Tag Archives: pharmaceutical industry

Elder Sexuality Is Funny or Gross Because It’s Transgressive

Laurie and Debbie say:

aging sex

The extraordinary s.e. smith has a predictably excellent post on elder sexuality:

… what is so gross about older adults being sexually active? And what’s so funny about it? Because I don’t see anything particularly remarkable in it, and thus I’m either missing something — or my cohort is. The frankly juvenile attitude towards older adult sexuality doesn’t do us any credit, and if anything is gross in this conversation, it’s the disdain for sexually active elders. As long as everyone is consenting and enjoying themselves, who cares? Why are we so fixated on this?

Smith elaborates on this at some length, and as with everything on this ain’t livin’, you should read the whole thing.

However, Smith does not answer the title question, and we thought it was worth examining.

The media, and particularly the advertising industry, spend an inordinate amount of time and money convincing us that we can stay youthful-looking and youthful-feeling forever. If we take the right drugs, we can play with our grandchildren as athletically as we want, and everyone will think we are their parents, not their grandparents. If we use the right skin products, we can keep the wrinkles at bay. If we have the right medical procedures, no one will ever know that we are (*gasp* *choke*) over 50.

But that is all a lot of work. It’s also expensive, so you can’t have it all unless you have economic privilege. It’s time-consuming, so you can’t have it all unless you don’t have to work two jobs, or work 9 hours a day, or raise kids with insufficient support. People have to be afraid of getting–and looking–older or they won’t do the work or make the financial sacrifices. Along with the “stick” of fear of aging, there also has to be a reward–a carrot–for all the time and money and effort. And the reward is that you get to stay attractive. And “attractive” means “sexually attractive.”

So if you can’t pull together the time, money and effort to keep yourself youthful or–and they don’t ever even hint at this part–when it stops working, then the carrot of being sexually attractive gets yanked away, and you are thrown out of the sexuality sweepstakes. You just don’t get to be a person who has sex any more.

When anyone shows that, by having a good time in bed with a wrinkled, spotty body (or having a good time in bed while disabled, for that matter), they pop the balloon. They confuse the simplistic message. They break the illusion. And the Good Consumer might, just might, notice that she or he is spending time and money for not much. So elder sexuality must be mocked, or the advertising, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical industries could suffer.

Like everything else about appearance, this happens sooner and more dramatically for women than for men–a woman with mild signs of aging is as far out of the acceptable age range as a man who is unmistakably elderly; also, an older man having sex with a younger woman is way less funny or gross than an older woman having sex with a younger man. This is why the whole concept of predatory “cougars” was born.

Shining a light on sexuality among older adults is yet another way of making the invisible visible, showing (and telling) us what’s really true, rather than what the corporatized culture wants us to believe.


Contagious Mental Health

Lynne says:

I ran into an article not long ago in The New York Times, The Americanization of Mental Illness by Ethan Watters, based on his forthcoming book, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, discussing how the American way of mental illness being exported along with other American products such as rock n’ roll, Coca Cola, and anorexia.

The classic case of Western media-induced anorexia happened on the Polynesian island of Fiji, where eating disorders were unknown for 3,000 years until television became available in 1995. A 1999 New York Times article describes what Dr. Ann E. Becker, director of research at the Harvard Eating Disorders Center of Harvard Medical School, found when she investigated shifts in body image and eating practices in Fiji over a three-year period.

Before 1995, Dr. Becker said, there was little talk of dieting in Fiji. ”The idea of calories was very foreign to them.” But in the 1998 survey, 69 percent said that at some time they had been on a diet. In fact, preliminary data suggest more teen-age girls in Fiji diet than their American counterparts.
Study Finds TV Alters Fiji Girls’ View of Body By Erica Goode, May 20, 1999

Oddly enough the idea of viral mental illness set me to thinking about some unusual toys I played with as a child. My father was a psychologist who administered psychological tests for schools, government agencies and mental institutions before he gave that up to go into military and aerospace research.

He had a cupboard full of old psychological tests that he never used, and when I got old enough not to mess them up, he would let me take them out and play with them. I think by then his worldview was that these tests were indeed games, so why shouldn’t I play with them.

It’s been nearly 50 years since I last picked these up but I still remember how beautiful the Rorschach ink blots were. They were large, thick cardboard about six by nine inches and not just black and white, but with almost three-dimensional gray shadings, and colorful red, blue, green orange and pink swirls.

Another test was the TAT or Thematic Apperception Test, again pictures on even larger cards. Each drawing showed a little scene that you were supposed to tell a story about–good training for a novelist, although that was hardly anyone’s plan for me at the time.

The creepiest test was the Szondi test–no, not Zombie test, it was named after Hungarian psychiatrist Lipot Szondi (1893-1986). This test consisted of four sheets of mug shots, 48 pictures of mental patients taken in the late 1800s to early 1900s. As my father explained it, if you got on a bus and there was an empty seat next to each of these people, who would you sit next to?

Szondi lived into the 1980s and I don’t know if he ever changed his diagnostic definitions, but the eight diagnoses the Szondi test used were: homosexual, sadistic, epileptic, hysteric, catatonic, paranoiac, schizophrenic, depressive and manic.

Just that list gives you an idea of how ideas about what constitutes mental illness have changed just in America.

The Watters New York Times article that started my whole trip down memory lane talks about mental illnesses that once were common and now are rarely if ever seen, such as hysterical paralysis. He reports a contagious anorexia phenomenon in Hong Kong, and goes into a fascinating digression on how one culture’s treatment of schizophrenia as spirit possession actually leads to fewer relapses than the Western diagnosis and drug treatment

An internet search away from the Watters article was an equally absorbing commentary by Greg Downey at Neuronthropology.net. Downey suggests that export of mental health can also be motivated by:

[P]ure mercenary impulses, as drug companies try to persuade new markets that the individuals need their products, suffering as they do from disorders of which they were previously unaware. Here, the idea that it’s just the beliefs about illness held by therapists and authorities obscures the naked greed that goes into public relations campaigns designed to produce disorder.

He cites the case of GlaxoSmithKline’s fostering of depression in Japan, where the concept of depression (and thus treatment with their product) was unknown until 1999. The manufacturer of Paxil was forbidden by Japanese law to advertise directly to customers, so they embarked on a series of “educational” ads telling consumers: “Depression is a disease that anyone can get. It can be cured by medicine. Early detection is important.”

So, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for GlaxoSmithKline?”

Pretty well, alas! A 2007 Boston Globe article reports that depression and the drugs to treat it have taken solid root in Japan.