The “Ick Factor”: 2006 vs 2023 Sexuality and Ageism

graphic by Queer Majority

“It’s important to realize that the Ick Factor doesn’t just hurt seniors who might read Yahoo comments or overhear a joke or criticism. It hurts anyone of any age who believes that sex is just for the young. I’m here from the Land of Old to tell you that if you disparage older-age sexuality and close your mind to aging with zest and spice, this attitude hurts you. We’re not old, expendable excuses for human beings: we’re you in a few decades.”

Graphic by Queer Majority

I’m super proud of “Senior Sex: Yes, Old People Get It On, Too,” which I wrote for Queer Majority. I hope you’ll read and share it. I talk about the Ick Factor, the attitude of much of our society that the idea of older people enjoying sex is ludicrous, disgusting, icky. I’ve been fighting that attitude since I started doing this work in 2005. Every time I think that people have grown to accept older age sexuality — after all, if we’re lucky, we’ll all get old! — I’m blindsided by proof that the Ick Factor is alive and thriving. In this case, it was encountering horrible comments on a lovely, age-positive, sex-positive Yahoo News article. I hope you’ll be as appalled as I was when you read them.


I’d like to tell you about an earlier example of the Ick Factor.

Joan on ABC Nightline

It started splendidly on Dec. 1, 2006, when I was interviewed by ABC Nightline for a segment on senior sex and dating. The segment went beautifully. After it aired, my website traffic tripled; my blog traffic quadrupled. I was exhilarated! Hurray, senior sex is discussed on network TV and people want to know more!

Then on Dec. 5, 2006, two satellite radio shock jocks – I’d rather not give them the publicity of naming them – got wind of the topic and read ABC’s synopsis of the show aloud, punctuating their reading with “eeewwwww” and lewd comments. When they learned that I had a blog about, in their words, “old people having sex,” they were totally disgusted. They tracked down what they called the “old lady sex blog,” reading my blog posts aloud for 11 minutes, making even lewder and viler comments as they read. They made fun of a male reader who wrote me his personal story of trying to have sex with a new woman after divorce, prostate cancer, and Viagra, for example, saying about him, “Emasculated nothing!…”Stinks in bed!…C’mon old puddin’ prostate!”

More samples of their comments:

  • “Disgusting whore of a granny!”
  • “You want to have a sex life? Check yourself into a home and lie face down as the orderly makes his rounds in the morning.”
  • “Wear a condom, I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s!”
  • “Break her hip!”

Meanwhile, their fans, who ran a message board about the show, also located my blog and started visiting it and posting comments. I foolishly had not set up a moderation requirement at that time, and people were free to comment at will. I opened my computer that day to find 40+ ageist, racist, sexist, and otherwise just plain vile comments. For example, they wrote what they’d like to do to Granny – in what position and with what force – before pushing her down the stairs. I spent the afternoon finding and deleting the horror show.

What does this kind of behavior indicate about our society? Why is it that ageist stereotypes are just fine, old people are acceptable targets, and all of us past middle age are supposed to retire our sex drive and need for intimacy and just settle into… what? … just being “old”?

Many thanks to Queer Majority for helping me turn this attitude around and fight the Ick Factor in 2023. Will you join us? I invite your comments (moderated, just so you know).


  1. Lsea on September 29, 2023 at 7:45 pm

    I’m sorry this happened to you, but unfortunately not surprised. I frequent panfandom spaces online, where people gather to talk about favorite TV shows, movies, and similar, and questions about whether you can be “too old” and “too young” to be there have been bitterly argued since social media established itself.

    This is especially hypocritical because we’re involved with pursuits that a generation or two ago were denigrated as unsuitable for adults. When my grandparents were young, cinema as a whole was ridiculed as crass, mass entertainment, and going too often made you an irresponsible layabout. When my mother was in university, the fact that many college students arranged their class schedules around their favorite cartoons or shows on television was treated like a scandal and a failure to mature. When I was growing up, schools and adults in general deplored video games, and anyone who continued to play past adolescence was stereotyped as a social reject who would never have sex. These condemnations look rather nonsensical, in a world where people have since celebrated video-game themed weddings, written their dissertations on television shows, made oil paintings of scenes from movies, and so forth.

    But, like a broken record, the conversation continues to condemn the presence of children and teenagers in fandom (because inevitably, the adults will amuse themselves by speculating about the characters’ sex lives) and bemoan the unwillingness of seniors to self-segregate and do something more grandparent-like and sexless. People seem to have enough self-awareness to see there’s no justification for working-age adults spending their leisure time watching fiction that wouldn’t apply just as much to anyone else who want to be there! But the idea that if you’re under 18, it’s terrible if you’re exposed to adults talking about sex, and if you’re over 40, your body is unappealing and the less attention anyone pays to it, the better, persists; in all its incoherent glory.

    I think this hyperfixation on pretending the only people who can “decently” be sexually active or open about it are capable of childbearing might be a carry-over from monotheism’s condemnation of sex for pleasure.

