Gerascophobia is especially associated with femininity. What some men fear most is that when they get older, they will turn into some kind of woman, or what they associate with being a woman; more fragile, helpless creatures than their youth.
The main topic of this article is the sexuality of older women. However, I fragmented the article with subheadings so that the time-limited reader can choose the most interesting topic in this abundance of stimuli, read through, forget what they have read and pursue a new stimulus. In this article, I discussed the relationship between old age and sexuality, of course giving women a large place, along with its handling in art and cinema, its neglected aspects, statistical data -I guess you have stopped reading here-, the health dimension of the issue, physiological changes that come with age, and technological hopes.
A woman in motion
It is no longer true that hurricanes are named only by women, because we overcame this with a feminist refraction in 1979, fortunately. The World Meteorological Organization’s list of names for some tropical hurricanes until 2026 is clear and the list is in the form of a male and then a female name. So, I think our answer to the stereotype that the most violent hurricanes are the ones with female names should be “let’s blow up then”. Even in old age… “Even”?
Getting old on purpose: Technological hopes
Consider an old woman. We placed a probe in her clitoris and an apparatus that will give stimuli to some other parts of her body at the dose, duration and pressure appropriate to her personal expectations. Cyber glasses on her eyes that appeal to her fantasies… Would this “virtual simulation sex assistant” be an absurd technological venture or a gerontechnological design that will increase the quality of life of an old woman who is for example ill, for example paralyzed, for example, who has difficulty in accessing health services, but whose mind and emotions are lively, without getting caught in the gears of health capital?
A small and boring truth
“Turkey is a country with a young population” is now just a myth. According to TURKSTAT data, we will be in the category of not elderly but very old countries, with a 10.2% elderly population in 2023 (TURKSTAT, 2018 Population Projections, 2025-2080). 2023 is just there and it is too late to take naive measures against the elderly burden.
“Sexuality is worthy of the young”
There are also unreal truths in our minds. Let’s take a look at the myths of “young is sexy”, “young is sexually stimulating”, “sex is worthy of the young”. The first kissing scene in the history of cinema is in Edison’s movie The Kiss. In the movie, two middle-aged people kiss while talking like birds. When we look at the history of Hollywood, which still determines the mainstream and the field to a considerable extent, actresses and actors were not as young as the ones who are famous today. For example, Marlene Dietrich was in her 30s when she shone with her top hat, and over the next 20 years the contrasts of beautiful and scary, charming and repulsive continued to make her star shine. As a result, this extolling of the youth had come up a little later. Although there is not a historically long path, scientifically proven data, whatever happened, suddenly in the twentieth century, sexuality became worthy of young people. Watch the sexual intimacy of old bodies in Wolke 9, a 2008 German movie, and see how you feel. Let the one without sin throw the first stone. Besides, what are we going to do with these prolonged lifetimes as modern medicine beats infections and cancer? What will happen in social and individual terms when we extend the lifespan for another 10 years? A mature person puts ambition aside, cannot be as productive as she/he used to be, and does not want to be. What would you do as a poor elder? Would you do the same thing that So-young did? Could sex be a means of survival, even if it turns your stomach? Meet with 65+ female sex workers in South Korea, a Bacchus Lady and her people in the movie, with the 2016 South Korean film Bacchus Lady. You probably already met; you are buttoned to each other unconsciously since you are reading this article.
Anatomophysiological difficulties that come with age
I will tell you about a woman in the period of menopause. With this special period, the estrogen production in her body begins to decrease, so that dizziness, palpitations, and irritability begin. She is distressed, unhappy, and has sleep problems. On top of that, the lubrication (wetting and lubricating) of the vagina decreased, vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina) developed, which led to dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse). So, there is much to manage in this table now. This woman has to deal with many things in a balanced way, such as urinary tract inflammation, sexual anorexia, depression. With her doctor, of course. An old woman may have urinary incontinence during sexual intercourse and this may embarrass her towards her partner. The woman may attribute the physiological erection difficulties developed normally with age in the partner to that she is no longer desired. Then, sexual therapists who are highly educated should be applied immediately. CETAD (https://www.cetad.org.tr) has been working on this issue in the country for years. Her therapist will listen to her, she/he will understand her. Being sexually active is a remedy for these problems. Her therapist will suggest masturbation or staying active with her partner in some way. Together, they will identify the problem areas and step by step, with suggestions suitable for the person’s spiritual pace, the path to the solution will be drawn, and a boutique dress will be sewn.
