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Sexuality and Older People. The Portrayal of Sex

The portrayal of sex in the media has become commonplace in modern society. However, sexual behavior is usually attributed only to young people, while “older people are often perceived… as post-sexual” (Bouman & Kleinplatz, 2016). This perception of sexuality in older age is due to a number of physiological, psychological, and social aspects that affect not only public opinion but also the life of older people in general. Nevertheless, modern media space is becoming much more open to previously taboo topics and actively discusses various groups’ sexual behavior. More and more studies exploring the sex lives of older people are being conducted as well.

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Images of the sexuality of older people in areas where young people are exclusively involved, such as fashion, can be particularly provocative. Therefore, an advertising campaign for the S&X Rankin perfume was chosen for the study. In particular, the campaign includes three videos depicting sexual relations between two women, two men, and an elderly couple. The video with the elderly couple will be considered from the point of view of sexuality in older age (RankinFilm, 2017). The video’s plot is quite simple in its idea: a black and white video shows the viewer the sexual interaction of two older people. The characters are shown close enough, so age changes are visible. The characters enter various scenes of a rather frank nature, which are familiar to the modern viewer. Thus, the message of this commercial and the campaign as a whole is that sexuality is characteristic not only of young, beautiful, and heterosexual people.

The importance of research into the sexuality of older people is due to social factors. However, there are several problems associated with conducting such research. First of all, volunteers in sex research “have higher levels of education and less conservative sexual attitudes than non-participants” (Bouman & Kleinplatz, 2016). Thus, it is difficult to build an adequate picture of the current situation since the data is mainly obtained from a specific group of older people. The second problem is related to the perception of the very concept of sex in public. In the eyes of most, sexual behavior involves penetration as a sexual act, but the spectrum of sexual practices, especially among older couples, is much broader (Gewirtz-Meydan et al., 2018). Thus, the video breaks stereotypical perceptions about sexuality in older people and sex in general by telling the viewer that intercourse can involve various activities. People’s standard understanding of sex as an act of penetration is insufficient to describe the more intimate practices that can occur between older people. The video shows that sexual interaction is more complex and common for all people.

In modern culture, it is customary to personify sexuality with youth and beauty. As a result, older people are often viewed as asexual or sexually invisible, making people more guided not by personal desires and preferences but by social norms (Gewirtz-Meydan et al., 2018). The generally accepted denial and condemnation of sexuality in older people force them to hide their sex life, which is an obstacle to self-expression. It is also common for older people to seek new romantic or sexual relationships to adjust to social norms by acting like younger people. However, this behavior provokes dissatisfaction with sexual life, as it does not meet the needs specific to a particular age (Gewirtz-Meydan et al., 2018). The video is presented along with two other videos in which homosexual couples show their sexuality. Thus, the viewer understands that the sexual relations of older people are also stigmatized by society and homosexual ones. More senior people experience shame and are forced to hide their natural desires and aspirations in favor of social norms, making their lives less fulfilling.

One of the reasons for this social perception is the physiological aspects of aging that seem incompatible with sex life. As shown in the video, people’s bodies change with age. The skin loses its elasticity, joints – mobility, which undoubtedly affects the quality of sexual life. Among the main factors influencing sex life are hormonal changes, erectile dysfunction in men, decreased lubrication in women, and changes in women’s breasts and genitals (Ricoy-Cano et al., 2020). However, most of these physiological changes are treatable, which is often the case for older people. Nevertheless, healthcare providers often discriminate against these patients asexual, limiting “their ability to respond appropriately to older people’s sexual needs and realities” (Gewirtz-Meydan et al., 2018). As a result, older people suffer from a lack of opportunity to discuss their physiological problems from the field of sexuality, as well as accept themselves in a new capacity and adjust their needs to age-related changes.

Social limitations and physiological changes inevitably lead to the emergence of psychological factors that affect the sexuality of older people. For the most part, the psychosocial aspects of sexual life are common to all ages. This includes body perception, satisfaction with marriage, life changes, and concerns about performance. However, for older people, the problem of losing a partner is more urgent, especially for women, who often live longer than men (Dhingra et al., 2016). Romantic and sexual relationships after the loss of a spouse are viewed by society as unacceptable, even though the need for close relationships persists. Thus, older people face shame and indecision when trying to enter a new relationship or remarry. Despite the persistence of the desire to maintain a sex life, older people are forced to avoid it because of the fear of public censure, which reduces the quality of their life (Ricoy-Cano et al., 2020). Thus, psychological factors are more associated with physiological changes that occur with age, as well as with their perception by the public.

The perfume advertisement discussed in this essay shows a combination of these aspects. The viewer sees that people are older; their bodies are entirely different from what they once were. This may seem unusual; however, for older people, this is a daily routine, they live in this body, but this does not mean that they should deny themselves pleasure. The media portrays sexuality as a prerogative of exclusively young people, which leads to sexual censure of the older ones. Nevertheless, they retain the desire to have a sex life, and they do it, although sometimes they feel anxiety and misunderstanding on the part of other people. In this way, the video depicts the right of older people to maintain sexuality. Society may deny that the older generation is sexually active, but it is not going anywhere. It is necessary to accept that all people need intimate relationships to maintain their quality of life. Moreover, older people need openness and acceptance, as well as the elimination of age discrimination.

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References

Bouman, W., & Kleinplatz, P. (Eds.). (2016). Sexuality & aging. Routledge.

Dhingra, I., De Sousa, A., & Sonavane, S. (2016). Sexuality in older adults: Clinical and psychosocial dilemmas. Journal of Geriatric Mental Health, 3(2), 131-139. Web.

Gewirtz-Meydan, A., Hafford-Letchfield, T., Ayalon, L., Benyamini, Y., Biermann, V., Coffey, A., Jackson, J., Phelan, A., Voß, P., Geiger, M., & Zeman, Z. (2018). How do older people discuss their own sexuality? A systematic review of qualitative research studies. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 21(3), 293-308. Web.

RankinFilm. (2017). S&X Elderly – Rankin [Video]. Vimeo. Web.

Ricoy-Cano, A., Obrero-Gaitán, E., Caravaca-Sánchez, F., & De La Fuente-Robles, Y. (2020). Factors conditioning sexual behavior in older adults: A systematic review of qualitative studies. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(6), 1716. Web.

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