No Strength”: Sex and Old Age in a Rural Town in Ghana

Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Social Science & Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.89). 12/2001; 53(10):1383-96. DOI: 10.1016/S0277-9536(01)00222-2
Source: PubMed


This article is part of a larger project on social and cultural meanings of growing old in a rural community of Ghana, the fieldwork for which was carried out between 1994 and 2000. It deals with ideas and practices concerning sex among the elderly. Informal conversations were held with individual elders and with groups of people that were, middle-aged and young. Sex was generally regarded as a matter of "strength", which was diminishing at old age. For men the concept of strength specifically referred to sexual potency, whereas for women "strength" was part of a more general feeling of physical power and the ability to perform the many activities expected from being a man's sexual partner. Sex at old age is looked at with a considerable amount of ambivalence. On the one hand, it is something that the elderly should have left behind them. On the other hand, sex confirms the vitality and status of the elder. If sex is practised at old age, it should be orderly and restrained, "respectful".

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    • "After reviewing available literature, the anthropologist Sjak Van der Geest highlights a critical disparity: the bulk of available scholarship focusing on the sexualities of older people mainly base on individuals and social groups located in North America and western Europe. He asserts that '…studies on sex at old age [emphasis in original] in Africa are practically non-existent' (Van der Geest 2001). Furthermore, while studies focusing on old age in Africa are limited, of those studies that do exist on this demographic group, the very topic of sexuality and sexual behaviour is often ignored (see also Gott and Hinchliff 2003). "
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