Monday, November 17, 2008

Huh? I don't even know what that means

In my last two posts, I examined two groups that are claimed to be viewed/to have been viewed as asexual: women and children. There are other groups that could be examined. Two in particular come to mind: the elderly and people with disabilities. For the sake of time I will treat them more briefly than the other two. These discussions, however, display a similar pattern. When a group is claimed to be viewed as "asexual," a different meaning of "asexual" is used for each. Generally, the only thing that all of the uses of "asexual" have in common is that people in that group are/were viewed as lacking one of more elements of what people think of as belonging to "sexuality." Also, there are differences in the purpose for making the claim that group X is/was viewed as asexual even though aren't really asexual. For 19th century white middle class women, the purpose was to construct a view of the past to function as a foil of the authors' own "enlightened" view of sexuality and to condemn, by association, certain beliefs that some students in the class probably will hold. In the case of children, the main purpose of the claim is to challenge how people think about sexuality, how they think about children, and to remind people that sometimes they engage in sex-play.

Claims that people with disabilities are viewed as asexual or that the elderly are viewed as asexual function somewhat differently from claims that children and women aren't asexual, though they seem to have similar purposes as each other. One is to challenge how people think about such groups--including people in these groups themselves--and another is either to provide sex education for people in these groups or to advocate for such education. Also, these claims are made to challenge how institutions are run (i.e. nursing homes), since often they do not make for opportunities for sexual encounters for people living there for extended periods of time.

(Note: For those who are interested, the second earliest article on asexuality referenced on's library is about asexuality and disability. It affirms asexuality as a valid lifestyle choice for people. "Asexuality is an option and you have every right to choose it. Plenty of people -- with or without disabilities -- make that decision, and would tell you they have very fulfilling lives.")

My suspicion is that if the claims that the elderly and people with disabilities are not asexual were examined more closely, as with women, according to the definitions used, some people are asexual. Moreover, the understanding of what it is to be sexual, and thus what it would be to be asexual, is different in each case. If the claim that all people are sexual beings is an extension of claims that groups X, Y, and Z are considered asexual, but they really aren't, then we should reject the claim that are people are sexual beings. The definition used to establish the sexuality of each group (excepting children because the claim that children aren't asexual might not mean anything at all) would imply that some people are asexual. But it would imply a different group of people being asexual in each case. I’m not sure if this is the motivation for claiming that all people are sexual (or, rather, one of the motivations), but I have found some evidence to suggest that it is. On the website for the Capital Area Center for Independent Living, they provide information about sexuality for people with disabilities.
Myth 1: People with disabilities and chronic illnesses are not sexual.

Fact: All humans are sexual, regardless of how we express our sexuality.
This suggests that at least in some cases, there is a strong relationship between saying members of a certain group aren't asexual and saying that all people are sexual. This brings us to the end of the section of this series on saying yes, all people are sexual, even asexuals. At the beginning of this section of this series, I said that there are two major challenges that such an option faces. 1.) What is meant by saying that all people are sexual? 2.) What is the motivation for saying it? I think that the past few posts have shown that the answer to (1) is not at all clear, and the answer to (2) should be highly suspect from an asexual perspective. This brings us to the third major option for answering the question of whether all people are sexual beings: Huh? I'm not sure that I understand the question. In this part of the series, I intend to raise even more serious doubts concerning these two questions. After concluding I have no idea what is being claimed, I will try to examine how such claims function rather than what they mean. This will move us to the final part of this series: challenging the assertion that all people are sexual beings.

But first, story time.


Anonymous said...

A sex educator told us within a lecture a curious story that happened to him in a nurse home. Staff realized that some residents went for a walk and returned tired and with dust in their back. After investigation, they discovered that they were trying to have sex clandestinely. Some couples were in a relationship, but there were also one-afternoon stands. So, the home called him in order to give some talks to them. He had to teach them that they need to learn to fuck again, according to their physical possibilities, and that they should use condoms, even if a pregnancy is impossible.

pretzelboy said...

With regards to claims that the elderly aren't asexual, I have rather ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, there are plenty of older people who remain interested in sex, and I understand the importance of making opportunities for that and of providing them with information on how to do that safely. On the other hand, there are people whose sexual interest declines considerably as they get older, and I'm afraid that their experiences get marginalized by insisting that the elderly aren't asexual. I recall reading one paper in which they mentioned someone who found that some people reported being glad that they had lost interest in sex--one thing they didn't have to worry about anymore! Rather than accepting this as a legitimate experience, the authors treated it with suspicion about how maybe this was true for some, but for many it was likely an internalization of messages that the elderly are asexual. While this may be true, it can work the other way as well. I'd guess that there are some people who, because of messages that everyone is sexual, that sexuality is a fundamental part of health and well-being, are unable to admit to themselves that they aren't interested in sex. I haven't seen many people raising suspicion of claims of sexual interest on account of this fact.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine senior citizens under the pro-sex pressure which affects to younger people. At least in Spain, the elderly are very conservative and sex-repressive. Is it the pendulum law? I think they assume that their sexuality shall eventually extinguish, if death doesn't come before, in the same way as children bloom.

pretzelboy said...

I can't imagine senior citizens under the pro-sex pressure which affects to younger people. I certainly won't disagree with you on that point, but I wonder the extend to which that this will change over time. I've seen articles in the popular press to change these attitudes, usually marganalizing the experiences older people who are happy without sex, emphasizing how many people continue to have good sex lives into old age, as long as their health allows it.

And then there are the pharmaceuticals, whose influence, for good of for ill (but probably a fair amount of both) will be felt. With ED medication, at least in the US, they've discovered that there is a huge market for sales among the elderly, and they have to persuade them of the importance of being sexually active later in life in order to tap into that market.

I have a strong suspicion that in the main tactic to validate the experiences of those with relatively high sexual desire/behavior, people make sexuality normative, making less valid or treating with suspicion the experiences of people with low sexual desire/activity. Ultimately, I hope that sex-ed comes to a position that fully recognizes the legitimacy of both.

Anonymous said...

Spanish senior citizens are very reluctant to pay for their medication. For tax-paying workers, medicaments are 60% subsidized, but fully subsidized for the pensioners. Therefore, our elderly are likely to pay for medicaments out of the subsidy and pharmaceuticals should lobby first.

I dunno if our elderly is free of this ad-bombing because of this circumstance, but my only notice about sex in elder people was the story this sex educator told us. I have only heard about sexuality of the elderly and people with disabilities one time each and in very restricted circuits.

pretzelboy said...

For me, I've only started to become interested in sexuality since I started identifying as asexual last September. (Ironic, I know.) So I'll have to confess that my own knowledge on these issues is fairly limited. Most of what I know is largely a matter of impressions.