The Question of a Woman President
Oliver and the Tiny Intruder

CNN: Elder Sex is a Dirty Joke

[UPDATE: An anonymoius guest left a comment on 29 August advising that Alina Cho was substituting for Betty Nguyen on this news report. Since trying to verify this has proved difficult, I am taking the guest's word for it and have edited the text accordingly.]

category_bug_ageism.gif CNN was a distant drone in the kitchen as I changed beds Saturday morning with the help of Ollie the cat. We were having a good game of it and then, something on TV about the first extensive study on late life sexuality grabbed me.

What followed from CNN Saturday Morning anchors Betty Nguyen Alina Cho and T.J. Holmes, labeled “Frisky Seniors” at the bottom of the screen, was a real rib-tickler report about elder sexual activity. Punctuating their remarks with smirking asides and rolling of eyes, the anchors didn't even try to control their guffaws.

Much was made of how the poor old dears might hurt themselves - pull a muscle or bruise their skin - in their silly attempt to continue an activity they should have given up years ago. Pillows is the answer. Pillows, advised the correspondent, to more faux-suppressed laughter from the anchors.

It is not possible to overstate the crude, lewd tone of the CNN story, more suitable to Saturday Night Live in the days of John Belushi than a news program. Little information was transmitted among all this hilarity.

At the end of the 90-second piece Mr. Holmes, pretending to have lost control of his laughter, walked off the set leaving Ms. Nguyen Cho, her disgust at the idea of elders and sex on full, loutish display, to finish the segment with this knee-slapper of a punchline to the correspondent: “You bring this to us as we’re just waking up and having our coffee?”

Riiiight - elder sex is a smutty howler, isn't it, on the order of schoolyard jokes about farting in church.

Although continued sexual activity into old age is not news to elders, the study is important to healthcare professionals who are only somewhat more likely than CNN anchors to be informed about it. Physicians do not commonly ask elders about their sex lives.

No one watching CNN on Saturday morning could guess that the study is a “goldmine” of data, as one of the authors noted when it was published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine. It was conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Toronto, and partially funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

3005 Americans (1550 women; 1455 men) age 57 to 85 gave detailed descriptions of their sexual activities. Among the findings, according to’s more rational, online print report are:

“Sex with a partner in the previous year was reported by 73 percent of people ages 57 to 64; 53 percent of those ages 64 to 75; and 26 percent of people 75 to 85. Of those who were active, most said they had sex two or three times a month or more.”

“More than half of men and a quarter of women said they had masturbated during the previous year, a figure that remained constant whether they were sexually active or not.”

“Half of people having sex reported at least one related problem. Most common in men was erection trouble (37 percent); in women, low desire (43 percent), vaginal dryness (39 percent) and inability to have an orgasm (34 percent).”, 22 August 2007

This is the first study to be conducted nationally in the U.S. with older people from the general population.

“’There’s a large perception out there that sex somehow does not occur in the later years, and this study demonstrates authoritatively that for many people sexual activity does not diminish much at all,’ said Robert N. Butler, president of the International Longevity Center in New York who, with his late wife, Myrna I. Lewis, wrote Love and Sex After 60.

“’Human relationships are important to the very end,’ said Butler, who was not involved in the study.”

The New York Times via The Orlando Sentinel, 23 August 2007

Obviously, CNN does not see it that way.

Media ageism is common but rarely as blatant as this mockery of journalism from CNN's Betty Nguyen Alina Cho and T.J. Holmes. And it is worse than just two blow-dried anchors whose prejudice against elders is showing. Their employers, the producers, executives and owners of CNN, apparently share their anchors' bias; they thought the NguyenCho/Holmes report was so good, they repeated it on Saturday evening so even more people could share every crude snigger and jeer.

Isn’t it hilarious that elders have the need and desire for sex - along with the love and comfort that accompany it - just like people at every other age in life.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, an update on its growth and development during its first five months.]


Guess the joke's on them, as they'll be here soon enough.

When you were in your teens and twenties, Ronni, tell me you didn't roll your eyes and gag when you thought of two old people bumpin' uglies. We all did! It's just that now we're the old ones, and the rolling eyes are directed at us. What goes around comes around. Why, then are you so surprised?


