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/.)
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.
The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina—separating the Myth from the Medicine by gynecologist Jennifer Gunter is a lively, educational guide separating information from misinformation, presented in a clear, smart, sassy style.
“There’s a lot of money in vaginal shame,” writes Jen Gunter. She is known as the clever and outspoken OB/GYN on Twitter (@DrJenGunter—follow her!) who challenges celebrities and companies trying to sell us unneeded (and sometimes harmful) solutions for invented problems. She rips their claims and substitutes solid facts. All of this book is educational, revealing, and empowering. Examples:
- “[T]he other problem with doctors not asking about sex is women who have medical conditions that interfere with their sex life, typically conditions that cause pain with sex, end up minimized. Many women suffer for years not realizing they have a medical problem that has a diagnosis and treatment.”
- “It is hard to overestimate the damage done by Sigmund Freud in popularizing the myth of the vaginal orgasm. Only one third of women are capable of achieving orgasm with penile penetration alone…so the idea that everyone should be having orgasms this way results in two thirds of women believing there is something wrong with their sexual wiring when really they are perfect. Not orgasming with unassisted penile penetration is not a flaw, it’s a feature.”
- “MRI studies looking at anatomy during heterosexual sex reveal that the clitoris can be compressed by the penis, which is why some women can orgasm with penile penetration.”
- “Vulvar cleansing has never been studied. That is interesting, considering the array of products that claim to be gynecologist tested or approved…Some of these washes make claims they can reduce bacterial vaginosis (BV). They can’t. An external wash cannot possibly impact the inside of the vagina, and washing internally with one of these products (some women do that—please don’t) could definitely increase your risk of BV by killing good bacteria or irritating the vaginal mucosa.”
Parts of The Vagina Bible are so hilarious that you’ll want—as I did—to read them aloud to a companion:
- “Almost every woman has been told at least once…to wear white cotton underwear as a medical recommendation to prevent yeast infections and other vaginal mayhem. This makes it sound as if vaginas and vulvas are accidents waiting to happen. The vulva can handle urine, feces, and blood, and vaginas can handle blood, ejaculate, and a baby, so this idea that a black lace thong is the harbinger to a vaginal or vulvar apocalypse is absurd.”
- “I have read about plastic surgeons who do labiaplasty [surgical reduction of the labia minora] so women can look ‘sleeker in so-called athleisure wear.’ I know some people call this look ‘camel toe,’ but I prefer ‘labial cleavage,’ and the answer is not surgery—it is better-fitting athletic wear.”
- “I’ve stared at more male butt cracks (gluteal clefts) than I care to remember…What I never hear is that men should seek out plastic surgeons to get their gluteal clefts sewn shut. I also can’t imagine a similar industry for men that profits from surgically trimming penises so they look better in tight jeans.”
The second half of this book is a serious, comprehensive, scientific resource about infections, conditions, symptoms, and treatments. Dr. Gunter has been treating vulvar and vaginal diseases for nearly 30 years. If you have discomfort, pain, or other symptoms that might be a medical issue, read the relevant chapters of this book, then, armed with this information, take it to your doctor.
This guidebook to the care and functioning of the vulva and vagina by cheeky gynecologist Jen Gunter should be on your bookshelf. Thank you, Dr. Gunter, for this much-needed resource: The Vagina Bible.
If you’ve read my book, Naked at Our Age, or the advice given on this blog, I hope you’ve noticed the valuable information contributed by Ellen Barnard and Myrtle Wilhite, MD, co-owners of A Woman’s Touch. They are brilliant sex educators and compassionate human beings who devote themselves to women’s sexual health and pleasure, with a special emphasis on helping women with sexual pain and limitations.
I wanted to let you know how much I benefited from your workshop. Using some things that were discussed, the Vaginal Renewal Program you recommended, your books that I purchased (I went straight to chapter 11 — “When Sex Hurts” — in Naked at our Age), and some steamy stories from Ageless Erotica, I was able to have penetrative intercourse for the first time in 4-1/2 months. It can only get better from here and hubs is very happy.
I’m including this testimonial here not only because she specifically mentioned AWT’s Vaginal Renewal Program, but also because much of what I know about vaginal pain and self-help solutions I learned from Ellen and Myrtle. I consult and quote them often, and you’ve benefited from their expertise several times on this blog as well as throughout the pages of Naked at Our Age.
Ellen and Myrtle have been working for years on developing the best sexual health internal massage wand for women who have pain and/or limitations with penetration and with medical internal exams due to aging, cancer, or other issues. They (and we) were dissatisfied by the wands — aka vaginal dilators — that were available to women with sexual pain, either from doctors or online.
After years of research, they’ve designed and tested the FeMani Wellness Sexual Health Massage Wand, which has been perfected to their high standards. FeMani Wellness Sexual Health Massage Wand is ready for manufacturing — but their funds have run out.
That’s why I’m appealing to you. These amazing educators have been (and continue to be) generous with their expertise, helping anyone who needs them. Can you be generous to them now? You’ll be helping yourself and many other women who will be able to have comfortable, pleasurable sex because of these tools.
If you’ve been helped by the expertise of Ellen and Myrtle, either through my books or elsewhere, or you just want to help other women, can you assist with a donation of any size?* Go here to learn more.
* You know I don’t use this blog for fund-raising appeals. You may not know that I turn down about one worthy project a week, because I know you come here for senior sex news and views, not to be asked for money. But this project and these people are so special in our world that I had to make an exception.