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Granny and grandad getting it on

September 8th, 2007

Dr Petra

Last week Virgin money in Australia caused some controversy when they launched a new advertising campaign featuring seniors acting saucy. Their new ‘Everlasting Love’ campaign aims to promote a range of home loans with photos and a tv advert of older folk getting raunchy. You can see the photos and watch the tv advert here.

Public response to the ad campaign ranged from praise that older people were recognised as sexual beings through to concerns the ads were exploitative or made fun of seniors. Family values groups argued the adverts were both coercive and featured older people acting in a manner that showed a lack of decorum. 79 year old Bill and Glenys Ferguson who appear in the ad campaign claim they were happy to do it and enjoy their sex life.

This follows from a recent piece of research in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEMJ) that surveyed 3005 people aged 57-85 and discovered
- 50% of men and 25% of women surveyed regularly masturbate
- 73% of those aged 57-64, 53% of those aged 65-74 and 26% of those aged 75-85 have had sex at least once in the past year. The drop in frequency was due as much to a loss of a spouse or physical ability as it was to physical interest.
- The most common reason for not men not having sex was due to problems with their physical health; while 43% of women stated they lacked interest in sex, 39% had problems with lubrication, 34% found it hard to climax, 23% didn’t find sex pleasurable, and 17% experienced pain.
- Many women’s lack of interest my not be caused by hormonal problems as frequently presented in the media, but due to a death of a spouse or being single.

The research caused a global flurry with lots of coverage claiming that not only do old folk still like sex, but that this area had never been studied before and it was very important. Some reports even implied there was an ageist conspiracy where seniors were ignored in sex research.

Which isn’t strictly true. Although this is one of the larger quantitative studies that solely focuses on older people, it is certainly not the first time seniors have been researched. Other studies, more often qualitative in nature, have explored many issues about sex for older people including the impact of health problems and quality of a long term relationship upon people’s sex lives.

It is fair to say often older people haven’t been included in large scale epidemiological sex research, but that’s often because such research is looking specifically at sexual health and functioning issues and including older people may influence how sexual activity is reported, since as you age you may encounter greater numbers of health problems which would impact on how you often you get it on – and whether you enjoy it.

Many are welcoming this current attention on older people, arguing that it prevents seniors being invisible and acknowledges sex can be an important part of our lives no matter how old we are. However, not all medics, therapists and sex educators are so positive.

There is a very real worry about the way some sex research is presenting relationships and aging. While it has been acknowledged that older people do have sexual needs and desires, some research that’s drug company funded has been accused of highlighting the importance of sex for seniors as a means of promoting products.

This has led to advertising aimed specifically at an older market, as well as sex surveys being skewed to show sex is important to seniors. In doing this a norm is set up that a. sex is important and b. older folk are doing it. So if you’re a senior who’s not getting it on you may well start thinking there’s something wrong with you – and be convinced medication is needed to sort you out.

We need to be careful how we portray senior sex. On the one hand we don’t want coverage in sex education, the media or medicine to imply older people are past it, aren’t sexual and don’t need any advice, information or pleasure. We also don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes of older folk that their sex lives are something to be mocked, sneered at or reacted to in disgust. But we equally don’t want to set up aspirational sex standards that make it mandatory that we all ought to be doing it regardless of age – or as a means of staying young.

That said, if you still want it, a little of what you fancy might do you good…..

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