Representation matters

Gay couple feature on new billboard campaign promoting joy of sex in later life

Mark and Andrew in the campaign from the nonprofit counseling service, Relate
Mark and Andrew in the campaign from the nonprofit, British counseling service, Relate (Photo: Rankin)

A long-term, gay couple are among the models to feature on a taboo-busting advertising campaign. Its aim is to highlight the fact seniors benefit from sex and intimacy just as much as younger people.

The campaign launched in the UK at the end of April. It was put together by the respected counseling charity Relate. The organization is well-known across the country for providing counseling to couples facing relationship problems.

Its ‘Let’s Talk The Joy of Later Life Sex’ campaign featured on billboards for two weeks before moving to print and online spaces. It featured a diverse range of older people enjoying moments of intimacy. The campaign was shot by the celebrated photographer, Rankin: better known for his fashion work.

Relate says it wanted to start a conversation about sex in later life. According to a recent study by 3Gem Market research, “two-thirds of over 65s (67%) say sex and intimacy for their age group is rarely (43%) or never (24%) represented in media compared with a fifth (20%) of 18 to 24-year-olds.”

Furthermore, only “one-fifth of people across the UK think society is OK talking about sex and intimacy in people aged over 60.”

Related: Ian McKellen sets up new program to help other LGBTQ seniors

Gail Thorne, a Sex Therapist with Relate said in a press statement about the campaign, “It may seem as though it’s only young people with ‘perfect’ bodies having sex and being intimate but of course this isn’t true!

“In reality, ‘sex and intimacy in later life’ means different things to different people: for some it’s about exploring new and different sexual experiences, and for others it’s simply about feeling able to express emotion through a gentle touch or kiss on the cheek.

“What we’re trying to do today is open up a society-wide conversation about the fact that sex and intimacy – whatever that might mean – can be as important for older people as it is for anyone else.

“We see every day in our Sex Therapy services how not feeling able to talk openly about needs and desires can lead to a lack of fulfilment and be damaging for individuals’ self-confidence and couples’ relationships. This is what we want to change.”

Billie and Cora: Another of the campaign images (Photo: Rankin)

Another of Relate’s therapists, Ammanda Major, told The Guardian, “Many couples drift into a place where sex and intimacy are difficult, and they might need help with talking about it.”

She added that sex in the media is often shown as something dynamic between young people: “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.”

The gay couple who feature in the campaign are Andrew and Mark, both in their 60s. The men have been together 31 years.

Their poster image was accompanied by the caption: “Some men discover they love golf. Some men discover they love men.”

In a campaign video, the men talked about their shared moments of intimacy, from their feet touching while they read in bed together to feeling like teenagers again if they have sex for the first time in a while.

“It might go infrequent but I think the older you get the better you get at it,” says Mark. “It’s quite normal now on television, on TV programmes to see older couples sort of showing intimacy. But it’s very rarely shown if the older couple is a gay couple.

“As well as being husbands we’re also like best friends. That side of it’s always been something that’s been a constant intimacy and it hits more physical sexual aspects that go up and down as you go through different times in life.”

Related: LGBTQ seniors celebrated in photo exhibition opening in New York

Andrew told The Guardian that he was normally more reserved than his partner, but shooting the campaign, “was a wonderful experience – and a privilege to be photographed by Rankin.”

Photographer Rankin added about the campaign, “The simple fact is that we all need intimacy now more than ever – and age, of course, 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.”