I am not surprised, I am outraged. These are not two kids teeheeing. They are (supposedly) professional journalists, anchors on the largest news network in the world. Their responsility is to present the facts of every story as truthfully and clearly as possible, and not to make crude jokes about an age group that is already culturally marginalized in hundreds of ways.

And if those who are elders now once found the idea of elder sex disgusting, should we not expect progress? Rape was once an acceptable topic of fun. Some years ago, a local weatherman, following the story of a rape, said, "She should have just sat back and enjoyed it." That is not acceptable now nor should guffaws about elder sex be, especially on a news program.

Thanks for posting this. Shame on them. Corporate must have told them to make this funny.

I agree that's what news SHOULD be. I'm old enough to remember the days of Cronkite, Huntley/Brinkley, etc. Unfortunately, news was changed somewhere in the 70's or 80's from reporting of news to presentation of entertainment. It's gotten so bad that many young people watch the Daily Show on Comedy Central as their source of the latest news. And if that isn't a grat example of how far we've let our culture degrade, I don't know what is.

It isn't just CNN but I heard the same response from other outlets. I find it hard to understand. They ought to have been delighted but instead they made crude jokes and acted as though it was undignified. It was amazing and surprising to me too. I thought they knew about it anyway but they were acting like it was news to them. Of course, we all know most kids don't even want to think their parents do 'it' and maybe that's what this is all about-- infantile journalists who haven't yet grown out of thinking like they are the kids.

sorry, I meant "great" example. That'll teach me to preview before I post!

For what it's worth, I heard that report being mocked on a local radio station also. (I can't remember which one of the two I listen to. Perhaps both, but I'm not sure.)

It was just as aggravatingly juvenile and I remember thinking I ought to mention it to you - then, of course, I forgot.

I do remember how they wrapped it up, though, and I have to give them a tiny bit of credit (that in no way cancels the idiocy) for that. One of them stopped and said something close to, "Okay, thinking about your parents having sex is gross. But do you want to think about NOT having sex in twenty years? I don't!"

At least there was one slightly-thoughtful moment in the whole mess, but that's not saying much.

sorry, I meant "great" example. That'll teach me to preview before I post!

Hope that many of us will voice our outrage to CNN. I had contacted NBC earlier about Brian Williams smirk and comment about thinking twice about going to gramma's without calling, at the end of his report on the report and close of the evening news.

What were they thinking? Obviously, the 2 CNN anchors are not planning on having sex when they're older. How sad, that they should have a view of elder life where they rule out the closeness and comfort of a shared love between two people.

I have been thinking about elders having sex ever since I saw a documentary about AIDS orphans in Kenya. The principal care givers are the Grandmothers. These women have bodies ravaged by age and poverty yet they make heroic efforts to care for these children . The parents have been wiped out because they were sexually active. There were no Grandfathers in the piece. Were they too wiped out by sexual activity?

I heard the report on this study on NPR. I wonder how the activity world wide compares to this study, which I assume was done in the US. I also understood that the sexual fequency was about the same as in younger people. That should be a sobering thought to tittering youth that half of all their sexual activity will occur after 50. NPR also mentioned that the best predicter of sexual activity in elders was the existance of a long term partner. My conclusion: one can maximize lifetime sexual activity by working on long term relationships. ---And doing research on helping men live longer.

If it's any consolation, the WFAA team here in Dallas/Fort Worth reported the same story with the attitude of, "Oh thank God!" No crude jokes, just good-natured relief that that particular activity wasn't going to evaporate in their lives in coming years.

I will confess, however, that I just about bit the tines off my fork when my 77-year-old housemate calmly observed, after the statistic that more men than women remain sexually active in later life, "I wonder if they asked those gals about masturbation?"

The juvenile smirks of those news anchors go way beyond jokes about aging sexism. It displays an entire attitude about elders that is unacceptable. We are still people with the same needs, desires and hopes that we had when we were young.

