Online dating has made sex more accessible for men and women over 60. But as well as offering the possibility of greater sexual fulfilment, the internet is also throwing up new challenges and dangers.
“It’s the secret sex life of your parents and grandparents.” That’s what one 70-year-old woman in Somerset told Channel 4 News. In fact, 51 per cent of people over 60 told us they are sexually active and many describe enjoying a late sexual bloom. In exclusive research, Channel 4 News carried out in-depth interviews with 76 over-60s all over the country and polled another 500 to find out about love, sex and relationships in what is fast becoming a new, old age.
“I can say that sometimes in the street I think: ‘Oh yeah, that would be a nice person to go to bed with’,” Vikki, 70, from Dorset told us. Joey, 69, from London said: “I got to a point where I thought I’m going to kick the bucket fairly soon.”
We still feel as though we have a right to be a sexual being as well as everything else. Margaret, aged 67
So three months ago, he joined Grindr, the mobile dating app for gay men, and told us he’s now “averaging, I would say, four men a week”. Joey is like almost half of all our respondents (46 per cent) who told us that sex is important to their lives.
Despite many feeling liberated in themselves, many told us they didn’t feel like society was very approving of OAP sex. Many felt overlooked and that they became invisible after the menopause. Margaret, 67 from Oxfordshire told us: “We still feel as though we have a right to be a sexual being as well as everything else. We’re not just grannies – I’m not, anyway!”
“Younger people nowadays must think: ‘Oh God, that’s gross, you know, granny’s at it,'” Myra, 67, in Essex, told us. But at it they are, and a third of those who are single told us they too would like to meet someone new. And just like younger people, most are turning to the internet to do so.
Connie, 83, from London has just signed up for a dating site, even though she can’t work a computer. Her granddaughter Nicola is acting as both facilitator and gatekeeper and sifting those she thinks are suitable.
As Nicola sends a smiley to a man called John who’s caught her grandma’s eye, Connie tells us that Nicola need not worry about her. “I have got my wits about me, I do know what it’s all about.”
Stella and Peter met on eHarmony and got married a year ago, having both lost their long-term partners. Peter, who was 70 at the time, recounts the nerves of starting over again after many years without sex and said: “I can remember sitting on the sofa with Stella and discussing this and saying, well, I really don’t know whether anything works any more. So we decided to find out basically”.
The internet has made finding love so much easier, but this increased access to sex is leading to increased rates of sexually transmitted infections. In fact, STIs have doubled in 50-90-year-olds in the past 10 years.
Justin Gaffney is a sexual health nurse consultant and told us: “There is a degree of naivety in the older population in that they just don’t see that they are at risk of sexual infections.”
There is a degree of naivety in the older population in that they just don’t see that they are at risk of sexual infections. Justin Gaffney, sexual health consultant
In fact, older people become more anatomically susceptible to STIs as they age, and yet 64 per cent of our respondents who are either in new relationships or are dating, hadn’t sought sexual health advice.
Justin has had people come to him using household products as lubricants- shampoo, hand cream and even cooking oil. “There does need to be perhaps a focus on trying to make services more older people friendly.”
In many ways it is no surprise that older people are taking risks. Many of our respondents told us that their first marriages in the 1950s and 60s had been repressed, and if they are dating again today that they are keen to experiment and enjoy a much more empowered, adventurous relationship.
Truth is stranger than fiction. Some hot guy at 69? Nah, this doesn’t happen. But by God, it does! Joey, aged 69
For some women, it has only been in later years that they achieved orgasm for the first time. Solange, 79, from Wales told us: “I might have been in my 40s when I had an inkling of what it was. By my 60s I’d finally figured out what it was. And in my 70s, ‘Yes, that’s what it is!'”
Having had conventional relationships in the past, lots of people we spoke to are choosing to have relationships on different terms today. Solange added: “My take on older men right now is that they’re looking for a housekeeper or a care-giver, neither of which roles I am prepared to take on.” And so living apart seems to be a growing trend among older people trying to keep things fresh.
David and Carole live opposite each other, having moved down to Hastings after their respective partners died. They see each other most days, but Carole says: “It’s more exciting seeing each other when you don’t see each other all the time.”
David was keen to avoid the compromising involved by sharing each other’s space. “You don’t want to be in a close, tight relationship again with all that involves, with all the sort of mundane things.”
Throughout our research we have repeatedly heard how this second chance at love and sex was entirely unexpected. Joey added: “Truth is stranger than fiction. Some hot guy at 69? Nah, this doesn’t happen. But by god it does! It has! And look how hot I am!”
The first part of Channel 4 News’s Love and Sex When We’re Over 60 is broadcast on Monday 16 June.
Parts two and three will follow on during the week. They were directed by Cat McShane.