Thursday 10 April 2014

How old is too old for sex?

Fifty is the new forty. Seventy is the new sixty. What was considered normal and what is now considered normal? Heck, just what is normal anyway?

On March 24, 2014, Nerve Magazine published "These 10 Grandmas Are Serving Major Sex Appeal" with the tag line "Proving 70-something is sexy."

Hoping to crush the stereotypical idea that sex appeal lies with youth, these 10 aging models took on classic pin-up poses for Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf's series, 'Mature.' Wearing skimpy lingerie, the septuagenarians truly embraced their age and owned their bodies' matured sexuality by displaying the features they're most fond of after all these years.

While grandma might not be exactly what you're typically into, you have to admit these ladies are pushing the limits of our closed-minded expectations of sexy. Proving that once and for all, sex has no expiration.

All images © Studio Erwin Olaf

What did the public think about these photos? Some were for; some were against. The issue of sexuality and ageing raised questions about whether society in general sees older people as still being sexual creatures. Being photographed in such a seductive manner brought up a debate about whether this is liberating and empowering or whether this furthers the negative aspects of sexuality in our society as with the objectification of women.

The following blogger generally looked at these images as personal statements of self-confidence and continued sexuality: I may be old but I'm not dead. The commentators seemed to follow this interpretation of the pictures.

Walker J. Thornton - Apr 1/2014
Aging and Sexuality-These Grannies Are Strutting Their Stuff
As I see it, the photo shoot was as much about looking at society’s concept of sexuality as it was expressing the idea that we can continue to feel and be sexual beings despite our age. The comments I received ranged from enthusiastic support to disdain that we still connect ‘sexy’ with semi-naked bodies. Some of us focused on the ability to see and experience aging in all [its] glory-wrinkles, sags and all. Others pointed out that sexy isn’t about the body–it’s about who we are, our relationship to ourself and our partners.

The following blogger looked at these images in a negative light. Sexuality is the connection between two people and an attempt to photograph sexuality objectifies the women. There (supposedly) is a time and a place and this wasn't it. The commentators followed this train of thought.

Carol Cassara - Apr 4/2014
“Just because you can…”
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Regardless of age and shape. Said an 80-something woman I know: “These women should be empowered by putting their brains on display. That’s real empowerment. Not the body.” I agree. Objections to these kind[s] of photos are not about disempowerment or discrimination. They’re about values. Also about good taste.

Old = asexual
Is a picture of an older person, an old person, in what we would consider to be a sexy pose questionable or bad taste? Do we collectively shy away from age to focus on youth? Does our society generally look upon older people as being devoid of sexuality?

As a 61-year-old man, I can categorically state that sex doesn't disappear. I may not be as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was. But joking aside, there are a number of writers discussing the subject of sex in our later years. While the traditional view of grandparents treats them as asexual, this isn't an accurate portrayal of human sexuality. Betty Dodson in her 80s is going strong promoting sexuality for all. Joan Price in her late 60s advocates for "older sex". Ken Solin (67?) writes about fulfilling relationships after 50. Pamela Madsen (50?) coaches women (and couples) about sexuality. Walker Thornton (59?) and Ms. Quote (A Good Woman's Dirty Mind 50?) write about all things sexual.

Apparently age isn't necessarily the factor in determining sex or no sex, good sex or bad sex. In my posting "Sex: What are the neighbours doing?" (Aug 5/2013), I speak about various levels of sexual activity from a mid-60s couple having sex three times a week to a couple in their mid-50s who hasn't had sex in three years.

Sexy picture = objectification
There is no doubt that sexism still exists in our society. While the cigarette Virginia Slims had the tag line "You've come a long way, baby", we collectively have a long way to go. However, are we better off today than, let's say, fifty years ago? When we see a headline about sexism, are we seeing a general trend or are we seeing a minority? How statistically significant is the headline or is it merely an anecdote? ("The plural of anecdote is not data." -Dr. Marty Klein) Which then leads me to ask: Does a picture unto itself objectify a person or is objectification in the eyes of the beholder?

As a 61-year-old man, I can look at the above pictures and appreciate the beauty, the sexuality, and the physical charm of the subjects while knowing full well that it remains for me to discover the intelligence, the personality, and the life history of accomplishments of the subjects in order to truly know the individuals in question. I may never have the opportunity to meet these women but I can still say that they are attractive women. Am I objectifying them? I don't think so but I am looking at this entire issue with a degree of maturity and the sum of my life experiences. The next guy could very well be a male chauvinist pig.

Sexy picture = empowerment
Is there a hidden power to our sexuality? I have heard over and over again that being sexual and having sex can change our self-perception. In my posting "Desirability: Don't we all just want to be wanted?" (Sep 30/2013) I talk about three women who express what seems to be a fundamental need to be desired. I don't just mean to be loved or admired or appreciated, but to be sexually desired. Is there something primordial in the human psyche that craves to be physically connected? And does that physical connection change how we view ourselves? One of the women colourfully referred to this as her "fuckability".

"Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful."
-Sophia Loren US (Italian-born) movie actress (1934 – )

Self-confidence is sexy. Many have said this and I can personally attest to the statement's accuracy. Does empowerment lead to self-confidence? Does one's own sexuality or perception of one's own sexuality lead to empowerment and hence to self-confidence?

"It's not what you've got, it's how you use it."
-Cynthia Heimel, Sex Tips for Girls (1983)

You ain't dead yet
The following survey of the (female) landscape of sexuality gave an interesting overview of what may or may not be going on behind the closed doors of the world's bedrooms.

