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The sexy silver generation

Lice Movono
Friday, October 13, 2017

THE SILVER generation is a term sociologists use to describe a certain segment of our population, but more recently it also aptly describes the majority of those who purchase sex, in Fiji at least.

At least that's what the experience of sex workers and the findings of leading health researchers corroborate.

That, more likely than not, the profile of the most regular client of a sex worker is as follows, a retired older or elderly man with means.

Avelina Rokoduru is co-ordinator at the Pacific Sexual and Reproductive Health Research Centre (pacS-RHRC) of the FNU and she described it best when she said,"If I go now on a Tuesday, walk into the ….(name of a Suva club), who will I find? The profile is; retired workers. Older men, with money and cars."

Why are the grandfathers of our communities the ones most likely to spend quality time and resources at our nightspots?

The answers vary and it's easy to make assumptions.

Another easy train of thought to take is that these men, who at the end of a long successful career who have assets and whose economic obligations have been taken care of, children reared and left the home will somehow also taper off.

Between the late 1990s and early 2000s, academics at local universities monitored population trends when a well-known local government leader was found dead at a local motel. Investigations pointed to the use of a sex worker.

Ms Rokoduru, then a researcher at the University of the South Pacific, said it caused for her a set of academic questions.

"We realised that there was something happening. How does someone like this end up here?" she asked.

"This guy has money, has a family, and is a grandfather — why are we catching him here?"

The questions aren't unusual, for a community as conservative as Fiji and the rest of the Pacific is and according to Ms Rokoduru, it caused for some academics and researchers to push for the elderly agenda.

In the United States of America at Harvard University, researchers were asking the same question and a study published in 2009 explored common myths about attitudes towards sex and the elderly.

Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publishing in consultation with medical academics from Harvard Medical School and a Certified Sex Therapist, the study led to a 48-page guide entitled, Sexuality in Midlife and Beyond.

The guide reminds us that sexuality is a natural drive which begins at birth and is shaped through life by factors such as family and cultural background.

"The changes that take place in midlife and beyond often exacerbate issues about sex," the Harvard Health report said.

As Ms Rokoduru explains, most cultures, even in western society assume that sexual libido lessens with age in males and females.

In a patriarchal society, that belief is worsened for women who are accorded less power and status than males.

"We assume that at a certain age, both of you will not have sex. So grandmother sleeps with the grandchildren and grandfather is left alone," Ms Rokoduru said.

And in the situation of the older retired men sitting in the private clubs of our major towns and cities to "enjoy" the end of what would have been a usually hectic career, we assume they go straight home.

But who is at home? As Ms Rokoduru will attest to, women take on the role of babysitter, caregiver or as in most Christian households, they become active in the church often for 3-4 days and nights of the week.

What of the silver generation, the power holders of the community now without the professional position most would have derived personal identity from?

They are retired workers with money and nowhere to spend it. With not as wide a field in terms of retirement planning to make throughout their careers, the average Fijian retires with thousands ready to hit the bank account within weeks of retirement.

Paying for sexual favours easily becomes an option to one's retirement activities, sex work researchers are finding out.

"At least a decade ago, the person most thought would purchase sex was someone sitting in an office, successful and accomplished with a high disposable income, Right now here we are, retired workers with money. So imagine that you come off of a long career with your superannuation waiting for you, thousands upon thousands. And we have only one superannuation scheme here," Ms Rokoduru said.

"So you come off of a long career, you already have a house, have a car, ambitions taken care of and children left the house.

"Grandmother sleeps with the grandchildren, focused on community work and church obligations. So we are looking at older men with money with cars."

While in the past the silver generation could be described as mobile men with money, the demographic capture represented business executives, senior government workers sitting in their office with access to money and the ability to engage sexual favours.

"That picture has changed. From 2009, that has changed. The mobile men with money have funds, they know how to save and have saved and are now retired."

Sex workers locally corroborate the picture that Harvard Health says about Pacific attitude to sex.

"Declining hormone levels and changes in neurological and circulatory functioning may lead to sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction or vaginal pain. Such physical changes often mean that the intensity of youthful sex may give way to more subdued responses during middle and later life," the Harvard Health report said.

"But the emotional byproducts of maturity — increased confidence, better communication skills and lessened inhibitions — can help create a richer, more nuanced, and ultimately satisfying sexual experience."

So if both men and women are able to enjoy as good a sexual response as the other but society only accords men the right to continue to enjoy sex and why not when even with sexual safety, boys and girls get double standards.

If gender inequality also applies to sex life as logic and local feminists will attest to, what happens to men who don't always get sex at home?

As sex and reproductive health (SRH) organisations such as the Pacific Sexual and Reproductive Health Research Centre (pacS-RHRC) of the FNU which Avelina is co-ordinator of research sex trends to continue to improve health services, they are seeing trends which makes for interesting reading alongside the statistics at the Director of Public Prosecutions.

"Should we wonder why they are picking up on a lot of these incidents of child rape. Could it be because of a certain mentality that we arrive at a certain age and some parts of our body stop functioning, but that is a very incorrect mentality? It's our culture and social conditioning. We still haven't picked up on that," Ms Rokoduru said.

It might be simplistic a viewpoint and hard to swallow for some, but as those who work in the field, it isn't.

Not for people like Homes of Hope who look after underage girls made mothers by sexual abuse or Medical Services Pacific who work with adolescent girls to teach them about their bodies in an effort to reduce the number of underage victims of sexual violence they work with or maybe the Department of Social Welfare whose statistics on family based violence continues to increase.

They and the DPP, Christopher Pryde, agree that rape may be decreasing but all agree in principle that the severity of sexual crimes are worsening daily as the relationship between victim and perpetrators continue to get closer.

What is being picked up however at the homes and meeting centres of sex workers that The Fiji Times stayed in during the course of this FT Indepth investigation, the silver generation are the majority of those who pay for sex.

"When these men go to purchase sex, they ask for transgender sex, TG sex without condoms, they are asking for sex with older women their age. What you have to think about when you visit the community of sex workers is to remember that all of them are sex workers," Ms Rokoduru said.

"When you sit at (name of organisation removed for protection), you are talking to grandmother, mother and grandchild.

"I go there come back and cry and go back the next day to do my work. When you see a woman of a particular age or attribute on the streets, that means there is a market for it."

Harvard Health said part of the challenge in addressing sexual attitudes lies in the belief commonly held by women (and men) that it is improper for "nice girls" to enjoy sex.

"This belief can be damaging for both partners," the Harvard Health report said.

"A woman who has merely acquiesced to sex as a duty to her husband or as a necessary step in childbearing may feel uncomfortable seeking sexual pleasure. Her partner may interpret this lack of enthusiasm as a reflection of her feelings about him. Relationship conflicts can ensue."

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