The “Ick Factor”: 2006 vs 2023 Sexuality and Ageism
“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.”
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.
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).
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
“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.
“ignoranuses” (dumb asses) — that’s brilliant, Mac!