Posts Tagged ‘aging stereotypes’
“Elderspeak” Hurts Our Health
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 Over time, people exposed constantly to this message actually become more dependent and withdrawn, less self-reliant or competent.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”?
Lovemaking Tips for Seniors: Funny or Insulting?
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.
Talking to teens about senior sexuality
I was recently interviewed by Karen Rayne, Ph.D., a sex educator for teenagers and their parents who has a blog about adolescent sexuality . I’d like to repeat that interview here and get your comments:
Karen Rayne: Why do you think senior sexuality is important?
Joan Price: It’s important because we’ve been seen by society and by the media (and sometimes by ourselves!) as asexual, unsexy, and altogether icky if we are sexually active and enthusiastic about it. We need to change that, not just for those of us who are already in our golden years, but for all ages. I offer this plea to young people: Help us change our society’s view of older people as either sexless or ludicrous and disgusting for wanting sex. Realize that our bodies change, but we’re still the same lusty and loving people that we were when we were your age.
Karen Rayne: What do you see as the life-long path that can lead to healthy senior sexuality?
Joan Price: Acceptance of our own sexuality and open-mindedness about any consensual sex taking place between people of age to give consent — and by that I mean emotional age, not legal age of consent necessarily. I know that at age 17, I was fully ready to engage in sex with my 19-year-old boyfriend. We had been dating for two years, and only waited that long because we were scared to death that either my parents would find out or I’d get pregnant. (The first happened; the second didn’t.) I fear for girls who become sexually active before they’re emotionally ready, though — to please a boyfriend, or because “everyone’s doing it.” I encourage teens to talk to older, trusted adults before becoming sexually active, and definitely to use barrier protection (condoms) every time.
Karen Rayne: How can parents and teachers best help children and teenagers start down that road?
Joan Price: I was a high school English teacher for 22 years before I switched to a writing career, and I still have a great love for and enjoyment of teenagers. When I was teaching, many students talked to me or wrote in their journals about their relationships. Sometimes they confided intimate details that they didn’t feel they could tell their parents. I encourage teachers to make themselves accessible and safe, letting their students know they’re available, opening up topics in class that let the teenagers know that the teachers understand and have useful perspectives to share. I encourage parents to do the same thing, but realize — and please accept this — that as open-minded, accessible, and loving as they are, their teenaged sons and daughters might feel more comfortable talking to a different adult. (I’d love to hear from teenagers about how they feel about this topic.)
Also, see your body as a lifelong source of sexual pleasure, and see the beauty in older people. I know it’s difficult, when our society and especially the media stresses that beauty and sexuality are the domain of the young. For your own sake, please reject this notion. As you age, welcome the new image of sexuality that you’ll see in yourself and in your peers.
I also invited Karen’s readers to visit this blog:
As young people (and I’m talking to both teens and parents!), you may resist reading about people who are 60 or 70 or older talking so openly about their sexual attitudes and experiences, but I think it’s very important that we talk and you hear us, just as you want us to hear you.
I look forward to reading the comments of the teens and their parents who visit us here.
Beyond Sags and Bags: MSN.com
Thanks to Jeremy Egner for his enlightening article, “The New Definition of ‘Sexy'” on the men’s lifestyle channel at MSN.com.
Egner cites a recent poll of more than 10,600 American adults that found that “sexy is more an attitude than it is a perfect physique.” More than 76 percent said a woman can be sexy if she was a size 14 or larger (well, sure!) and that “women (84 percent) are much more likely than men (63 percent) to say sexiness derives from an intangible quality … rather than looks.
Egner interviewed me about how non-physical qualities become even more sexy as we age. On page 2, he writes,
But as we get older and gain status, emotional security and hard-won wisdom, we’re looking less for hotties and babymakers than for compatible mates that will help create durable and rewarding relationships, says Joan Price, author, blogger and self-described “advocate of ageless sexuality.”
Such considerations feed our personal ideas about what is sexy. Other factors include our awareness of our own changing bodies.
“We have wrinkles, sags and bags. If having perfect faces and unlined bodies was a prerequisite for sexiness, we’d be out of the story already,” says Joan Price, 63, who wrote about evolving sexuality in her book, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty. “We yearn for the same touch and intimacy but we have to first internalize the changed idea of what sexy is. We have to see ourselves as sexy.”
Price recalls asking her 70-year-old husband Robert, whom she married last May, to explain exactly how he could consider her to be as beautiful as he claimed when she could plainly see all her lines and physical imperfections whenever she looked into a mirror. (So don’t expect those sorts of questions to go away anytime soon, guys.)
“He told me, ‘If I am to know myself and accept my own aging process, how could I want anything less from you?'” Price says. “I tell that story sometimes when I’m asked to speak somewhere and women always ask, ‘Does Robert have a brother?'”
“When two people who really accept themselves come together, that’s where good sex happens,” she adds. “The most powerful sex organ is the brain.”
With this article, though, is a slide slow of the so-called “Sexiest Women Over 35,” which I found very disappointing. Why? The oldest “woman over 35” is Elle Macpherson, who is just 44 (a teenybopper in our world). Why isn’t Sophia Loren (73) on that list? Julie Christie (66)? Lena Horne (88)? Or any of the other women listed on my post, How Old Are They Now?
Or does “over 35” have a nine year cut-off date?
This list is one more reminder of how much work is left to do in tearing down the stereotype of sexiness as synonymous with youth, and substituting real live role models of sexiness twice as old as the youngsters MSN.com chose as the “sexiest women over 35”!