Before I tell you anything more about the topic of this blog post, please watch the video “Ageless” below:
- How did you react to the video during the first 35 seconds, when the message seemed to be simply that we can feel sexy in older bodies?
- How did you react when you learned that the women in the video were all living with urinary incontinence?
- What were your thoughts and feelings when the video ended?
I’ll tell you my response to all three questions: joyful. I love it when senior sexuality is celebrated, especially when the changes and challenges are normalized, accepted, and embraced. I love seeing senior women portrayed as sexy and confident.
Did that change when I realized that these women all had their “trickle of joy” or “sneeze wee” as part of their daily lives? Nope.
TENA, a global brand specializing in bladder incontinence solutions, came to my attention with this advertising campaign for women. Instead of using the video to promote their incontinence products directly, TENA wanted to increase awareness and acceptance of the sexuality of older women — even if they leak urine.
Our intention with this film is to acknowledge that many women do live with incontinence (as many as 1 in 3) and to give women the confidence to talk about it, to seek advice, and to know that they can continue living their lives as they want to. This campaign was inspired by speaking to real women and the stories they had to tell about their sexual experiences while having incontinence.
Not everyone feels so accepting. At the time of this writing, “Ageless/TENA” has 1,705,102 views, 132 “likes,” and 208 “dislikes.” Reactions in the 45 comments range from “Great ad! Love it!” to “nauseating” and “cringe worthy.” Some of the comment writers are quite upset and express themselves vehemently (and not always grammatically):
- Remove this ad! Its DISGUSTING!
- I thought the Always ad was one of the worst I had ever seen then I seen this Tena ad. It is not “completely normal” to “Whoosh” nor is there anything sexy about being incontinent so please stop trying to convince women that there is just to sell your products. It’s patronising condescending & a lie!
- I AM target market but this utterly alienates me. I will now go out of my way not to buy Tena.
Others are filled with positivity:
- Makes me want to be stunning and brave too.
- What’s to dislike about this? Women don’t stop being sexual entities just because they get older, and incontinence is no respecter of firm skin or a pretty face. I like this ❤️
- I know it’s just an advert to sell a product, but I find this refreshing, honest and beautiful. It saddens me the number of women that feel they are the wrong age, shape or size, I hope this and other adverts like it will change perceptions in time.
- This add is so beautiful and so intimate, that I feel privileged to have been “let in”. I love how these beautiful women of different ages, shapes, sizes and colours, with imperfect bodies, allow themselves to be vulnerable in public to encourage women out there to love themselves and live fully, even when they don’t match those unachievable beauty standards promoted by media. Their beauty radiates so warm and so strong that it makes me happy inside!
When I first viewed this video in March 2020, I commented,
I’d like to expand on that.
Most seniors and elders encounter sexual challenges. Aching joints, dry vagina, unreliable erections, decreased sensation, elusive orgasms, or a combination of these are common. You’ll find plenty of information about how to deal with these issues and remain sexy in my books, articles, and webinars. But one common concern that I’ve never addressed before is urinary incontinence.
Urinary incontinence can affect sexual enjoyment. You may avoid sex out of embarrassment, shame, self-image, anxiety. Feeling self-affirming, and sex-positive can make the difference between enjoying sex and avoiding sex. Let’s choose the former.
Worn-out stereotypes simply don’t describe how women over 50 are living their lives now. Thanks to thousands of women who shared their stories with us, it’s clear they are enjoying enriched, fulfilling experiences including sex. Incontinence doesn’t change this.
– From TENA
TENA’s campaign drew media attention, not always positive. DailyMail.com published an article titled “Women my age should not feel pressure to be sexy” by Sarah Vine, age 52, including these sentiments:
I don’t doubt the good intentions. But what if you’re not comfortable with your ageing body; what if you don’t look at yourself in the mirror and see a glorious goddess but a baggy old bag; what if you don’t find sex as pleasing as it once was?
Now your own lack of self-esteem is just something else to feel inadequate about, your lack of desire yet another example of how you’re letting the side down by being insufficiently thrilled at the thought of stuffing your crinkly cleavage into some underwiring or hauling your sagging derriere into a pair of fishnet tights.
…In this age of over-sharing, there are some conversations that should remain private. And this is one of them.
I guess Sarah Vine would consider me one of the over-sharers. I think that keeping conversations about sex and aging private — meaning not having these conversations at all! — reinforces our invisibility as sexual beings and stops us from finding solutions and work-arounds.
Society would rather not see us as vibrant sexual creatures, whether because of pee leaks or just because we’re old. We all experience sexual setbacks, that’s part of getting old(er). But making information easily available will help us overcome those problems, rather than letting the problems limit us. I vote for keeping the conversation open, loud, and frequent!
Your opinion? Please post your thoughtful comments. Respect each other, please, even if you disagree with someone’s point of view (including mine).
(For more information about urinary incontinence, see https://www.tena.co.uk/women/about-incontinence/.)
