Popular Culture’s Perception of Sexuality and Elderly People
The view from the young
An American view of sex, as we age, is not to think of our parents having sex or even to think of our grandparents having sex. It is a very taboo subject and one that many people shy away from in views of disgust. The fact of the matter is that as we age, we continue to be human beings who want to feel that love and connection that sex can provide through physiological, psychological, and social aspects. While medical science is advancing and we as a species live longer, older adults are bound to have these urges still and want to have that connection. However, as American's, we poke fun of the Elderly having sex by making jokes, silly cartoons, or we call them old perverts. Could it be that as a society, we have been brought up to think that older adults having sex is so disgusting and taboo that we poke fun of it, so we do not have to think of being in that position one day?
It has been said that a picture can tell a thousand words, and in this comic strip, many words are conveyed; though it may not have been the illustrator's intention, they may have done it on a subconscious level. The beginning of the cartoon displays two younger kids talking about how gross older adults' sex is. Once again, it puts the stereotype of a younger generation making fun of their elders and thinking that it is gross to have sex. The scene then skips to an older couple, portrayed by walkers and flappy skin, both finding it hard to see, and as their clothes come off, they are bound into a dishevel of skin, looking as if their bones are off their body and it is just one flesh. A quick joke about not finding their pills is made. It could be a joke on Viagra, seeing that the pill has been known to help older people have sex. In the final scene, they are both so entwined that one can no longer know who he is, and then nostalgia sets in for them as they remember in that moment of embracing things that made them feel young.
The artist may not have purposefully tried to bring that out in his comic; it was just meant to be a funny little cartoon on some website. However, suppose one took a moment to analyze it and pull the physiological, psychological, and social aspects. In that case, the ability for us to see on a subconscious level as a human species is that we are afraid of getting older and becoming those perverts or slabs of skin.
According to Lehmiller, "An enormous number of psychological factors can affect sexual behavior, including our mood states, level of cognitive alertness, our attitudes towards sex and relationships, behavioral expectancies, as well as associations learned through reinforcement. (Lehmiller, 2013)" Children see these behaviors in the adults that they are modeling, watching them being grossed out by talking or seeing their parents having sex and hearing them make fun of older adults having sex. As those children begin to grow up and have been exposed to this, it leads back to Lehmiller's quote; their minds begin to develop a basis towards those attitudes toward sex and relationships. Along with shaping our behavioral expectancies, one does not want to be in that category to know that older adults having sex is a gross thing. In turn, as a species, the cycle is carried towards that fact, which is portrayed in figure 1. The artist displays that he is poking fun at his elders for having sex, and two young adults show the method that he chose to say was gross.
To also aid in this endeavor, the psychological aspect of things. If growing up and psychological factors of being grossed out by older people having sex are what we are learning, then "Classical conditioning" is what our minds are being taught. In our later years, that conditioning turns more into an "Operant Conditioning." According to Sigmund Freud, Classical conditioning is "Repeated pairing of a neutral stimulus with one that produces a specific behavior will eventually lead the neutral stimulus to elicit the same behavior. (Lehmiller, 2013)" Now one may ask how this conditioning would work with how we think about older people having sex. However, if we view it in this aspect, the neutral stimulus is the child growing up; the behavior he/she sees is the ones of their parents. Now the parent's behavior when thinking about their parents having sex or older people having sex is always to be grossed out and disgusted by those terms. This makes the child believe that they too must be grossed out and disgusted, hence the conditioning. Once the child begins to grow and has a voice, they will react the same way their parents did. This action, in turn, will invoke a reaction from everyone who has learned the same behaviors. This reaction will be an agreement that it is gross or laughter, hence lending more into Operant conditioning.
Operant conditioning, which B.F coined. Skinner, in the late 1930's states, "When behaviors are reinforced, through rewarded or pleasurable consequences, they tend to be repeated…. For this form of learning to occur, the reinforcement/punishment must follow the behavior immediately and consistently; Otherwise, the association will not be learned. (Lehmiller, 2013)" So, in turn, when children grow up and start to enforce the standards, they see their parents doing, and they also receive the same reactions. It reinforces those actions through reward, which is continuing to teach them that it is acceptable and ok for them to be disgusted by older people having sex.
This type of Operant conditioning also mixes with social learning, so it is so hard to see that reinforced rewards are conditioning one. Social learning is the approach of watching individuals behave and then imitating their behaviors, and when we see them punished, we intend not to follow those behaviors either. However, the issue with this is that as a society, we have been groomed to think an elder couple's having sex is gross and disgusting; it is portrayed that way in all walks of society as well. One can find displays of older adults and sex being made fun of or disgusted in books, movies, even in cartoons; it is mixed into everything. The real question is how and why did it get there? As a species, we know that we will get older and eventually die, and that will always strive for us to feel that connection with someone, to let us feel like we are not alone in the world. At the end of the day, I hoped to be like that old couple and entwined with someone else, not caring about anyone in the world.
Lehmiller, J. J. (2013). The Psychology of Human Sexuality. ProQuest Ebook Central.
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