If the thought of our parents having sex makes us cringe, the idea that our grandparents, particularly those of the stooped, silver-haired variety, still getting frisky under the sheets can be downright horrifying.
In a culture that glorifies youth and equates looks with desirability, the older generation—those whose faces have sagged, whose hair has greyed, and whose gait has slowed—is expected to slide gracefully into invisibility and gradual senility, not to mention impotence. Sex, as conventional wisdom adamantly dictates, is not an activity they should be indulging in.
Yet sex among seniors is on the rise. As it turns out, the onslaught of age may make bones brittle with osteoporosis, but it doesn’t necessarily stifle those sexual urges. Tales abound of staff at nursing homes in the United States shocked to discover, for instance, that the 75-year-old granny under their charge was not in her room when the lights went out, but in the bed of the 82-year-old grandpa she was not married to. And she didn’t get there because she sleepwalked, propelled by Dormicum, or because she lost her way, befuddled by Alzheimer’s.
No, lovely Grandma Jean with the dimpled smile and the deflated breasts but incredible energy, had made her way to Papa Joe’s side—he was the home’s resident hottie because he still had most of his teeth intact—of her own free will, driven by desire.
Yup, it’s “Baby Boomers Gone Wild,” as Psychology Today put it. Grandma and Grandpa are gettin’ it on. Just like teenagers, but on Tenormin and Lipitor and Novasc. It happens. Deal with it.
And, geriatric gymnastics are starting to be addressed in popular culture. In the season two premiere of the FX sitcom Married, Lena is horrified to find a tube of lube among her mother’s things, and is quick to conclude that her charming stepfather (Ed) is taking advantage of his dementia-addled wife (Janice) and raping her. After all, her mother had invited them over to their country club-like retirement community to celebrate Thanksgiving. In the summer. So, Lena reasons with rising hysteria, if her mother can’t even remember what day it is, or who she is currently married to, she probably doesn’t even know whom she is sleeping with. Ed knows that, yet continues to have sex with Janice, so therefore he must be forcing himself upon her… you get the gist.
But the sex, as Ed states quite beautifully towards the end, is a natural function of their love for each other: “I love Janice and I would never do anything to hurt her. We still connect, and there’s some days when she forgets my name. But it’s okay—she knows I love her.”
That’s all fine and dandy and somehow acceptable, seeing that the sex takes place between committed and consenting, albeit of advanced age, adults not necessarily in full possession of their faculties. But the idea of a sexagenarian female embarking on sexual adventures with a variety of partners is downright scandalous and unsettling.
Yet that was what Jane Juska did, a 66-year-old divorcee at the time, celibate for some three decades, when she placed a brilliantly succinct personal ad in the New York Review of Books:
“Before I turn 67—next March—I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.”
The former English teacher and obvious bookworm, to her surprise, got a lot of action. She later documented her escapades
—and mishaps—in a candid, funny and unique memoir titled A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex & Romance
, which has since been staged as an engaging play
She writes about the many men she beds: some old, some young, some cruel, some kind, the one who breaks her heart, and the one who gives her hope. She describes without coyness her delight in sex, and is unapologetic about her libido. The term “round-heeled,” in fact, was a Victorian term for a woman “of loose morals.”
Morals be damned. Bravo, Jane Juska, for refusing to go gently into that good night.
Indeed, it seems, more and more seniors are refusing to do just that. Erica Jong, who wrote that much-heralded ’70s anthem to female liberation and casual sex, The Fear of Flying, forever immortalizing the “zipless fuck,” is back with anew novel The Fear of Dying.
Like Jane, Erica’s protagonist, Vanessa Wonderman, a former actress and a grandmother in her sixties, rails against fading into insignificance, sexually speaking. Vanessa signs up at the casual sex site Zipless.com (of course) and embarks on a series of sexual adventures, defying convention, and escaping the drudgery of a sexless marriage to a man who is suffering from erectile dysfunction.
As Jane wrote, “Women were not allowed to have a passion at 60. We were supposed to become grandmothers and retreat into serene sexlessness.”
Which just goes to show that you’re never too old to be exempted from safe sex, for chlamydia knows no age. Neither does HIV.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published earlier this year by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
Art by Dorothy Guya