“Using my camera to pry deeper into woman’s psyches, I started to photograph timeless beauty, trying to capture what lies beneath the skin, woman’s hidden desires, and hidden conflicts. I am motivated to help women overcome their inhibitions and insecurities about their bodies. I believed if I could persuade enough women to let themselves be photographed naked, I could prove to them and prove to the whole world, ageless beauty does exist. Women over 40 and 50 and 60 and even women in their 80’s and 90’s radiate from within and are beautiful at every age.”
— Angelika Buettner
I AM is a book of nude photographs of 121 women between the ages of 40 and 100, and it’s so much more. Photographer Angelika Buettner celebrates these women — their beauty, wisdom, humor, and audacity. From the first page, this book shines with a celebration of women’s beauty as they age. No makeovers, no retouching: these are women celebrating their time of life — their authenticity, self-acceptance, and joy. I AM kicks at our outdated notion that we age out of beauty and desirability. Quite the contrary, as Angelika Buettner and her 121 brave women illustrate.
Each page of photographs glows with images of the splendor of aging. The women proudly bare their wrinkles and loose skin; their large breasts, small breasts, breasts that droop, or maybe no breasts at all. But the point is that they are at home in their bodies, proud and courageous in their skin. What a lesson we can learn from them!
Buettner explains her mission:
It’s been my passion, my intuition, my vision, my desire, my obsession, and my quest to reveal and showcase ageless beauty of women over 40 to make us all more visible. Using my camera as a therapeutic tool and instrument of social commentary, I have attempted to capture, something raw and refined, edgy and elegant, honest and pure. Naked portraits of strong women who dare to step out of their comfort zone…
We, meaning, the women over 40, who are ready to own their sensuality without being sexualized, stand naked and bare it all. There is no judgement involved in how our bodies look when we see into each other’s souls. We accept we are all goddesses.
We are so much more than our bodies.
We can celebrate our pasts, nourish our present selves and relish what our futures will hold.
In Buettner’s words, “Each picture has a story to be told.” Lucky for us, we get glimpses of those stories. Each woman speaks in prose or poetry about what “I AM” means to her personally. For example, this from Ruth, age 100:
There is great power in this book. If you’re looking for a special Valentine’s gift for a lover or yourself, I urge you to splurge on I AM, a gorgeous book that you’ll be proud to display on your coffee table for all to see. Buettner put 7 years into making this project a reality, and she spared no expense making the finished product stunning — a big book (12″ x 9″ hardcover, weighing 4 pounds) on thick, glossy paper. Purchase it here.
I turn 76 on November 10, 2019. I meant to write this on the eve of my birthday, but I’m rushing it by two weeks. Right now my home is under an evacuation alert because of the huge Kincade fire not far away and projected high winds tonight and tomorrow. The power will go out any minute. The bad air is exacerbating my asthma. Somehow it feels important to write this now.
This past year has been astonishing, both personally and professionally. Who could have guessed that age 75 would be filled with all of these?
- A new book, Sex After Grief, that helped bring closure to my own grief and let me help others who are grieving;
- Making a film (!) about sex and aging, a project that I never envisioned doing until the lovely jessica drake told me it was time to do it together;
- Speaking events in the US and abroad and much media attention;
- A stimulating and nurturing relationship that delights me every day.
Do you want to know what matters less than I predicted? Wrinkles. Puckered thighs. Loose skin. I hear people bemoan their aging bodies, say they have to cover up. Some tell me they’re giving up sex because they don’t understand why anyone would desire their old bodies. Yes, wrinkles startle us, showing up in places we didn’t expect — even cleavage in a push-up bra! — but hey, our bodies are the youngest they’ll ever be from now on! We can celebrate our bodies, or hate them, or ignore them. Which choice serves us best? We can’t go back in time, but we can go forward accepting ourselves and glorying in our life experience. The more we accept and celebrate ourselves at our age now, the sexier we will feel.
My view: let’s celebrate the ability of our bodies to move us, to stimulate us, to feel sexual pleasure. And why should we see ourselves as less beautiful or less desirable because we wear our experience on our skin? Isn’t that a badge of living? I’ve been indulging myself with lingerie photo shoots every few years, and I have one scheduled with Perry Gallagher on my 80th birthday. The point is not to show off my body — it’s to accept it and see it with new eyes, and chronicle my aging process.
I’m amazed, actually, at how well my body functions, despite its many health challenges. (You don’t need to know specifics,
other than I need 5 medications a day to keep them at bay.) I realized a long time ago that I can’t change what I inherited (family history of early heart disease; a mother who took up smoking during her pregnancy, resulting in my low birth weight and breathing problems since infancy) and what happened to me (auto accident body destruction).
But I can change what I do to keep my health day by day, hour by hour. I’m a fanatic about exercise, tracking my steps and minutes, challenging myself with 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day of fitness activity: teaching line dancing, brisk walking, Pilates. I lead a very busy life, but I always make time for exercise because it gives back more than it takes — my mental acuity and physical energy are charged up by movement, the more the better. I feel lighter in my body when I exercise. I embrace my physicality. That translate to more joy, better sex, and myriad unseen health benefits. Fitness after 50, 60, 70, or 80 – it’s your choice. Start today, don’t put it off any longer.
