There is a general perception that, for older people, there is one topic that belongs wholly, solely and firmly in their memories: their sex life. But, as highlighted in The Sydney Morning Herald in 2013, it turns out that that is something else that the young see differently from the old. In the words of then 71-year-old Ita Buttrose, “I don’t know what young people imagine will happen to them when they get older. There is plenty of evidence that older Australians enjoy an active sex life as much as younger ones do, they are just more discerning”.
And in 2012, Rhonda Nay (an Australian professor of interdisciplinary aged care and baby boomers) was cited by The Age as criticising “this perception that the only people who are sexually active are the hourglass women and the six-pack men. But when you look around, very few of us actually fit that description, but we’re all having children and getting together.
“People of all ages, including older people, have sexual desires and are sexually active, most people masturbate and it’s time we all got used to these ideas and started to talk about them… it’s time for older people to ‘come out of the closet’ as sexual beings, just as victims of homophobic prejudice have fought to achieve visibility and equality.”
Looking ahead, she liked to imagine “it’s the year 2025 and the baby boomers have pioneered the revolution! Individual agency and resistance by older people to the sexual stereotyping have been successful. They realised that while they collaborated in the secrecy the stereotyping would continue and those ‘oldies’ who did dare to ‘come out’ were being stigmatised. A courageous few are always required to confront discrimination and start the change in attitudes and behaviours.”
Happily, according to a 2016 article in ABCNews, research by Dr Sue Malta – research fellow at the National Ageing Research Institute in Melbourne – showed that we may already be on the way there, with “sex and romance firmly on the minds of many older adults, who not only make up the fastest growing demographic using online dating sites, but are likely to end up in bed quicker than their younger cohorts.”
Nonetheless, a survey of over-60-year-olds that UK’s Channel 4 carried out in 2014 revealed that “despite many feeling liberated in themselves, many told us they didn’t feel like society was very approving of OAP sex. Many felt overlooked and that they became invisible after the menopause. Margaret, 67 from Oxfordshire told us ‘We still feel as though we have a right to be a sexual being as well as everything else. We’re not just grannies – I’m not, anyway!’
And reflecting on public perceptions, Myra, 67, in Essex, said that “‘Younger people nowadays must think: ‘Oh God, that’s gross, you know, granny’s at it’. But at it they are, and a third of those who are single told us they too would like to meet someone new. And just like younger people, most are turning to the internet to do so.”
Some time before that, 62-year-old author Hilary Boyd described her experience as the writer of a novel that had caused something of a sensation with its theme of an “October-to-October” romance with sex. As she reported in a 2012 Telegraph article, what she found was that sex was “a bit of a tricky subject when applied to the older woman, especially when you mention the word ‘grandmother’ or ‘pensioner’. Sort of an ‘eurgh’ moment. I’m not sure if this is based in reality or in women’s paranoia, but a lot of women of my age have low expectations about sex. Rightly or wrongly, they feel they have lost their mojo, become unsexy, invisible in the normal sexual exchanges that are part of everyday life. Is it a post-menopausal inevitability? Just plain old evolution clicking in, where the male of the species naturally gravitates to the still fertile female? Or do we feel it is somehow unseemly for an older woman to flirt, to want intimacy and a good bonk? It’s taken entirely for granted that men of the same age do….
“So here I was, writing about two 60-year-olds who fall in love and terrified about putting the reader off with too many ‘eurgh’ moments…. I had to paint in a bit of detail. But it’s still subtle. Reports that Thursdays in the Park is ‘steamy’ are wide of the mark and will only cause rank disappointment in the reader avid for 50 shades of granny porn.”
Since then, however, she had realised that she had “stumbled on a new readership: ‘Old people falling in love and having passionate relationships is not a story that’s had much exposure before, but I’m in no doubt that the market’s out there. That “grey market” of baby boomers hitting retirement….
“‘However old you are when you fall in love, it’s the same sort of craziness, you could be teenagers. I don’t think the passion you feel when you fall in love changes, nor do the dilemmas, even if your skin isn’t as supple as it once was.”
And all of that adds up to a very good reason to head off to the cinemas before it’s too late, to see Book Club, which is all about that, in a number of different ways. It’s a no-holds barred (literally!) movie that kicks off by having a group of long time women friends having their eyes opened by getting well and truly into their book-of-the-month, Fifty Shades of Grey (and, full disclosure here, I was curious enough to read that book. And was not bored).
Between them, there was one happily single woman (satisfied by casual sex), a widow, a divorcee, and a somewhat unsatisfied married business woman. And after becoming highly stimulated by what they were reading, between them they caught up with an old flame, stumbled into a new romance, found someone on line, and resorted to secretly feeding her husband Viagra.
And all of these characters were played by female and male actors with whom we’ve grown up and old, and who certainly portrayed the pluses of ageing very convincingly. And of sex. Having said that, while this is a comedy, it also touches on some realistic issues of old age, and not for laughs, but for ways of how to manage them while continuing to make the most of their time in the here and now.
And over-arching all of that, this movie is a delightful homage to long time friendships that can sustain us and nourish us at every stage of our lives.
So, a film that is well worth seeing on several fronts. And I have to say that when I saw it, I was surprised and rather enchanted to find that not only were there groups of women in the cinema, but also five older couples. And it certainly raised the question of whether those wives had decided to send their husbands a stimulating message?
Image: Book Club Facebook page.