The Guardian - Mar 25/2014
Libidos, vibrators and men, oh my! This is what your ageing sex drive looks like by Ruth Spencer
The ups and downs of female sex drives are rarely discussed, nevermind celebrated by powerful figures. So when Gloria Steinem, on the eve of her 80th birthday, boldly declared that she felt a dwindling libido to be a "terrific advantage", we decided to take the conversation a step further. In just 24 hours, nearly 300 women of all ages responded to our call. Many echoed Steinem's sentiment, telling us about the freedom that a low sex drive provides. Others vehemently disagreed, insisting that their sex lives have only improved with age. Everyone was very, very forthcoming.

The Guardian article published selected responses from women in various age groups: 70, 60, 50, 40, and 30. What about the older ladies? The following were enthusiastic about sex.

Zero interest in locating a sex partner is very liberating. Sex with a person can be complicated and is hard work and, in my experience, rarely worth the energy. Sex with my Hitachi is more rewarding, less complicated and not nearly as exhausting. A date with my vibrator is at my convenience, it's exhilarating, and it's reliably great exercise. Sex is not complicated when no other humans are involved – and far less risk. – Jean, 73, US

They do say that sex is mostly in the head; I spent 40 years worrying about my 'failure' to get it right. Instead of relaxing and understanding my body – and my responses to men – I went for 'OK' instead of waiting for 'spectacular'. Now I've met a lovely man (I'm over 60), and sex is better and more frequent than it ever was. My libido is flourishing, thank you very much! – Trisha, 61, UK

I had both my ovaries removed at 51. My libido plummeted. I had zero sex drive until my gyno prescribed testosterone cream. It made a huge difference. I recently fell in love with a man who is 73 and I'm having the best sex of my life and am multi-orgasmic for the first time. Hooray senior love. – Linda, 66, New York

Far from dwindling, my sex drive has surged since menopause. Sex toys are my best friends. – Carolyn, 65, San Francisco

The following seemed happy to see their libido dwindle if not disappear.

My lack of sex drive has been enormously liberating. I look back with some regret at the years I wasted on men. I've recently, at age 60, completed a BSc in Computer Science and now work as a software engineer. Such an amazing world to discover, so little time. ... The hardest part is getting used to what I see in the mirror, and watching people react with revulsion to my ageing face. – Debra, 63, Ireland

My sex-drive is considerably lower – what a relief! No more chasing rainbows that turn into hell-holes. No more longing and yearning. No more not feeling good enough. I feel free. I feel that I'm doing what's important to me. I've had loads of great sex in my life, but I don't need it all the time, and I'm glad I don't need it now when it would be harder to find. – Maxine, 65, UK

Final Word
While this article is about the pictures of women, the ideas are applicable to both sexes. Does sex disappear with age? Should it? Is ageing sex not in good taste? Is sexuality or being sexual empowering? Is being sexual a good thing or is it a bad thing and if it is considered a bad thing could that qualification be labelled as slut shaming or sex shaming? Is a woman photographed in a sexy manner being objectified or does the process of objectification lie solely in the mind of the observer?

Our opinions and our attitudes are very much a part of our culture. Our traditions play a huge role in how we think and ofttimes we are not even aware this is going on. Does a fish know it's living in a fish bowl? But change is happening, albeit sometimes in a very slow manner as in glacial. Let us hope that future generations will have better opportunities, better lives, and a better society. Peace, love, and understanding.


I would like to thank Ruud Hermans of Studio Erwin Olaf for granting me permission to publish these photographs.

official web site: Studio Erwin Olaf
Born in 1959 in Hilversum (the Netherlands), lives in Amsterdam (the Netherlands).

Erwin Olaf has had numerous important group and solo exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including George Eastman House, Rochester, USA; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Chelsea Art Museum, New York; Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem; Kunsthalle, Winterthur, Switzerland and the Museum of the City of New York, New York.Solo exhibitions include the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Bilbao Art Centre, Bilbao, Spain; Groninger Museum, the Netherlands; MonteVideo, Amsterdam; Modern Art Gallery of Bologna, Bologna, Italy; Museum of Modern Art, Moscow, Russia; The Hague Museum of Photography, The Hague; Photo Museum Antwerp, Antwerp; Institut Néerlandais, Paris; Domus Artium, Salamanca; Hermitage, Amsterdam; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and La Sucrière, Lyon, France.

Wikipedia: Nerve (Magazine)
Nerve is a free magazine published by Catalyst Media (formerly Catalyst Creative Media) in Liverpool, North West England. Combining features on social issues with artist profiles, it runs to 32 pages and is published about three times a year. The magazine has a broadly anti-capitalist stance.

my blog: Gettin' old, man boobs and Vladimir Putin - Aug 20/2011
We men like to strut our stuff once in a while. Even though we get older and start fading, we still have our moments when we like to relive our former glories, the time when other men would tremble before us and women would swoon. Yes, deep down we know that our glory years are behind us but occasionally we like to suck in our guts and stick out our chests while ignoring the mildly sarcastic "Yes dear, you've still got it". I'm not as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was.


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Lanthie Ransom said...

I think these picture are amazing. You are never too old to have sex, or be sexy, or feel sexy. It is a mindset and no one has the right to tell you otherwise. Feel it, be it! I do have to take my hat off to these women for posing like this - and they truly are stunning.

D. A. Wolf said...

Hmmm. We certainly are enjoying Julia Louis Dreyfus on the cover of Rolling Stone, aren't we? So is the message "if you look great ie "taut skin and young," then go for it?

To each his and her own. Brains are sexy. Humor is sexy. A look in the eye is sexy. All of that remains intact (if we're lucky)...

And a nice pair of shoes always helps...