Relate and Rankin pair up in new campaign celebrating the joy of later life sex and intimacy

Marie Claire Dorking
·7 min read

Watch: Relate and Rankin team up to get people talking about sex and intimacy in later life

Relate has teamed up with photographer Rankin in a new campaign designed to change the perception of intimacy in later life. 

The groundbreaking new project, called 'Let’s Talk About the Joy of Later Life Sex', aims to switch up the conversation surrounding sex and intimacy for people in their more senior years. 

It features five couples and one woman who have been captured on camera in various amorous and sensual poses, accompanied by relatable tag-lines.

Exploring everything from long-term love to new adventures, tender intimacy to the more risqué, the series of images features a whole range of older people.

From Andrew and Mark who have been together for 31 years to Chrissie who has had a double mastectomy and her partner Roger, and Daphne and Arthur who still hold hands when they walk. 

Read more: Is sex really better in your 50s? Amanda Holden says yes!

A Relate campaign shot by Rankin is opening up the conversation about later years intimacy. (Rankin/Relate)
A Relate campaign shot by Rankin is opening up the conversation about later years intimacy. (Rankin/Relate)

The people featured are also of varying ethnicities, sizes, shapes and sexualities, aiming to show that everyone can feel empowered to think and talk about sex and intimacy as they grow older.

The campaign, conceived by advertising and marketing agency Ogilvy, aims to break the taboo around sex and intimacy for older couples, a subject which is often overlooked and rarely tackled openly.

While it's true that sex features heavily on our TV screens, in movies, in books, and online, typically it tends to focus on younger couples, with few mentions of older people having sex – unless in jest.

But this can leave the older generation feeling unrepresented. 

Intimacy in later life is rarely depicted in the media. (Rankin/Relate)
Intimacy in later life is rarely depicted in the media. (Rankin/Relate)
The 'Let's talk the joy of later life sex' campaign aims to break down the taboo surrounding intimacy in your later years. (Rankin/Relate)
The 'Let's talk the joy of later life sex' campaign aims to break down the taboo surrounding intimacy in your later years. (Rankin/Relate)

According to research undertaken by 3Gem market research, there is a huge gap between how older people say they are represented in the media and how younger people feel they are reflected.

The poll found that 67% of over-65s 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.

But talking about the topic is important with previous research revealing that there is a significant link between our sexual relationship and overall wellbeing. 

"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!" says Gail Thorne, Sex Therapist for Relate.

"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."

Read more: Dame Judi Dench is championing sex for people in their 80s

The campaign features various sexualities and ethnicities. (Rankin/Relate)
The campaign features various sexualities and ethnicities. (Rankin/Relate)

Thorne says the campaign aims to "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," she adds. 

Watch: Daniel Kaluuya says his mum isn't going to be happy after joke about her sex life. 

While there’s a long way to go before discussing intimacy in later years is normalised across society, this campaign takes important strides in kickstarting the conversation and helping to encourage more couples (and singles!) to embrace sex, no matter their age. 

“The simple fact is that we all need intimacy now more than ever – and age, of course, really is just a number," says Rankin. 

"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.”

Need further proof intimacy that the older generations needs more attention? Just look to science.

A 2009 study, National Social Life, Health and Ageing Project (NSHAP), conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Chicago, found that almost three quarters (74%) of women aged 75 to 85 believed satisfactory sex was essential to maintaining a relationship, while 72% of men felt the same.

The same study found that over a third of men (38%) and almost a fifth (17%) of women within this age bracket were sexually active. And why the hell not?

Turns out getting intimate can have health benefits for the older generation too in terms of giving their brain a boost.

Researchers from Coventry and Oxford University in the UK have found a link between frequent sexual activity and improved brain function in older adults.

The study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, involved quizzing 73 people aged 50-83 on how often, on average, they’d had sex over the past 12 months.

Participants also answered questions about their general health and lifestyle.

The 28 men and 45 women also took part in a standardised test, which is typically used to measure different patterns of brain function in older adults, focussing on attention, memory, fluency, language and visuo-spatial ability.

Scientists found that people who had sex at least weekly scored higher on tests of cognitive function – and, more specifically, on tests that measured verbal fluency and visuospatial ability – than those who had sex less frequently.

Read more: How a woman can enjoy sex whatever her age

The campaign features various stories of intimacy between people in their senior years. (Rankin/Relate)
The campaign features various stories of intimacy between people in their senior years. (Rankin/Relate)

Commenting on why it is so important that intimacy isn't forgotten when you get older, sex therapist Ammanda Major, head of service quality and clinical practice at Relate said: “Intimacy helps you to work together on the things that life throws at you and is one of the cornerstones of feeling supported, vulnerable and loved for who you are.

"It positively enhances wellbeing and has a magical quality that supports love, care and respect, which is why it can be hugely important, whatever your age.”

Major has these essential tips for opening up about intimacy in your older years:

· Talking about sex and intimacy can be tricky. Recognise how vulnerable you may feel starting a conversation you haven’t had for years, or may never have had.

· Take some time out to think about what it is you want to focus on, e.g. a sexual problem or not feeling close to your partner.

· You could use the campaign photos as a conversation starter, for example: 'Have you seen this campaign from Relate and Rankin on sex and intimacy in later life? What do you think?'

· If you have some constructive feedback to give, pick a time with no distractions. If you have positive feedback, don’t hold back as people love to hear good things.

· Avoid 'you' statements like, 'you don’t make me feel loved/ sexy/ attractive'. Instead start with 'I' phrases like 'I’ve been wondering about how we might be able to feel closer to each other'.

· Ask your partner for their opinion. Be open to having a discussion rather than just focusing on your needs or what’s not right for you.

· If you’re very hesitant, speak to your partner about how you’re feeling about raising the subject e.g. 'I’d like to share something with you and I’m a bit anxious as I’m not sure how you’ll feel about it but I think it’s important'.

· Check in regularly with each other – generally opening up about sex and intimacy and finding the best way to share vulnerabilities together takes practice.

· If it’s just all too difficult, get expert help. Relate is really experienced in helping people to talk through what’s bothering them, to feel heard and to make positive changes. Find out more at relate.org.uk.

Watch: Ask Anna - 'My wife isn't interested in sex anymore – what do I do?'