In addition, vaginal dryness may even require surgery due to atrophy and narrowing of the vagina. The most important cause of vaginal dryness is the withdrawal of hormones. The use of bioequivalent hormones all over the world is rising as a female human right. Considering the share allocated by health investors to develop pharmacotherapeutics in order to maintain male sexuality into old age, it is obvious that older women’s sexuality is put in the background. Let’s throw away the stone of vaginal dryness that cuts off during the road to long-lasting sexuality and wave like a flag by taking our right and demand for bioequivalent hormones into our hands. We want lubricant! We want bioequivalent hormones!
If menopause knocks on the door early
Let’s take a look at the chronologically young woman who has had an early menopause, which society has fixed its gaze on her uterus in order that she gets married and reproduces. What was the meaning this woman attributed to her body, vagina, uterus, did she want to get married, what did she think about having children? Does she see it as a loss or as a liberation? Is she in a way an old woman now, or is a new sexuality starting for her, free of birth control? With the vaginal lubricant in her bag, will she sexualize (let’s derive a word from socialization) by using condom just to prevent contagious diseases? Or will she find herself a divan or begin face-to-face psychoanalytic counseling? Will she establish a solidarity network with women who live the same situation as her? Will she enter a psychodrama program? Will she shoot a movie? Will she write an article? What is going on, where is our mind going while we are looking for a solution to this woman, necessarily we will make this woman give birth by making her produce something, right? No matter what happens, this woman doesn’t seem to be accountable to just herself. She owes us all, as if she has to explain to the public, how and why does she use her body? It would be nice if there was a hurricane now. Enough, let’s lay off the femininity.
Is “femininity lost”?
The pheromones that stimulate the rhinencephalic regions of the brain change, and the “feminine” scent decreases with age. The main producers of human pheromones are the apocrine glands located in the armpit and groin area. These glands, which exist when we are still embryos, become active with puberty and start to produce our personalized pheromones by interacting with aerobic bacteria in our body. When it comes to the “masculine” scent, of course it also decreases, but although its raw material, the concentration of 16-androstenin, is higher in men, since “attraction is a woman’s duty” (Brooksbank et al. 1972), femininity is lost more in old women through also pheromones. On the other hand, some may find it interesting that women find the scent of gay men more attractive than heterosexual men (let’s marginalize this word as we take the opportunity) (Sergeant, 2007). Although the literature on this subject is controversial, there are also studies showing that the vomeronasal organ (VNO), also called Jacobson, located in the nasal brace, is found at a higher rate in men (Stoyanov, 2021). This can somehow be attributed to the fact that pheromone perception is more decisive in male sexuality, (Let’s lay off the masculinity, right? It is rebuked a lot during the article.) As a result, the decrease in pheromones can also affect the perception of gender identity.
There are also diseases that require removal of the uterus and ovaries, oh… Aren’t there? Fortunately, there are women who care about having a healthy and functional body rather than being young and beautiful. According to some studies, body satisfaction of older women is higher than younger women (Tiggemann, 2013). This data can serve as a hub in moving sexuality out of a performative field and shifting it to the axis of subjective feelings and experiences. And then the question now is, how can we turn the cursor this way from the losses?
Woman is a home to woman
Grace and Frankie is an American comedy series. In fact, they are two women who do not like each other very much and had to meet because of their husbands’ business partnership. They are trying to get over the first shock wave shoulder to shoulder when their spouses come and say that they have been in a romantic relationship with each other for years and that they want to live together at the end of their lives. After a while, these two old and sexy women, who became close friends, turn the cosmetics company that Grace founded in her youth into a company that produces sexual technology and cosmetology. They’re American. So, there is nothing such as “I produced it for myself”, “I taught it to the person next to me”. Necessarily and definitely das Kapital. Together, they create a new production area, from the easy-to-use vibrator that will not cause joint discomfort to the production of vaginal lubricants that may be needed by old women. They get old and produce. However, shouldn’t they be “retired and wearing vest”? It is unfortunate and obvious that women with higher education and income levels have a more active sex life in old age (Addis 2006). Poverty is a pain in the neck, which means so is wealth. Equal distribution of social resources is needed.
