In modern society, sexuality and intimacy are considered a central and meaningful part of life, however, the topic in relation to older people largely remains taboo. Media plays a key role in shaping the public’s views, often influencing what is deemed “socially acceptable” and what is not. Older people in general are largely under-represented in the media and especially regarding their sexuality. This cultivates a myriad of challenges, including but not limited the reluctance of older people to discuss sexual health with their care provider due to fear of judgement.
A recent LifeGate article leaves these ageist views behind to shine a light on sexuality in later life. The article features photographs by Arianne Clement, a Canadian photographer well-known for her “work exploring the hidden universe of beauty, sexuality and desire in old age.”
The photographer notes that two of society’s prevailing taboos surround nudity and the sexuality of older people. Arianne hopes her photographs, which have now gone viral, help to combat these ageist beliefs. Ariane explains: “In a society that associates beauty with youth, there’s a pervasive fear that comes with the idea of ageing. (…) I knew I wanted to put these incredible women, discarded due to the social and cultural norms of mainstream society, under the spotlight.”
Research on sexual activity in later life is limited, however the WHO World Report on Ageing and Health notes that despite stereotypes, older people continue to remain sexually active well into later life, with one longitudinal study noting that 53% of people aged 65 to 74 remained sexually active. Contact IFA Expert Dr John Beard, former Director of the WHO Ageing and Lifecourse Department, for further information.
Also consider contacting Dr Debra Whitman, Chief Public Policy Officer of AARP, who released a 2018 Report which found that older adults who engaged in sexual activity are less likely to be lonely. Under the key theme “Combating Ageism” at the IFA 15th Global Conference on Ageing, abstracts are currently being accepted on how to tackle social issues such as isolation, loneliness and abuse in later life. Check out www.ifa2020.org for more information.
Dr. Debra Whitman Chief Public Policy Officer
Dr. Debra Whitman is an authority on aging issues with extensive experience in policymaking, research and the political process.
Dr. John Beard Director of Ageing and Life Course
Dr John Beard, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., is Director of Ageing and Life Course with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva