LOS ANGELES—Bonnie and Joel have known each other for over half a century. Now, they’re filming their very first porno.
They sit on a white leather couch, backlit by the Southern California sun, and gaze romantically at each other. “I could spend all day just looking into your eyes,” she says, a boom and mic hovering overhead. A camera pans their torsos, capturing wandering hands. Bonnie, 70, strokes Joel’s long, white mane, which has been pulled into a low ponytail. Joel, 69, runs his fingers through her closely cropped silver hair.
The kissing begins, with pointed pauses for eye contact, face nuzzling, and laughter—but then Bonnie pulls back. “I’m uncomfortable,” she says as a straightforward statement of fact. “First of all, I’m too hot.” Bonnie slowly shrugs a pink cotton robe off her shoulders, revealing a black lace bra from Target, and shifts her position. She has fibromyalgia and her back has been acting up today.
The camera keeps rolling because this is exactly what the film crew is here to capture: two people navigating the vicissitudes of sex and aging.
This film, Guide to Wicked Sex: Senior Sex, co-directed by adult performer jessica drake, who uses the lower-case, and Joan Price, author of Naked At Our Age, will feature hardcore footage alongside narrated tutorials. It’s the latest entry in adult film studio Wicked Pictures’ line of X-rated educational videos, and it comes at a time when headlines frequently highlight the rising rates of sexually transmitted infections among seniors. Naturally, there will be a safer sex component. But, mostly, Price and drake want to show seniors that sex can still be hot and satisfying, even it’s necessarily different than it used to be.
“That’s better, that’s better,” says Bonnie, once her robe is off. The pair were “lovers” in college and only reconnected 11 years ago, thanks to the internet. They start kissing again. “I love your lips,” says Joel. She replies, mischievously, “Both sets.” With their foreheads pressed together, Bonnie offers up a “meowr” before laughing at herself. Joel, wearing a black tank top with a suede string that laces up the neck, “meowrs” right back and tugs at a handful of her hair. “Be careful with the hair pulling today,” she says. “Just, very gentle. I like it, but not too hard right now.”
Before long, Bonnie pulls back again to suggest another change, but this time it isn’t driven by physical discomfort. She tilts her head and raises an eyebrow. Then she says archly, “I think my pussy needs some attention.”
Bonnie’s black crotchless panties are taken off, pillows are propped behind her back, and a range of sex toys are deployed—all of them brought from home in North Carolina. The couple carried them here in a weathered jumbo Ziplock baggie, the kind you might use to freeze slices of fresh bread. There follows a series of “fucks” and “I’m about to come,” and she does, many times over.
“Good thing there’s a towel,” she says with an irreverent laugh, because Bonnie is a squirter.
Joel keeps going, applying a Hitachi between her legs, until she says, a matter of factly, “That’s enough. That’s enough for now.”
drake’s and Price’s film follows two other notable porn projects featuring older performers. In December, porn director Bree Mills launched the series Age & Beauty, which focuses on “elegantly shot encounters between self-confident older women and attractive younger talent.” These pairings are always taboo, which is Mills’s calling card, but the illicitness often arises from something other than the age difference itself—a physical therapist sleeping with her client, for example. Although, there is the exception of a young man from an elder care service who is seduced by an older woman while delivering her groceries. (“All I need is just a strong young man to give me a massage,” she says. “It really helps with my circulation.”)
In March, Erika Lust, a Barcelona-based director, premiered Soul Sex, a film in which a real-life couple in their 70s have sex. It’s a long ways from elderly women seducing grocery delivery boys: The film takes its title from the practice of “soul sex,” a spiritual approach to sex that involves eye contact, mindfulness, and the utterance of a special prayer beforehand (“I know you have sent me this person to help me find, know, heal, and forgive myself,” it begins). The film captures their slow movements alongside luxuriating closeups on rough skin, wrinkles, and sun spots.
The emergence of this micro-genre seems almost inevitable, given an aging populace—people over the age of 65 will soon outnumber children and they are increasingly going online. But the women behind these recent projects talk about them in political terms, rather than as attempts to capitalize on a growing market.
“People think that older bodies can’t possibly be sexy or desirable because we have been fed the message through advertising, television and films that only young bodies are attractive,” Lust says on her website. “It’s time we start shifting how we view senior sex.” Similarly, Mills says her intent is to “showcase intimacy with older people in a sex-positive light, instead of the usual novelty you see in conventional pornography.”
For drake and Price, the goal is to target seniors themselves. “We’re often thought of in our society as having aged out of sex,” says Price, a petite 75-year-old wearing low-heeled lace-up black shoes stamped with bright-red lipstick kisses. “We’re old, we’re wrinkly, who’d want us? We internalize the idea that as older people we’re not sexual anymore.”
Seniors may not age out of sex, but there are real potential sexual side-effects of aging—from vaginal dryness to difficulty with erections, libido changes to achy backs. “Our bodies, relationships, what we like, what we don’t like, what hurts, what feels good—all of that is changed,” Price says in-between takes. These changes, paired with the paradigm of sex as a youthful domain, can be discouraging. “So many seniors will give up on sex and go, ‘I guess that’s over, it was nice while it lasted,’” she adds. “What they don’t understand is that it can, in many ways, be better than ever.”
That “better than ever” requires accepting that, as she writes in Naked At Our Age, “sex might not feel or look the way it did when our hormone rush propelled us into jet-steam sex.” That might mean accepting the need for supportive pillows or the assistance of sex toys. Many women experience vaginal dryness post-menopause—although few discuss it with their healthcare providers—and lube can help. Throughout the shoot—which featured Bonnie and Joel, as well as Marlene and Galen, a kinky pair that had met that day—the co-directors encouraged performers to pointedly use lube on camera.
Senior sex can also require getting comfortable with a flaccid penis. What would have brought another porn shoot to a screeching halt was a narrative essential for this film. “Even with erectile dysfunction there are wonderful ways to have sex where there’s no erection required,” says Price. “Stimulation can happen, arousal can happen, joy can happen.” Galen, who describes himself as a dominant erotic sadist, memorably said during an on-camera interview that his partners “leave feeling penetrated.”
Aging puts some constraints on sex, but it can also put people in touch with the fundamentals: communication, creativity, authenticity. “When you’re young, your hormones will take over even if other things aren’t being done right,” says Price. “But at our age, sex won’t happen unless we have these ideas about how to communicate about it and how to compensate for physical issues and how to talk about sex and how to have sex that isn’t just penetrative sex.”
Bonnie and Joel—with their hair pulling, casual “pussy” talk, and effortless communication—are not your average elderly pair. They are polyamorous and lead an elderly sexuality discussion group at a local senior center back home in North Carolina. Joel is a physician and Bonnie has worked as a nurse and midwife, and spent years as a women’s health advocate. They were hippies in the ’70s. “This is not the senior population,” as Price puts it.
But that is why Price has managed to write four books on senior sex, and why Bonnie and Joel’s classes, where they discuss things like basic anatomy and STIs, routinely fill up. Many seniors are still learning the basics. “The kind of sex education we got back in the ’50s and ’60s was really not much,” Bonnie notes. “When I got my period for the first time, my mother handed me a booklet and said, ‘Read this.’” Bonnie says she encounters many women her age who “don’t know anything about the clitoris.”
In their discussion group, they do an ice-breaking exercise where everyone has to come up with slang words for the penis, vulva, and intercourse. “A lot of people can’t even say the word ‘fuck,’” she notes. They also review the basics of consent. “So many people don’t understand it. We were brought up in the age when you sometimes went along with it.”
Despite her progressive, sex-positive point of view, Bonnie might be somewhat representative in at least one aspect: her willingness to pause mid-makeout to voice her discomfort about an achy back, as opposed to moaning through it. A recent study of peri- and postmenopausal women found that, while some reported negative sexual consequences of aging, like lower libido and vaginal dryness, they also reported positive aspects, like greater self-confidence and communication skills. In a press release, Holly Thomas, the lead author behind that 2018 study, underscored one particular aspect of these improvements: “When they were younger they didn’t feel empowered to say ‘that is not working for me.’”
The reality of sex is rarely a seamless experience of two people wordlessly intuiting each others’ wants and needs—even when you have several decades of sexual experience. The difference might be a greater willingness to accept that.