Long-term partnership also plays a positive role in the changes that come with age. The fact that the changes are lived gradually and together makes it easier for couples to adapt to the situation. In the eyes of these couples, sex becomes a thing that is made less cursory. Sexuality becomes something more evenly divided between two people. With age, women take a more active role in preliminary intimacy, while men begin to like being more romantic.
Getting old is a gender-based issue
There is a 75-year follow-up study conducted with only “white Harvard male” students. The designer of the study, who is often criticized for this arrogance and chauvinism, replied to the accusations like a slap; “Men don’t change their last names and disappear like women do”. Look at this. “Rich children at Harvard will not die prematurely from malnutrition, infection, accident, or poor medical care like the poor. Nor will racial prejudices prevent them from reaching their full potential, from the careers and lives they desire”. I have nothing else to say, Mr. Judge (let’s think about this ‘mister’). It is not possible to come across such a comprehensive and long-term follow-up study on women.
Getting old with pride
Can we call old age “the period of living with pride”? Not really. Of course, LGBTI elders have additional problems besides the loneliness, ageism, financial difficulties and struggle with health problems that all elders face. These problems become more stratified depending on gender identity/sexual orientation, and social exclusion, economic difficulties, and barriers to accessing services and health care deepen. Being LGBTI means more lifetime discrimination and unjust treatment that is not even proportional to income and education. Fortunately, the new generation is relatively free of dichotomy and is able to consider sexuality in the context of diversity. Let’s hope things get better in the future.
Old woman-witch pairing
When we think of a witch, we think of an old woman. In their 15th-century book The Witch’s Hammer, two Jesuit priests wrote that “It is not surprising that women are more easily enchanted by witchcraft, as they are weak both mentally and physically” (Malleus Maleficarum, 1486, Heinrich Kramer & Jacob Sprenger). In 1799, Goya depicts old women in perverted sex or eating babies in his drawings “Linda Maestra (The Beautiful Teacher)” and “Mucho Hay Que Chupar (There is Plenty to Suck)”.
People avoid the word old. For example, Simone de Beauvoir’s book, whose original French name is La Vieillesse (Old Age, To Get Older), is translated into English as The Coming of Age. According to Beauvoir, old age for men is an old age where a kind of feminization is faced.
Getting old is “a matter of other gendering”
Almost everyone is afraid of getting old. And this fear is especially associated with femininity. For example, what some men fear most is that when they get older, they will turn into some kind of woman, or what they associate with being a woman; more fragile, helpless creatures than their youth. Impotence, lack of power, limitation of domination areas (perhaps the female body). However, there is a kind of other gendering for women as well. “Feminine” scent and fertility decrease, some hairs appear on the face.
Let’s not be afraid of this word, let’s say it out loud: OLD
There is an iconic photograph of Fatma Girik, who is the leaf of the three-leaf clover (which has an implication) that we recently lost, embracing her aged neck with all her beauty and courage, accentuated by the lace underwear she wears inside her white shirt. God rest her. Here, too, there is a hope for old woman sexuality. Let these women multiply.
In my opinion, the “negative capacity” that the English poet John Keats said for art and Bion adapted to psychoanalysis can also work in meeting old age. With the concept that Keats defines as the common feature of successful people, he talks about pursuing the abstract and staying in uncertainty even under the pressure of the most concrete problems. In uncertainty, possibilities appear. That’s when creativity comes in. In a way, this means continuing to play in old age.
Cezeri made the first robot in this land. Moreover, it is in the Anatolian Middle Ages, long before the swordsman robots we know so well, that appeared in front of us with the water power of a stone we stepped on in the Renaissance palace gardens. Cizreli mechanized his robot guiding to perform ablution according to the principles of air and space. Ablution has something to do with sexuality, right?
