“The infinite time before is no more dreadful than the infinite time that precede us”: Sexual temporalities at the rise of sexology and gerontology

Kazuki Yamada spoke at the TrentAging 2019 Conference, University of Trent, Canada in May 2019 on ‘”The infinite time before is no more dreadful than the infinite time that precede us”: Sexual temporalities at the rise of sexology and gerontology’.

Abstract: The development of Western scientific discourses of senescence in the mid-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries has been identified by ageing scholars as a critical juncture for the rise of medicalised understandings of ageing. Sexuality scholars have also located the origin of modern, Western concepts of sexuality in the emergence of sexological discourses at around the same time period. What is the relationship between these two narratives, particularly from the perspective of situating the sexual older person in history?

In this paper, I explore how ageing sexuality was theorised by gerontologists and sexologists at around the turn of the twentieth century. I focus on two groups of Western researchers and the scientific literature which they drew on and shaped: the sexological pioneers Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis, and Albert Moll; and gerontological pioneers Elie Metchnikoff and G. Stanley Hall. Examining how they understood the relationship between ageing and sexuality, I demonstrate their grounding within scientific paradigms that permitted diverse and fluid relationships between sex and time—non-linear life course models, expansions of Darwinian evolutionary logics, and the cell as model organism. I thus develop a case for considering the sexually and temporally queer aspects of sexology and gerontology’s history to think through how contemporary research on ageing sexuality might move beyond decline versus function discourses, which remain constrained within one normative model of sexual temporality.

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