I wrote the following on Facebook, and I’ll expand on it now:
I often reflect on this: every path taken or not taken, every relationship that starts and/or ends, every life decision — all of these open doors (and windows) to what happens next.
I realize with the perspective of almost 76 years that our paths aren’t linear. They wind around, sometimes end up where we started, but with new knowledge. Or they lead us to a new place entirely. Sometimes the sign posts along the way are helpful, other times they’re in a language we don’t know, so we make our best guess.
I think the only mistake we can make is to be afraid of taking a path because we don’t know what’s at the end of it. The truth is, we don’t know where it will take us even if we think we do.
My advice (if you want advice):
- Move as much as possible — your health depends on it.
- Adopt the “if not now, when?” mindset and live your bucket list now.
- If your relationship situation needs changing, change it.
- Put plans in place now that you might need later: financial, healthcare, will, advance directive.
- Take care of things now that you don’t want your loved ones to have to figure out when you’re unable.
- Spend time with friends — we don’t know how long they’ll be with us.
- Tell the people you love that you love them.
- Learn from the past, celebrate the present, be unafraid of the future.
As I wrote this list, I cringed at a few items. I have a list of important and time-consuming tasks I keep putting off because other things seem more urgent and easier to complete. I’ll check in again later once I’ve followed my own advice on those things!
Did anything on my “advice” list resonate with you particularly? If you were giving advice, what would you add to my list? Please comment and include your age.
Aging brings wisdom and experience — and body image insecurity. Most of us, even if we glory in our sexuality, have misgivings about our ever-expanding wrinkles and sags. Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes — whether a lover or a photographer — to show us that our outer beauty matches our inner beauty.
At age 65, then again at age 68, I stripped to lingerie for photo shoots. I learned a lot about myself from these experiences and from viewing and sharing the results. People applauded, praised me for my courage, high-fived me for encouraging others to have their own lingerie shoots.
My blog posts about these events quickly drew more viewers than any of my other posts, and they continue to place in the top four all time most popular posts. Many women shared their own experiences and photos, some privately. some publicly. I was happy that my experience had helped to empower others.
I didn’t know I would do it again. But in September 2016, I slipped (wrestled?) my 72-year-old body into lovely lingerie provided by Lovehoney.com and smiled at the renowned Los Angeles photographer, Perry Gallagher, who specializes in Boudoir, Fine Art Nude, Fashion, and Wedding photography.
How did this happen? Krista from Lovehoney knew Perry’s work and mine. When she learned that I would be in LA for speaking events in September, she offered both the lingerie and the photo shoot.
Krista explained her involvement in the project this way:
Joan is a lovely timeless spirit and I was overjoyed to work with her on a photo shoot and check out some of Lovehoney’s newest lingerie styles. I connected her with one of my favorite photographers, Perry Gallagher, to complete the vision.
Joan is not only adorable, she is also breaking down stereotypes that women of a certain age are not considered sexy or sexual. I want people to see that lingerie isn’t just for the young and pert. Lingerie, and sex toys, can enhance your sex life and increase your self-confidence no matter your age, size, shape, or ability.
What was it like to work with Perry? A ton of fun. Perry is a true professional. He knew how to put me at ease with his humor and his appreciation of the female body whatever its shape, size, or age. He give me instructions — where to turn, where to look, how to arrange various body parts — including tucking myself back into my bra when breast spillage occurred. The whole time, he clicked away.
I felt completely comfortable with Perry — except when I worried about him climbing on a ladder to shoot me from above. (I have a fear of heights — he does not.) It was exciting to be at the center of his rapt attention, I admit that. Much of that excitement was the feeling, “I’m doing this. My 72-year-old body is fine with being photographed in skimpy bits of cloth.” It was a truly empowering experience that I’ll take with me anytime I fret about a new wrinkle or thigh puff.
Thank you, LoveHoney.com, for sending me the luscious undies and sponsoring this photo shoot. These are the products I’m modeling. Follow the links if you’d like to wear these yourself!
- Lovehoney Spoil Me Satin Babydoll Set Plum
- Lovehoney Flaunt Me Floral Lace Robe
- Lovehoney Flirty Underwired Plunge Bra Black
- Lovehoney Tempt Me Dot Mesh Bra
- Lovehoney Flirty Black Lace and Mesh Panties
[8/3/21 update: Some of the items I wore in 2016 are no longer available. See LoveHoney’s latest lovely lingerie instead.]
Thank you, Perry Gallagher, for these amazing photos and for making the whole experience fun and full of laughter. View Perry’s video here:
I would encourage other women of all ages to explore the opportunity to have just this type of experience for yourself: to be photographed and to see the inner beauty that is you, right now, no matter what age you are. Now is a good time.