And the first hero in mythology to fall in love with the object he made is the sculptor Pygmalion. Our sharp-witted Rodin, who is the artist of The Gates of Hell inspired for Bakırköy’s Thinking Man, carved this myth, which had found many means of expression including painting and sculpture until that day, like himself, like a stocky and old man, not within the beauty of tradition. Pygmalion is an old man who falls in love with the object he has made in his work. Let’s use mythology as a trampoline and jump to the possibilities of sex with robots in old age.
Sex with Robots
Let’s talk about the technological possibilities that we mentioned at the beginning of the article again. Joel Snell introduced the concept of sexbot in 1996, and Levy predicts that by 2050, female sex workers will be completely replaced by these robots in Red Light Street. In this regard, the “reification” of the female body and the socioeconomic dimensions of the issue will make us think ethically. But, with the force of the pandemic, the first cybersex attempts have already taken place. Aleksandra Alexandrovich plans to add technological panties in the future to the “virtual simulation sex tool” which is already consisting of a scent apparatus placed around the neck, gloves and cyber glasses. In the first trials, male subject Aaron said that everything was going too fast and he couldn’t find time to prepare; and while he was crying whiningly his female partner stated that she had a pleasant experience. Hooray evil. If we are witches, let us know our witchcraft.
As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, let’s stay on the side of the issue that is cheap, accessible and will make the old woman happy. A woman experiencing discrimination and violence, when ageism is also added to these and while according to social stereotypes “death cleans the one who is horny after forty”, yes, will turn the cursor in a positive direction by making benefit of each other, activism, sex therapists and technology.
My witch fellows
* I thank Elif Küçükparlak, Suzan Saner, Müge Yetener and Hazal Özvarış.
17 Mayıs Derneği (2020) Yaşlı LGBTİ+ Dünyada ve Türkiye’deki Durum [LGBTI+ Elders: Situation in Turkey and Around the World].
Addis (2006) Van Den Eeden, Wassel-Fyr, Vittinghoff, Brown, Thom, & Reproductive Risk Factors for Incontinence Study at Kaiser (RRISK) Study Group.
Brooksbank BWL, Wilson DAA, MacSweeney DA (1972) Fate of androsta4, 16-dien-3-one and the origin of 3a-hydroxy-5a-androst-16-ene in man. J Endocrinol;52:239–51
CETAD (2007) Cinsel Sağlık ve Üreme Sağlığı Alanında Ulusal ve Yerel Medya Yoluyla Savunuculuk Projesi [Advocacy Project in the Field of Sexual and Reproductive Health through National and Local Media].
Cogito, Sayı 98, Hasta Bir Dünyada Yaşlanmak, Yaz 2020.
Çıracı Yaşar Y, Hintistan S (2020) Yaşlılık – Kadın ve Cinsellik [Aging – Female and Sexuality], İzmir Katip Çelebi Üniversitesi Sağlık Bilimleri Fakültesi Dergisi, 5(1): 15-18.
Morsünbül Ü (2018) Robotlarla Bağlanma ve Cinsellik: Ruh Sağlığı Bakış Açısından Bir Değerlendirme. Psikiyatride Güncel Yaklaşımlar; 10(4):427-439.
Sergeant (2007) M. Women’s hedonic ratings of body odor of heterosexual and homosexual men, Arch Sex Behav, Jun;36(3):395-401.
Stoyanov, G (2021) The vomeronasal organ: History, development, morphology, and functional neuroanatomy. Handb Clin NeuroL.; 182:283-291. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-819973-2.00020-4.
Tiggemann, M (2013) Body appreciation in adult women: relationships with age and body satisfaction, Body Image. Sep;10(4):624-7.
Vaillant GE (2015) Triumphs of Experience, The Man of the Harvard Grant Study.
Tags: bioequivalent hormones, witch, sexual health, sexuality, youth, lgbti, menopause, cybersex, older women, old age
For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için
Translator: Gülcan Ergün
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan