“How to Age Gracefully”

Elder Sex at the Movies

At the BBC website last week, Emma Jones spent some time surveying what may be the last film taboo, sex scenes with old people.

As Jones relates, there has been in recent years an uptick in the number of romantic movies about people 60 and older but the sex is only hinted at:

”...there were crowd-pleasers like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet. However, though love might blossom among septuagenarians, the cameras never intruded on any consummation – the message seeming to be that none was possible.

"...comedy is often the way Hollywood deals with older lovers. 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give does actually include a sex scene between the protagonists, played by Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, but the joke is that Nicholson’s character, ordinarily only interested in younger women, has to use Viagra.

"Another comedy, It’s Complicated (2009) keeps the rejuvenated sex life a pair of ex-spouses, played Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, almost entirely off-screen."

What prompted Ms. Jones's rumination on film sex involving elders is a new British movie, 45 Years, which contains an explicit sex scene with the protagonists played by Charlotte Rampling, age 69, and Tom Courtenay, age 78.

”This scene 'is absolutely pivotal to the film,' says [director] Andrew Haigh. 'But it’s been funny watching it in awkward silence at screenings because audiences do think that when Charlotte’s character Kate shuts the bedroom door, that that is the end of it.

“'But no, we carry on. The concept that as we grow older we no longer have sexual feelings is to me, a man of 42 years old, a sad state of affairs.'”

In addition to the film admitting that old people do have sex is that it is not treated as funny or a joke. Jones quotes Wendy Mitchell, contributing editor to the trade daily Screen International on this point.

“'It’s important that the sex scene is realistic, it’s not fake and glossy, it’s Tom Courtenay’s ageing body in his underpants. But it’s not played for laughs, and that’s crucial, because older people having sex shouldn’t be a joke.'”

Hear, hear.

When the film opens, Kate Mercer (Rampling) is planning a party for their 45th wedding anniversary when a note arrives telling her husband Geoff (Courtenay) that the body of his first love has been discovered, reawakening long-buried memories. Here is a trailer for the film which was released last week but not available anywhere I can view it yet:

Apparently, European countries are slightly more open with sex scenes involving old people than the Brits or Hollywood but not by much and Jones supplies a couple of theories about that:

”Mitchell calls the idea of later-life sex on screen 'a taboo because it’s so rare' and Andrew Haigh has his own theory about why audiences can react with shock, and even disgust.

“'The warped view we have comes from when we are very young, I think, and our first relationships with older people are usually our grandparents. They just, for the most part, don’t ever talk about sex, so I think we just don’t understand the need or desire even existing.'”

I lean more toward Haigh's explanation than Mitchell's. I couldn't watch 45 Years but I did track down a German film that Jones mentions - Cloud 9 from 2009.

It is the story of a 67-year-old married woman, played by Ursula Werner, who rediscovers sexual passion when she falls in love with a 76-year old man, played by Horst Westphal.

Although Roger Ebert had some reservations about the movie in general, he made an important point in his review that I was floundering to identify:

”The director, Andreas Dresen, presents the sex scenes as if they involve two 20-year-olds, as she should.”

Exactly. Even so, I was as uncomfortable watching the bedroom scenes as I am when they are played by 20-somethings. But that's me with my possibly over-developed sensibility of what should be private which does not for a minute mean I think showing people enjoying sex at any age should be taboo in the movies. Quite the opposite.

Nor do I think that this quotation from a woman identified in the BBC story as Clare Binns, a programmer for a theater chain in Britain, has a iota of merit:

“But because seeing this confronts us all with getting older, my educated guess is that even older viewers prefer to watch a sex scene with younger people in it – it makes them forget that they’re not young anymore.”

Here is a German-language trailer that gives a small sense of one of the sex scenes in Cloud 9:

The English language trailer is much more modest. You can see it here.

I'm eager to read your reactions, dear readers.


I agree with you in that any very sexual scene makes me a little uncomfortable, but I found these clips much easier to watch & I found myself smiling & enjoying the love they displayed. Perhaps it's just good acting? Who knows. That said, I must say that I've been married to the love of my life for 54 yrs. & falling in love again at my age, 78, seems impossible. I can't imagine being with another man ever. Even when I was a younger woman, I felt this way.
My very wise mother, widowed at 63, always said that "one man was enough for any woman." Always listened to mom, even when she was in her 90s. I think she had much to do with the way I think about men & women. My kid sister @68 feels as I do. We've often talked about it. Thanks for another great post. Dee

Ronni: why is my NAME posted on my reply? Pls. remove if possible. It always came up as just Dee. Thanks! D.

The name posted with your comment is always taken from what you type in the form you fill in. There is no other way it can happen. I have no control - it is readers' responsibility to enter the name you want to show. It can be an alias if you choose but the email you enter must be a real email. It is never published.

Perhaps next time you have a tech issue, you would use the contact link so we don't muck up a comment thread with nuts and bolts that don't affect others.

