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.


Harriet Sherwood

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'I was amazed': meet the London teens recording the vivid lives of their streets
In our second report for this year’s Guardian and Observer appeal, we talk to photographers in Hackney, east London, recording their area’s culture

Patrick Butler

13, Dec, 2020 @8:30 AM

Article image
50 years after summer of love, yuppies have replaced San Francisco's hippies
Nostalgia runs high as the city approached 50th anniversary, but residents say free love has given way to wealth and individualism

Rory Carroll in San Francisco

06, May, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
U-turn on housing benefit cap for mentally ill and elderly
Move follows outcry from charities and evidence that housing projects have been axed

Toby Helm

21, Oct, 2017 @2:04 PM

Article image
Lessons in illicit love: new film explores the pull of teacher-pupil relationships
Barnaby Southcombe tells why he wants to ruffle feathers with his movie

Dalya Alberge

08, Jan, 2017 @12:05 AM

Article image
‘If you can run, you can do anything’: why over 65s are at park
More older people than youngsters are now joining parkruns. Some stopped long enough to tell us why…

Rob Walker

15, Dec, 2018 @9:23 PM

Article image
Let’s talk about intimacy – and why it makes for better love and sex
The key to a great relationship is more than physical – it’s about taking off the mask and really revealing yourself

Joanna Moorhead

29, Apr, 2017 @7:26 PM

Article image
‘We’re women with brown skin, talking proudly about sex’
Explicit podcasts are booming, but the three women behind Brown Girls Do It Too say theirs is different

Nosheen Iqbal

27, Jul, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Celebrity buzz: how stars’ bedroom toys have got us all talking about sex
With famous users leading a rebrand, bedroom accessories lose their stigma in a £90bn health and wellness boom

Nosheen Iqbal

13, Jun, 2021 @6:15 AM

Article image
Miriam Margolyes: ‘No one tells you what old age is like. I don’t care about raising hell’
The outspoken actress wants to break open a conspiracy of silence about ageing

Donna Ferguson

29, Jan, 2017 @12:03 AM

Article image
From inmate to checkmate: chess perks up life inside
Tuition scheme for prisoners may be rolled out across Britain

Rob Walker

15, Jul, 2018 @8:00 AM