How do these paintings of older people having sex make you feel?
Be honest with yourself. Intriguing or revolting?
Does it make you look forward to aging or does it scare the living daylights out of you?
I had the good fortune the other day to observe the reactions of a diverse group of individuals at the opening reception of the works of G.H Rothe at the San Francisco Art Institute.
For you art aficionados out there, G.H Rothe was a highly acclaimed commercial artist best known for her very detailed mezzotints of surreal landscapes, horses and dancers.
Theses erotic and sensual paintings depicting sex and intimacy between older couples were discovered after her death and were painted when she was just 50 years old.
The gallery notes say ” these paintings represent ecstasy cascading through myriad elements—the pure color of radiant jewels, sheer and slumping flesh, euphoric expressions, ungendered faces, the unexpected eroticism of geriatric bodies, and Rothes virtuosic layering of paint”.
I know that as a sex educator I should be embracing these paintings.
I should be celebrating that sex and sensuality can happen at any age, that passionate intimacy is literally timeless.
But I actually had a really visceral reaction to this work…and I was not alone.
I had a hard time seeing past the ungendered faces, the sheer and slumping flesh, the small and flaccid penis, the large droopy veined breasts that look like they would hang down to the knees.
My first reaction was, “Oh my god…am I really going to look like that?” and my second reaction was, “Will I still be having sex at that age”?
Upon reflection, I realized that I was guilty of ageism.
Me who has spent the better part of my professional life in the field of health and aging!
That was quite a realization…and an incredibly vulnerable thing to be sharing publicly.
I know that sexuality is alive and well in the older population and I celebrate that.
One study estimates that 80% of people between the ages of 60 and 90 are having sex.
There has been a huge surge of older adults with STDS and HIV infections, in part because they never grew up having to have the “safe sex” talk.
I know that I have every intention of staying sexually active for as long as I am at least able to hold a vibrator in my hand.
I worked damn hard to find my sexuality and getting older is not going to keep me down.
Hopefully I will have a partner who will go the distance with me and we will continue to love passionately and cherish, honor and bring pleasure to each other’s changing bodies.
I know all of this intellectually and yet I still react whenever I see these pictures… I guess I am just human…
The G.H. Rothe Exhibit “Seven Paintings” at the San Francisco Art Institute is opened through Dec 12th, 2015.