The topic of sex is a touchy one and it gets even touchier when wrinkles, flab and sags are involved. However, if you were ever wondering whether or not sex among older people is alive and well, just come here to the ALF where making whoopee is so rampant that the social worker keeps condoms in her desk at all times. And it's not always in the privacy of the bedroom. I can't remember the last time our pool table was used to play pool.

I think the more sex scenes we see between diverse types of people the more accepting we'll be in society. I believe LGBT sex scenes helped created acceptance for LGBT people. That leads me to believe the more elder sex we see, the more accepting we'll be of older people having sex. Also, most people get old, so they need to be prepared for the future.

What I resent is the propaganda that Hollywood presents that only good looking people have sex.

I've always said I'm old, not dead. I'd be interested to know at what age the general public thinks human beings turn off their interest in sex, and why they imagine we ever would.

A wonderful treatment of sex between a couple in their 80s is found in "Still Mine" a 2012 Canadian film starring James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold. Beginning with "Take off your clothes, old man", to the after-observation "It never gets old, does it?", the nudity is frank, the nitty-gritty is skipped, and the desire and pleasure are apparent.

Those Germans are adorable. May we all have some much fun!

Of course, the trailer is good. It's about fun and laughter during sex, which I totally favor!

I don't want to watch explicit sex scenes at all -- I don't care what ages. I like the old days when the scenes would fade out and you imagined (or didn't) what happened next. My puritanism I guess. I'm the same about books -- I don't want to know who did what, it's none of my business...

Great topic. It's a shame society tends to cringe at the thought of elders having sex. If it is still a pleasurable experience for some, then why wouldn't the younger population find it encouraging for them so that they will not dread so much this time in their lives.

My grandmother, in her 80s, had one boyfriend after another (simply because she outlived them) and continued to be interested in men until she died at 94. As a child, I spent summers with her and would peek in on her and her male friend giggling and kissing in the living room. I tend to think they probably did more and I did not find it offensive at all. I hope to be just like her if I find someone I am interested in.

After a long marriage and then a divorce, I had a very healthy sexual relationship in my mid 60s. Now in my 70s, I tend to prefer companionship over a sexual relationship but I think if the right person came along and rocked my boat, I could enjoy sex again BUT I am certainly no longer seeking it.

Kudos to those who continue to enjoy sex in their elder years whether it be with their spouse or someone else. It is such a natural and fulfilling act so why shouldn't we introduce elder sex more in the movies and otherwise so that it does become attractive and the younger generation doesn't say, "Eww!"

Just loved Cloud 9! That delightful German chap got it right. Sex should be fun not just sturm and drang.
let's face it--the aesthetics of sex are never perfect unless the guy is Marlon Brando and you are Ava Gardner. Much better not to have close-ups.
Aside from that, yes I do enjoy sex at 87 plus. Life should be LIVED!

Oh Bruce, you crack me up with your down to earth, no fakery, no baloney depiction of life in your ALF. If I ever moved in there, we would be the biggest shoot disturbers on the floor.

Happy belated birthday from a fellow shoot disturber in Montreal.

Pool tables. And when I,say pool tables, I mean airport runways.

Bruce, Keep that sense of humour.

I like your style.

I have always been uncomfortable watching love scenes... No matter my age or the age of the people "doing it". I really get embarrassed at come of the stuff young people do on TV.

That said, I know elderly people have sex. Isn't that great! I have a healthy marriage in all respects... But there are somethings that I don't talk about ...bedroom life it one of them.

"Sex at the Movies" involving old people, as Judy notes, can easily be encouraging to younger movie patrons. And it can even become a 'teaching moment', showing love and obvious offscreen passion as the bedroom door is closed by the older couple. Leaving the viewers to imagine the private scene in their own minds.

Thanks, doctafill. Sex among residents is one of those dirty little secrets that everybody goes "tisk-tisk" at, but deep down inside, they would like to get involved in.

Last night I watched the movie "See You in My Dreams"---old people and sex scenes as I would like to see them---
It portrays having sex and enjoying it ---but not the nitty gritty.

Personally, I have always found sex scenes on screen too much. for me, sex, love making, is a very personal and intimate interaction and to have it on the big screen barring all, no matter what the age, demeans the act. I actually liked both clips you showed, Ronni, because what they actually portrayed, at least for me, was the love, intimacy and comfort that comes with a long term relationship. And yes, particularly with the German clip, some life! Just because we have grey on our head does not mean we are dead. In our ageist society, we have been categorized as such. So kuddos to the filmmakers who wish to show that life continues after .....45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70,......+


Thank you, thank you for taking on an important subject. I have a friend (female) who is 90.. One of her greatest sadnesses is that she currently doesn't have a man in her life. She's outlived her husband; the love of her life; and a grumpy, but much loved fellow.

Your blogs always make me think about aging with greater interest and confidence. I wouldn't mind substituting in as the female actor in the German film....such intimacy and such fun!!!

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