I was interviewed recently by Sarah Hampson about Boomer sex and dating for Canada’s Globe and Mail. The article, “Boomers, it’s a brave new sexual world,” appeared 1/15/09 and has attracted many reader comments, mostly people objecting to the tone or examples in the article, and several exhibiting the “ick factor,” as I call it — such as these examples:
- I don’t really want to hear about people my parents age having sex.
- Geriatric sex is just nasty. Back in the closet Woodstock.
- Please go have your “old-person” sex somewhere else, but for everyone’s sake do it quietly.
- I am now canceling my subscription to the Globe and Mail.
This woman expert is clearly out to lunch on this one … discounts the physical part of attraction altogether, which for man is probably at least 50/50 with personality. The shape of a woman’s breasts are definitely part of the attraction package.
Actually, I’m not discounting the physical part of attraction at all. What I am discounting is the notion that only a youthful appearance can be attractive. We ARE attractive and sexy even if our breasts are susceptible to gravity over time. My wonderful husband always exclaimed that he was stunned by the beauty of my far-from-perky breasts. Let’s just get over the youth orientation of what our society and the media label beautiful and/or sexy….
Then I had to laugh at the follow-up comment from another reader:
Your husband is also biased. Do you honestly think a husband is going to tell his wife he prefers the firm, perky breasts of a 20 y/o. No…he just dreams about them.
How do you feel when a stranger, sales clerk, or health professional calls you “dear” or “sweetie”? In a widely reprinted New York Times article titled “In ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Dear,’ a Hurt for the Elderly” (October 6, 2008), writer John Leland reveals that elderspeak, “the sweetly belittling form of address” that we’ve all experienced, can have health consequences. In addition, if we accept and internalize that aging means we’re forgetful or feeble, we don’t live as long — just by believing the negative image of aging.
Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University studies the health effects of belittling messages on elderly people. “Those who have more negative images of aging have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival,” she says.
According to the New York Times article,
In a long-term survey of 660 people over age 50 in a small Ohio town, published in 2002, Dr. Levy and her fellow researchers found that those who had positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer, a bigger increase than that associated with exercising or not smoking. The findings held up even when the researchers controlled for differences in the participants’ health conditions.
Health care workers are often the worst offenders of “elderspeak,” believing that they are using affectionate terms rather than belittling ones. Yet elderspeak sends a message that we are incompetent, childlike, and need to be taken care of. Over time, people exposed constantly to this message actually become more dependent and withdrawn, less self-reliant or competent.
Personally, I wouldn’t have guessed this. I’m about to turn 65 (tomorrow!) and I rather like terms of endearment, even from strangers. Robert used to love to go to a particular restaurant because the waitress called him “honey.” I take these endearments as they’re meant, as warm and friendly overtures, without belittling undertones that I’m incompetent or feeble. But that may be because I know I am strong mentally (writing books) and physically (dancing, Pilates, lifting weights). If I had doubts about my abilities, perhaps elderspeak would reinforce them. Certainly having positive images of aging is essential for moving through this part of our life journey with joy and energy — but does a stranger or health professional calling us “sweetie” really call that into question? Not for me — but I’d love to hear from you about this.If it does bother you, do you speak up? Do you say, “My name is….” or respond, “Thank you, darling”?
A reader sent these Lovemaking Tips for Seniors to me — I don’t know where they came from, though if you know, tell me — I believe in crediting the author always. Please read them and my question to you at the end:
Lovemaking tips for seniors1. Wear your glasses. Make sure your partner is actually in the bed.
2. Set timer for 3 minutes, in case you doze off in the middle.3. Set the mood with lighting. (Turn them ALL OFF!)4. Make sure you put 911 on your speed dial before you begin.5. Write partner’s name on your hand in case you can’t remember.6. Keep the polygrip close by so your teeth don’t end up under the bed.7. Have Tylenol ready in case you actually complete the act.8. Make all the noise you want. The neighbors are deaf too.9. If it works, call everyone you know with the good news.10. Don’t even think about trying it twice.(This was sent [JP’s note: in the original e-mail] in large type so you can read it.)
Now tell me — are these tips funny? Are they insulting — one more example of how our society stereotypes and ridicules seniors who are enthusiastic about sex? You tell me. In my view they’re clever, yes. But knowing how devastating it is to elders who lose their sexual ability without losing their emotional need for sex and intimacy, the tone is cruel. Or am I just a fuddy-duddy with no sense of humor about sex and aging? Educate me, readers. And please put your age on your comment so I see if the reactions are different for older readers.
I became, in turn, embarrassed and then angry. Was she chosen for the show because she, in fact, could not dance? Were we supposed to — yet again! — laugh at an old person trying to do something that she was too old, too stiff, too brittle to do well? Was she chosen as a caricature?
Then in weeks 3 and 4, something seemed to change. Cloris seemed to make a decision to be the train rather than the track. She took charge, playing to the hilt her sensuality, flaunting her overflowing cleavage, putting her leg up on the judges’ table for the world to ogle and for Bruno to kiss. She got a standing ovation for her tango, not because it could compete with a young, svelte, limber, hormone-driven couple’s tango, but because she conveyed self-confidence, sex appeal, and being totally at home in her 82-year-old body. She didn’t just talk back to the judges (probably saltier than we were permitted to hear), but she didn’t care what they said. She was doing her best, and her best meant entertaining the public on her terms, not theirs.
I have a true respect for the grace, aesthetics and atheticism of dance, none of which Cloris displays, but I give her the “I’m in this sensual body, I love it, and if you don’t get me, you can go bleep yourself” award for attitude!
Were you troubled by her appearance on the show at first, when it looked like we were supposed to laugh at her, rather than with her? What do you think now?