In Marlene’s case, she didn’t feel empowered to actually figure out what worked for her until a few years ago at the start of her 60s. She followed a traditional path, married at 19, and was a mother by 20. That marriage ended after five years and was followed by another, which lasted a decade before they divorced. Her kids boomeranged in and out of her house, even as adults. “Finally, they got to a point where they were stable,” she says, throwing her strawberry blonde hair over her shoulder. “And I’m like, wow, I’ve got the freedom to do whatever I want now.”
For the past two decades, Marlene has been single and dating, but it was only a few years ago that she met a man in an open marriage who introduced her to the worlds of swinging and BDSM. “I’ve had a lot of experience with vanilla people, single men, and people who are just very repressed about their sexuality,” she says, wearing a strappy black lingerie set and waiting for the start of her scene. “For me, that was not working.”
Now, at 63, she answered a call in Price’s newsletter looking for seniors interested in appearing in the film. “My life has changed quite a bit in the last few years,” she says during an on-camera interview. “I have, I guess, come out as a very sexual woman.” Later, she adds, “We’re not here for a long time, so have a good time.”
She did just that in her scene with Galen, dressed all in black, his face framed by a halo of white hair. Marlene gave and received oral sex, and was blindfolded, flogged, and spanked for half an hour. There were multiple orgasms on her part. No erection, or ejaculation, required.
Older people are hardly unheard of in porn—although “older” is relative. There is MILF porn—a highly popular genre, which typically features performers in their late-20s and beyond—as well as the broader “mature” category. But, according to Chauntelle Tibbals, a sociologist who studies the adult industry, porn featuring women who have aged out of those popular categories “is often presented as ‘shock value’ content along the lines of Grandma’s Bush 12 or Granny’s Little Toyboy.” At the most recent AVN Awards, the so-called Oscars for the porn industry, several “granny” performers and films took home fringe awards.
Older men have their niche, too. Longtime performer Steve Holmes, who is in his 50s, regularly works in daddy-daughter faux incest films, as well as the occasional “dirty grandpa” flick.
These more recent high-profile projects—attached to well-known women directors in the adult industry—come at sex and age from different angles: drake’s is educational, Lust’s is spiritual, and Mills’s is psychological. But they all carry a certain degree of seriousness and sensuality around this business of older people having sex. These are not Grannies Got Hair Down There or Grannies Got Hair Down There 2.
There is a cultural belief in youthful sex as the hottest sex, which equates “hot” with idealized aesthetics: Smooth, tight, unblemished skin. Acrobatic positions, raging hard-ons, “wet” vaginas, and endless pounding. Nothing flopping or sliding; no popping joints or bad backs. These recent projects suggest a broader set of aesthetics while aiming for something beyond the visual. In Soul Sex, it’s the spiritual and emotional connection during sex that’s punctuated with breathy utterances of “that’s beautiful.” In the Age & Beauty series, it’s often the seasoned confidence of an older woman. In Guide to Wicked Sex: Senior Sex, it’s the easing of physical expectations.
Later, Bonnie and Joel transition to a bed in a sunlit room with gauzy white curtains. He’s changed into white linen pants and let down his chest-length hair. She’s changed into a lacy purple lingerie set and black fishnets. Before filming begins again, drake tells them, “If penetrative sex happens, I’m thrilled. If it doesn’t happen, I’m thrilled, still.” Price calls “action.”
There is making out, fingering, oral, and laughter. Bonnie comes several times with a resounding “oh fuck.” Then she tells Joel, “I need your cock inside me.” He replies, facetiously, “I think we can accommodate that.” There’s some side-by-side and a brief bit of cowgirl, before she dismounts. “Too hard on my body,” she says. Joel fingers her, but then she lets him know that she’s sore and needs some lube.
They continue like this for a while, with necessary pauses and adjustments. Then, several minutes before they’ve captured the 30 minutes of footage that they need for the film, Joel ejaculates on Bonnie’s stomach. As the pair laughs ecstatically, they are told that they will have to fill up the remaining screen time with a bit of dry humping, that cliche domain of teenagers. Shortly before “action” is called again, drake reassures them, “You’re 10 minutes away from a nap.”