In January 2007, in the early years of this blog, I wrote a post titled, “Don’t call me a ‘little old lady'”!” Thirteen years later, my feelings have completely changed. Here’s what I wrote then:
I’m always surprised by how acceptable it is in our society to call older people disparaging names.
I was reading a newspaper article today about Barack Obama’s popularity in Illinois, which quoted Emil Jones Jr, president of the Illinois Senate, as saying, “Sitting across the table from me was a little old lady, said she was 86 years old,” who hoped she’d live long enough to vote for Obama for President.
I was startled by reading this mature woman described as “a little old lady,” and I didn’t like it. OK, I’m little (4′ 10″), 63 years old, and female — but “little old lady” belittles my maturity and experience and sounds like it would be uttered while patting me on the head. Didn’t the 86-year-old elder deserve a more dignified description? If she had been male, would she have been described by Mr. Jones as “an old geezer”?
…I know there’s no consensus about what to call older people without offending us! I like the term “senior,” although I know some dislike it. I like “elder” because it connotes wisdom and sounds respectful, even reverent — but I don’t feel old enough to deserve being called an elder. “Mature” is a nice adjective, though “mature adult” sounds stilted.
Here’s how I feel now: If a little old lady can make her living writing and speaking about senior sex — which I do — and keep her body strong by teaching line dancing, practicing Pilates, and walking miles a day — all of which I do — then go ahead and call me a “little old lady.”
I feel I can own, even enjoy, being called “little old lady” at this time of my life. I’m little (4’10”) and old (76), and my life is thrilling, so what’s the problem? I’ve also grown into the term “elder” (though not “elderly,” please).
When Gloria Steinem turned 40 and a reporter told her she didn’t look 40, she said, “This is what 40 looks like!” We continue to redefine what aging looks like, feels like, and acts like. Join me!
Q to you: How do you feel about being called “senior,” “old,” and so on? I invite you to comment. You’ll see 18 comments from the first post — let’s add to those. I know we won’t all agree, so please disagree politely.
I’m collecting examples for an upcoming talk. Comment here or email me with the subject header “Invisible.” I won’t use your name if I quote you. Please include your age.
Here are some examples from readers of my Naked at Our Age Facebook page (which I hope you’ll “like” if you haven’t already) to get you thinking:
? I’m 64. A few years ago, I saw a male physician who began almost every sentence to me with “A woman of your age….” as if I was geriatric in every sense of the word and he needed to explain how I no longer had the physical abilities of a “young and healthy” woman. He was lecturing me on how I needed to change my expectations for my body and make allowances for those changes. The irony was his age, at least 50 himself.
? I was using the free wi-fi at the Senior Center. Anything that has “sex” in it is blocked.
? I’m 53, and I often feel invisible in social groups. I was in a mixed-age group once online where younger men were telling sex jokes. An older woman joined in, not flirting with them, just telling her own stories. When she mentioned being in her early sixties they flipped out, complained about feeling sick, and so forth. Honestly a lot of men my own age aren’t much better. Sometimes I look in the mirror to see if I’ve grown a second head with the way that they act. I just don’t feel comfortable flirting and being sexual the way I used to because of the negativity I keep seeing towards women over 50.
? Try being a gentleman and over 70. If I compliment (all PC and non sexist) a woman under 50, I get the “dirty old man” look! Can’t a compliment just be that? My wife often will compliment another gal on her fashion, and it’s accepted with a smile. I wouldn’t dare try that!
? I want to be invisible, in fact miles away, when someone at a family gathering starts talking about:
* his Viagra use
* how he pees in the middle of the night
* how, when he was a kid, he used a piece of liver to jack off
* asking pretty young women to sit close to him
All of these fall under too much information (TMI). I don’t need word pictures of things I don’t want to see.
Do you think that senior sex is now accepted, even celebrated, compared to five or ten years ago? I hope you’ll comment here.
Sometimes I really feel we’re changing society’s view of aging and sexuality — other times, I wonder if I’m deluded because I surround myself with open-minded, sex-positive people who applaud my ideas and communicate similar messages to their followers.
Sometimes I get so caught up in the momentum of the world I want to live in that I think we’ve already achieved it — but have we?
Are we just a small (but loud!) part of a society that still sees sexually exuberant seniors as laughable? Or are things really changing?
When my first senior sex book, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty came out in 2006, it caused quite a stir in the media because it celebrated the joys of senior sex and included details of what was hot about sex after 60. (My personal favorite moment in that book is the nail-filing section — I love the smiles I see from women when I read that part aloud during a speech!)
Then I wrote Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex (2011) to address the challenges that prevent sex at our age from being as spicy and fulfilling as it can be. This book has won two major awards and is used and recommended by therapists and sex educators. I’m proud and grateful to all the people who contributed to that book.
Now I’m interviewed a lot and invited to speak at conferences and other gatherings. It really feels like I’m living in a world that recognizes that our sexuality is lifelong and ageless, and no matter what else is happening in our lives — medically, emotionally, partnered or not — we are capable of this pleasure.
I hope you’ll post a comment so that this topic can become a discussion rather than one woman’s monologue –or her wishful thinking!
Recently, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by TV documentary film makers Lauren Buongiovanni Hunt, Linda Duvoisin, and their crew about my older-age sexuality views, experiences, and attitudes.
It was a fabulous experience! The film project, titled “69 and Up! Sex and Intimacy in the Golden Years,” is intended to reveal the sexual wants and desires of people age 69 and over, presenting us positively and joyfully.
Would you like to be involved? Here is the call for volunteer participants from Lauren, both written and via video, explaining what she and Linda are looking for. Again, the experience was totally positive for me — respectful, fun, absolutely non-sleazy. I hope you’ll want to participate, too.
From Lauren Buongiovanni Hunt:
I’m making a documentary film that explores sexuality, intimacy and older adulthood. I have a belief that my desires and drive for intimacy and sex will remain present throughout my lifetime While they may change (and/or even grow!), they will remain present and intact as I grow older. It seems to me that as the generation of the ‘sexual revolution’ enters older adulthood our culture needs to undergo an attitudinal revolution about how we view older people and their sexuality. After all, more and more of us will grow to live in older adulthood. Yet, one does not need to look very far to see how our society values youth and eschews the possibilities of the beauty of sensuality in older adults.
The film, 69 and Up! Sex and Intimacy in the Golden Years, will interview sex experts, doctors, sociological professionals as well as older adults who are beautiful examples of what the possibilities can be. The purpose of the film is to portray that the science and the practice demonstrates that sexuality and intimacy in the latter part of life is alive and well.
I am seeking volunteers who are willing to share their story – straight, gay, married, dating, widowed, etc. – as long as you are willing to be open for the purpose of sharing your experiences for the purpose of illuminating the challenges, successes and joys of sex and intimacy in older adulthood. I am seeking both men and women.
Email me at Lauren@gingersnappublishing.com for more information and/or questions about volunteering.