69-year-old DJ Ruth Flowers starts her set with O FORTUNA. How sick is that??? Someone please invite this fierce beast to Transformus to camp with us at IHOP.
When the phrase "the last taboo" caught my eye in an internet article recently, my interest was piqued. In this ever-changing world in which we live in*, what could possibly qualify as the last taboo? Incest? Torture? Stirrup pants?
No. It's sex among the elderly. This according to Dr. Virginia Sadock, professor of psychiatry and director of the Program of Human Sexuality at New York University.
Pfft. "That," I thought, "is the least scandalous scandal ever." Shouldn't we all be so lucky to remain sexually active into our twilight years? How could something like geriatric sexology take the crown for a dubious distinction like "the last taboo?"
So I decided to engage in some hard-hitting journalism and go straight to a reliable first-hand account. It seems that a dear friend of mine, who is octogenarian and FABULOUS, has had the very same subject on her mind recently. She gave me the following account of living the last taboo:
Admit it. You're clutching your pearls.
But why?? Why are we so squicky about the idea of older people remaining sexually active? Is it a vestige of our Judeo-Christian notion that non-procreative sex is verboten? Or is it just a symptom of the rampant ageism in our culture?
When I have big squishy questions like this about sex and religion and the Western tradition, I turn to my dear friend and fellow Nashvillian Julia, who is working on a PhD in theology and women, gender and sexuality (aka Sex and God) at Harvard. And we
Julia: i think generally speaking sex is structurally normative, as in: there are powerful political, cultural, social, etc. forces that structure the sexual and sexualized body as heteronormative, meaning: YOUNG, straight, able-bodied, etc. many of our prejudices about what an able body is, in fact, have to do with its sexual capabilities.
me: WHOA so true
Julia: what is an "impotent" body?
me: if someone is disabled, one of the first questions that arises in the brain: can they still have sex?
we have very similar prejudices about the aged body
So it seems that it's both--that our ageism is wrapped up in our idea of the heteronormative sexualized body. WHOA. Leave it to a Harvardian to blow your mind.
So what does this all mean? Sure, geriatric sex is a taboo. What does it matter?
Here's how it matters. 26% of the American population belongs to the aging Baby Boomers generation. Among them, 87% of married men and 89% of married women in the 60-64 age range are sexually active. Among Americans over 80, 29% of men and 25% of women still engage in sexual activity. That means we're looking at millions and millions of sexually active elderly folks in the coming years.
That part isn't the problem. The problem is that our cultural taboo related to geriatric sex creates an inability to acknowledge the phenomenon in any meaningful way. Sexual support and sexual health care for the elderly is severely lacking. STD rates among the elderly are out of control. Just like abstinence-only education for teens leads to skyrocketing teen pregnancy rates, lack of sexual support among the elderly can lead to the spread of STDs and other public health issues. And, according to another of my many Nashvillian friends pursuing higher education with an emphasis in sexuality:
--Lanier B., sex educator extraordinaire
And nobody wants that.
So what can we do to avoid this public health crisis? Start here: don't be afraid to talk to the elderly folks in your life about sexual health. You're bound to learn something interesting from them, and maybe they'll learn something important from you. I mean, Grandma Moses didn't start painting until she was in her 70s. It's never too late to learn new tricks.
*apologies to Sir Paul McCartney
Talk about how awesome you will be when you hit your golden years. Will you rock DJ sets with Ruth Flowers in Paris, or simply enjoy postcoital viewings of Family Guy with your hot boyfriend/girlfriend?