    Alternatively, I’d guess that most people who grow up believing sex is suitable for whoever wants it, and not just teen-to-twenties and the conventionally attractive, grew up without sex being taboo and hidden from them. They didn’t have to “try to imagine” for the first time, at twelve or fourteen or whatever age they came across solid sexual information, that their aging parents once put their genitals together and rubbed. Because that’s no big deal.

    Maybe equally relevant is the fact that a lot of parents feel justified in treating kids like their being sexual in any way is scandalous. I’ve run into several people who grew up in families where they had to sneak around to masturbate, and lie and scheme to get any privacy with girlfriends or boyfriends, who think the idea that seniors in assisted living situations should have sexual autonomy is outrageous. Just because the person funding their upkeep and housing might find their sex life inconvenient, worrisome, or embarassing.

    I don’t think most people who hold such opinions are consciously doing it to get revenge or express bigotry. It’s more that changing their opinion would involve acknowledging that the way they were treated, as kids, was neither respectful nor loving, and should not be inflicted on anyone else. Regardless of who’s keeping a roof over whose head.

  2. Bippy McMaster on April 19, 2023 at 4:03 pm

    Actually I wanted to tell you that I think you are a real life hero!
    I have been so shocked with the ground we have lost in so many things since the 70’s, and while the LGBTQ community has made strides in talking about issues & calling out discrimination, the elder community is still supposed to bake muffins and not have sex anymore. So many 30 & 40 somethings have the Ewwwwwww response. I am a 68 year old Ovarian Cancer survivor and there are certain not very many of us (survivors of this awful disease), but we really have to make a herculean effort to regain sexual function. I have facilitated classes and discussions at cancer camps and survivor events and helped women discuss this issue which is not even often discussed by their Gyn-Oncologists. Agism sucks all around and I am grateful that you are in the trenches for all of us! Thanks for being out there and doing this work!

  3. Larry on April 7, 2023 at 8:45 am

    Those folks that find sex between mature adults “icky” probably find sex “icky” generally. Unfortunately too many people still find their bodies and normal functions “icky”. I would venture the question, ‘At what age does sex become “icky”?? And remind them that without “icky” sex, they would not exist. Is pedophilia “icky”??
    Grow up! If you’re lucky you will live long enough to have “icky” sex!

    • Mali Apple on June 17, 2023 at 12:31 pm

      I love your question, and I’m going to start asking people this! “At what age does sex become ‘icky’?” Thanks for this…

  4. Grateful on March 30, 2023 at 1:32 pm

    Dear Joan, I’ve been so grateful for your newsletters, reflections, advice and list of resources ever since I “found” you a few years ago (maybe AARP?)! I’ve passed on your website and newsletter to many of my getting-older and older friends. So thank you from the bottom of my heart and every other part of my body for all that you’re willing to share!

    I’m 70+ and have been fortunate enough to know that making love/sharing my body/having sex can be amazing at any age. What many people don’t realize is the fantasies that are promoted in magazines, movies, even by our friends that sex always has to be “over the top” are just not real. It doesn’t have to always be “over the top” – and I’m not sure that all the many ways pleasure can be had can be appreciated until you’re older. I’m an ordained minister who believes God gave us such a wonderful gift with our bodies – no matter the age (although, if I’m being REALLY honest, looking down on my body these days is humbling:} ) or the variety of ways we have to change to appreciate all that our bodies can offer.
    I’ll just remain grateful that you’re out there and sharing!

  5. Peter on March 12, 2023 at 10:19 am

    When my wife died 8 years ago we had been married 60 years. We had a very active. satisfying and open sex life. I have moved into a senior facility and have met a woman who had been a widow some 25 years. Our relation ship is platonic and I don’t expect that to change. Before I met her I had dated several females I met on line. Some were sexual and some not. One of the musical groups that play for our entertainment has a song”I don’t look good naked anymore” I think senior body image probably contribute to the senior “Ick” factor.We have two groups here. One group has maintained appropriate weight height ration dress stylishly and in general present an attractive appearance. The other group suggest they don’t look good naked. Just a thought.

    • Beverly on March 28, 2023 at 1:47 am

      Your observation has some merit. I think of myself and the weight I have gained over the years. It is very difficult to loose any weight and I try not to do too many things to attract negative attention. Exercise keeps me moving and feeling more positive about myself. I would be happy to share myself but sometimes I feel the weight is an offsetting factor for many.

  6. Mac Marshall on March 8, 2023 at 8:34 pm

    “Shock jocks,” internet trolls, and their fans will unfortunately always be with us, displaying their fragile masculinity and tenuous self images. They are, to coin a neologism, true “ignoranuses” (dumb asses). In part their ignorance lies in their unawareness that in 2022 slightly over a third of the total US population was age 50 or older, a population segment that will increase rapidly by 2030. So, before long, when these shock jock/trolls look in the mirror they’ll see the very embodiment of that which they seek to vilify.

    • Joan Price on March 8, 2023 at 8:37 pm

      “ignoranuses” (dumb asses) — that’s brilliant, Mac!

Leave a Comment