Love in an old climate: posters celebrate the joy of sex in later life

Relate charity hopes intimate shots by Rankin will shatter taboos about physical intimacy among older people

It is intended to start a conversation, but a new campaign on the joys of sex and intimacy in later life may also stop the traffic.

Five naked, or nearly naked, couples and a woman have been photographed by Rankin, and his images are accompanied by words that challenge stereotypes of sexual desire and activity in later years. The posters will be displayed on billboards across the country from this week.

The campaign, Let’s Talk the Joy of Later Life Sex, comes from the relationships charity Relate and aims to “tackle the stigma around this unspoken subject”.

One poster shows a man kissing his partner’s neck, with the words: “Over the hill. And the table. And the sofa.” Another features a woman who has had a double mastectomy, with her partner, and the words: “The years are going up, but you’re still going down.”

Margaret, photographed for Relate’s Let’s Talk the Joy of Later Life Sex campaign.
Margaret, photographed for Relate’s Let’s Talk the Joy of Later Life Sex campaign. Photograph: Rankin/Relate

An image of two men intimately embracing is captioned: “Some men discover they love golf. Some men discover they love men.”

A woman clutching her face in pleasure is accompanied by the words: “You’re never too old to play with toys.”

Rankin, a globally renowned portrait and fashion photographer, said the campaign set out to break convention. “The simple fact is, we all need intimacy now more than ever – and age really is just a number. The greatness of love and affection – the very things we can’t stop writing books, films and pop songs about – doesn’t need to change as we find our later years.”

Ammanda Major, a psychosexual therapist with Relate, said the organisation was trying to “start or widen a conversation about sex in later life – a topic people often find difficult to talk about.”

She said that some chose not to have a sex life, and some – who had lost partners or whose relationships had ended – found little opportunity for sex and intimacy.

“But many couples drift into a place where sex and intimacy are difficult, and they might need help with talking about it.”

Sex is often depicted in films and on television as a “very dynamic business” between young people, she added. “We’re trying to show that people in later life with wobbly bits can feel good about sex. We’re trying to normalise sex among older people.”

All those featuring in the campaign are “real” people, rather than models, and all were advised by an “intimacy coach”, who normally works with actors on film and television sets, to ensure that they felt comfortable before, during and after the shoot.

Andrew and Mark, who are in their 60s and have been together for almost 32 years, said that only they, Rankin and an assistant were present during the shoot, although there were up to 30 people at the studio.

“Initially I thought it could be a bit embarrassing but the intimacy coach talked to us about what we felt comfortable doing, and we had a follow-up session afterwards, looking through the images. We had a veto, but there were only two or three we didn’t want used, and that’s probably us being vain rather than concerns over nudity,” said Mark.

Billie and Cora, two other poster stars. All of those photographed are ‘real’ people, not models.
Billie and Cora, two other poster stars. All of those photographed are ‘real’ people, not models. Photograph: Rankin/Relate

Andrew said he was generally a “little bit more reserved” than Mark, but “it was a wonderful experience – and a privilege to be photographed by Rankin”.

Family and friends had been “amazed but very supportive”, Mark said. “Younger nephews and nieces see us as an eccentric old couple anyway, and they think this is just another strange thing we’ve done. They’ll probably be taking their friends to see us on a billboard.”

He added: “There’s a stereotype that once you get past a certain age, all you want to do is sit in front of the TV with your pipe and slippers. We need to start talking about intimacy and sex between older people.

“From our point of view, it’s doubly difficult to get round the stereotypes. The chances of seeing older people being intimate on your screen are very slim, but it’s almost non-existent for an older couple like us.

“This seemed to be a lovely way to demonstrate our love for each other,” said Mark.

Contributor

Harriet Sherwood

The GuardianTramp

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