised older bodies or dysfunctionality, and discourages approaches to older sexual agency that emphasise sexual experimentation and creativity, which might provide different pleasures and alternative and new forms of sexual learning and knowledge.

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