June 2, 2014

Breaking Age Barriers: “Sexy Has No Expiration Date”

Many companies are currently using models over the age of 50 to sell their products. Is society becoming more accepting of senior sexuality?

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Ageless beauty

Jessica Lange, 64, is to be the new face of Marc Jacobs Beauty. Charlotte Rampling, 68, will serve as the spokesmodel for NARS makeup in their 20th anniversary ads to be released in November.

Linda Roden, 65, modeled for Mary Kate & Ashley Olson’s brand “The Row” for their Pre Fall 2014 look book. This collection exclusively features models ages 39- 65.

Jacky O’Shaughnessy, 62, is now a model for the youthful fashion brand American Apparel. She is shown posing with her legs wide open in American Apparel’s signature one-piece leotards as well as panties and bandeaus.

Sex sells, regardless of age

It is unusual to see mature women gracing the pages of the latest Vogue or Elle magazine, no matter how distinguished or popular they may be. Vogue’s annual “Age issue” in August is the notable exception, but even then the women featured are seldom fashion models, but women being honored for their great accomplishments.

When you type “fashion model” into Google, “Models frequently mentioned on the web” pops up at the very top in a black bar. Big names like Cara Delevigne, Jourdan Dunn and Candice Swanepoel all make the list. These are all young, tall, skinny, models who can be described in one word: sexy. So why are we seeing this new trend of using models over the age of 60 in so many new ads, when our society tends to desexualize post-menopausal women?

Moving in a new direction?

It’s common knowledge that advertising needs to be eye-catching to make an impression. The consumer needs to have an emotional response to keep their attention and memory focused on the product. It’s no shock that many brands use sex as a way to grab the public’s attention. Using an older model is eye catching, attention grabbing and interesting, because it is out of the ordinary.

It begs the question: are we simply using older models for shock value, or are we finally moving in a direction of accepting that sex still goes on after 60?

As a society we have viewed older people as sexually undesirable, disinterested in sex, and medically unable to perform sexually, but past studies failed to take into account that the boundaries of age are relative and changing- so who are we even talking about? In 1995 the average age of retirement was 60, and today it’s 67.

As times are changing, so are views of older adults. We have created new medicines to help facilitate sexual desire and improve sexual functionality in older people, and new research studies are bringing into focus the realities of sex after 55. Drawing attention to the older generation as a sexually active demographic has started to change the mindset of our society. The emergence of older models as spokespeople for makeup and clothing brand campaigns supports research findings that sex has no age barrier, and a shifting societal view that women can be sexy at any age.

Sexual health in older adults

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJOM) conducted a survey in 2007 that examined the frequency of sexual activity, behaviors, and sexual problems in US adults ages 57-85. This comprehensive survey did a fantastic job of bringing a better understanding to the link between sexuality and age, both relative to and independent of general health.

The study surveyed 1550 women and 1455 men in households across the US.  This study is the source of the majority of information we have about sexuality and aging today. The study looked at marital status, and date of last sexual activity- any sex within the previous year qualified the participant as sexually active. Sexual activity was defined as “any mutually voluntary activity with another person that involves sexual contact, whether or not intercourse or orgasm occurs.” They also inquired about masturbation.

The study found that “Many older adults are sexuality active.” 73% of men and women ages 57-75 reported being sexually active in the last year, with 53% for ages 64-75 and 26% for people ages 75-85. We can see that sexual activity declines with age, but this is typically due to health issues rather than age itself. When asked about health status, men and women who reported that they were in excellent or very good health were about twice as likely to be sexuality active compared to people with poor health.

1 out of 7 men reported using Viagra or another medicine to improve sex, while women reported issues such as low desire (43%) and insufficient vaginal lubrication (39%.) However, new drugs like Osphena work on vaginal tissue for women who experience pain during sex due to post-menopausal dryness.

Moving away from age-related taboos

Recognizing a lack of information and acknowledgement of elder sexuality is slowly but surely changing our media and mindsets. Osphena’s TV commercials show scantily-clad, grey-haired women lounging on beds, with the catchphrase “Sex after menopause- it shouldn’t have to hurt.” The open discussion of sexuality presented by the attractive models within the commercial shows that older women can be just as attention-getting as their younger peers.

Through these developments in media, medicine, and research, we are moving away from stereotypes and stigmas about sexuality directed at older adults, and increasing awareness that sexuality does not have an expiration date.

Sasha Aurand has a BA in psychology from Indiana University, with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies. Her research includes work with Alan Roberts’ attraction studies.