“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).
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 of age prejudice 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:
- their hemorrhoids
- 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!