“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).
Please make time to watch Gen Silent. The producers of this LGBT Aging documentary have made it available free for home streaming through New Years Day 2014.
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender older people who fought the first battles for equality now face so much fear of discrimination, bullying and abuse that many are hiding their lives to survive. Thousands are dying earlier than their straight counterparts because they are isolated and afraid to ask for help. But a growing number of people are fighting to keep
LGBT aging from meaning aging in silence.
“LGBT elders are going back in the closet.”
“In the first nursing home, we weren’t welcomed there as a gay couple.”
“They [caregivers] didn’t want to touch my body.”
“You just know when they don’t want you there. When you feel they don’t want you, you’re in a state of stress.”
“All I can do is sit in shadows, holding his tissue-paper hand, watching him breathe.”
These are comments from LGBT elders speaking out about the prejudice, hostility, and fear they face. No, not just when they were young, but now — in long-term care facilities, from caregivers, and from medical providers.
KrysAnne, a transgender woman, is living alone at the end of her life. “Most people who transition expect losses, but I didn’t expect to lose everyone,” she says. “For two years, I desperately tried to connect with my family. In some cases the letters weren’t even opened.”
One letter that was returned contained the message, “So glad someone finally took off your balls. What do you call yourself now. FREAK or IT??”
I am permitted to embed the trailer:
After you watch the film, I hope you’ll contribute your comments. (By posting here, you’re giving me permission to use excerpts from your comments in my new book, The Ultimate Guide to Sex after Fifty, without identifying you in any way.)
On what planet? Oh, right, the youth planet!
Miley, you could teach me plenty about fame, music, handling bad publicity, and, I suppose, twerking (if I thought that I needed it to feel sexy, which I don’t, and if my 69-year-old back would handle it, which it wouldn’t).
My day job is writing and speaking about senior sex, which you think doesn’t exist. Here are just a few facts about it:
- Sex can be better after 40, 50, and 60 than it ever was in our 20s. Then, we as young women were driven by hormones, anxious about our partners liking us or finding us sexy enough, and not terribly good at communicating what we needed to reach orgasm. Our partners, also hormone-driven, rushed to their own finish, often leaving us behind. Often, our fear of pregnancy outweighed our enjoyment.
- Now, we’re no longer propelled by our hormones — we’re having sex for other reasons: sexual pleasure and release, intimacy, joy, bonding, emotional well-being, and about a gazillion other good reasons. We know how to slow down and enjoy the sensations and the feelings.
- Is sex the same at 50 or 70 as it was when we were your age? No. We do have challenges. We also have the knowledge (or know where to find it, such as in my award-winning book, Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex) to overcome those challenges, and the communications skills to deal with them.
If you’d like to discuss this or battle me in a televised face-off (with Matt Lauer moderating), please have your people contact my people. I’d be delighted.
Please slow down and hear this:
Miley, I’ll be happy to send you a copy of Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty to further your education (and, I hope, delight you), if you send me your mailing address.
Brian Alexander, a top sex and science journalist, interviewed me yesterday about this. Please read his smart and sassy article here. “You’re going to laugh about what Miley Cyrus just said,” he said when he called me. Yes, I laughed, I commented, and it got me so revved up that I had to expand my views here a day later. Thank you, Brian.
Gay teens are killing themselves — two 13-year-olds due to bullying (see this terrific blog post by Sue Katz), and a college student whose tryst was videoed and put online. It sickens me that young people just discovering their sexuality feel so vulnerable that it’s easier to die than to live. Those of us who have lived long enough to know ourselves, accept ourselves (including our sexuality — whatever its stripes or colors), and find or create a community that lets us live fully and honestly have a responsibility to pass this along to young people.
That’s how Leroy Aarons felt at age 61, and that’s why I’m repeating the following post from January 2009. I don’t know if you can find the Lifetime movie now, but the book is as valuable now as the day it was written. Please read it, then pass it along to someone who needs it. A life may depend on it.
Here’s what I wrote in January 2009:
At age 61, prizewinning journalist Leroy Aarons discovered the true story of Bobby Griffith, a story so gripping that he devoted himself to retelling this story in novel form.
His book, Prayers for Bobby, has inspired a movie premiering on Lifetime TV, Saturday, January 24, 2009. It is the riveting true story of teenager Bobby Griffith, who back-flipped off a freeway overpass into the path of a tractor trailer at age 20 because he could not accept his homosexuality. Prayers for Bobby chronicles Bobby’s angst at growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian family and an anti-homosexual social and school environment. Aarons gently and lovingly pieces together Bobby’s life, fears, hopes and, finally, hopelessness, with the help of the five year diary he left, his legacy.
Prayers for Bobby (subtitle: A Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son) is also the story of Mary Griffith, Bobby’s mother, played by Sigourney Weaver in the Lifetime movie. A staunch, one-tracked fundamentalist, Mary was convinced that if she and Bobby just prayed enough, and if Bobby tried hard enough, God would cure him of his homosexuality. She prayed, she nagged Bobby relentlessly, she shamed him, she put Bible quotes on the mirror for him to see when he wakened. Too late, Mary finally realized with a thunderbolt of insight that the reason God had refused to cure Bobby was that there was nothing wrong with him.
What does this have to do with our age group? Plenty. Think about how we had to discover our own sexual and sensual natures despite the mores of our restrictive society in an era that condemned what seemed our most natural feelings and desires. Imagine being trapped in a world that didn’t understand you at a time you couldn’t even understand yourself. And reach out.
If you think you don’t know any closeted gay teenagers, it’s only because they are closeted. Maybe your “Bobby” is your grandson, or your granddaughter’s best friend, or the neighbor kid, or the quiet boy at church. We’ve learned a lot about life and about sexuality in the decades we’ve been living on this earth, and part of it is to accept ourselves and open ourselves to younger folks who might need a role model, a listening ear, and a warm “so good to see you today.”
I am proud that I knew Leroy Aarons until his death four years ago, called him my friend Roy, and still enjoy a close friendship with Joshua Boneh, his surviving spouse. Please check out the website that Joshua and Roy’s friends have constructed in Roy’s memory and to celebrate the movie that he always hoped would be made about his book.
(photo of Leroy Aarons and Joshua Boneh)