It wasn't just CNN: this was all over the tube last week, the great majority of the comments being smirking, misguided attempts at humor. Letterman made it the subject of one of his Top Ten lists, not terribly humorous (although I got a chuckle out of his No.1):

I love how you point out items that can easily slip by me due to my deliberate or habitual numbness or inattention to stupidity, obscenity, and ageism (all related). Thank you so very much. (I miss the junk on TV because my TV is... unplugged!)

I hope they got some emails and letters pointing out their insensitivity. It may come back to haunt them when they get older themselves.

I think this reaction by so-called newspeople was outrageous. I heard about this prostitution of news from a friend, who thought I should "tell Ronni." I assured her and husband, (both just now closing in on retirement age,) that they could be sure Ronni was probably writing on it for TGB at that very moment.

I hope that every elder exposed to this kind of blatant news and elder trashing expresses their outrage to the offending sources. I hope an apology is demanded from all those resorting to such grade school, Jr. High bathroom humor. The results of this study were deserving of more serious presentation and consideration.

Elder's will never get respect unless we enlighten the verbal, non-verbal behavioral, abusers. To do so has nothing to do with being thin-skinned, or unable to take a joke, or whether or not we may have laughed at such in our youth. It does have to do with changing deeply imbedded cultural attitudes that are ageist and adversely affect our quality of life, job opportunities, and more.

37%,43%, 39%, 34% these percentages of ocassional experienced problems would more or less be the same at any age. That is, if people gave honest answers when they were younger. It is too bad that we do not live in a culture, as is the case in numerous Eastern cultures, where sex amongst elders is considered natural.

Whatever happened to the time - when the private lives of people were just that...why does everything have to be broadcast. If Seniors have sex - so be it and if they don't so be it...and news "professionals" should be just that.

The immature equate sex with lust. The mature know that while lust has it's place, sex combines much better with love. And elder love can be deeper and more tender than anything youth has ever dreamed of. You might have to be an elder to understand that.

I just wanted to note that Alina Cho not Betty Nguyen was one of the two anchors for the segment. Ms. Nguyen was on assignment in South Africa during this broadcast. I wonder if the normal, regular anchor (Ms. Nguyen) would have acted more mature than T.J. Holmes and Alina Cho; hmmm...maybe not either.

Isn't this article a little over the top. I happened to see the actual story you critiqued a few days ago on CNN. The two commentators went a little over the top laughing but the fact that they were ultimatey feigning how they couldn't contain their laughter,falling off their chairs and the male anchor stumbling off the set in a coughing fit was more stupid than their reaction to some of the findings of the research and the images they brought to mind. I'll be 57 in a month and a half so I'm almost an example of the study. My wife and I joke all the time about how that wasn't bad for old farts. I think laughter is part of any generation thinking of the older generation doing the deed. That includes teenagers laughing and disgusted about parents in their late 30 'gettin' jiggy'.
Maybe I'll feel different in 20 years.

Speaking of Saturday night live, there was running bit of an old guy who believed that his generation had the only way of doing anything....and they liked it! I'm sure my 81 year old parents would laugh at it. I'm not sure about sex but they still have great senses of humor.

Please don't make 50+ or whatever the number is into victims. You are only a victim if you let yourself be by acknowledging it. Get over yourself and laugh along with the idiots who make themselves look stupid when they generalize and create one picture of a very diverse group from 57 to whatever.

That's only my opinion. I could be wrong. ...Dennis Miller

Bill Wiley
314 267-4091
St Louis, MO

I've been battling this prejudice against older-age sexuality that I see in the media (especially television) and in our society in general. There's the pervasive viewpoint that an older person who delights in sex -- or even expresses a need for it! -- is somehow pathetic, ludicrous, and altogether icky.

It's starting to change, because many of us are talking out loud about senior sexuality. The recent NEJM study was helpful, and most of the time, media reactions were respectful.

We'll get there -- as long as we're willing to throw off the covers (so to speak) and express ourself as fully human beings for whom touch, sensuality, and -- yes -- sex are a normal part of our needs and life.

It's a bit ridiculous to make fun of people doing something that, if only due to years of experience, they're probably much better at than you are?

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