Getting old is taboo in erotica. Not in the sense of being forbidden—no one will stop you from writing about characters advanced in years, and every once in a while an editor will talk a publisher into backing an anthology of stories where all the characters are over—shudder—50. Or sometimes even ust over 40. The horror! And you can occasionally place such a story in other anthologies. I’ve done it a few times myself. Yes, I admit that “taboo” is an overstatement in this context.
Still, in erotica, as in most forms of entertainment, pretty much anything goes except being physically unattractive, in terms of what’s generally considered attractive in one’s particular time and culture. In our culture, that tends to be youth-centered. Fortunately, even within a culture tastes do vary, and a good writer can make a case for one character being attractive to another even when one or both of them fall pretty far outside the norms, but most erotica seems to toe the mark of what’s commonly considered youthful movie-star looks.
Speaking of toeing the mark, I’m not very familiar with toe fetishism, although I know it exists. Do toes need to be “’cute” to be fetishized? I rather suspect not. There are certainly some exceptions to the necessity of exceptionally attractive characters in erotica, and we humans being as contrary as we are, there are probably some who fetishize dramatically ugly characters, or parts thereof. And there may be those who prefer to read about older people having sex, for various reasons, not necessarily kinky ones.
Aging is a complex issue in our society in ways that go beyond the matter of looks and therefore desirability, although those are the prime counts against it. Getting old is a challenge to the young’s sense of immortality. There seems to be a feeling that those who grow old must somehow deserve their fate. They should have known better. This attitude isn’t quite as pernicious as the one that sees poverty and ill health as the fault of those who suffer them, or possibly a just punishment from God, but the two are similar.
What set me off on this tirade isn’t the fact that I’ve somehow allowed myself to get to an age that’s considered old. I am as good as anyone else of my generation in defining “old” as some years older than wherever I am now. But I’m annoyed by the click-bait headlines I see again and again online, the ones about “So-and-so was gorgeous in such-and-such TV show back in the 70s, 80s, but you won’t believe what they look like now!” You know, the ones interspersed with “Celebrities who have to work at Regular Jobs!” and “So-and-so Lost 100 pounds and Looks Like a Model!” There seems to me to be an underlying motif of, “Ha ha, they got old!” I have to admit that I don’t click on those, so for all I know they show pictures of celebrities who have managed to stay gorgeous, but I still think they’re intended to appeal to people who want to see the formerly beautiful and famous brought low by aging.
When it comes to averting the eyes (and mind) from images of old people having sex, there may be some connection to the possibly universal distaste for thinking of one’s own parents (or grandparents) in sexual situations. I suppose this is to be expected when the parents have been responsible for such oppressions as toilet training. And I suppose that thinking of grandmothers as hyper-prudish seems reasonable from the perspective of the grandchildren, who can’t imagine that anyone that old was ever young, or sexy. Every generation thinks they invented sex, or at least sex with the lights on. I guess they never heard of the 60s, and Free Love, back when I was their age. Granted, not all of us had the luxury of being hippies, but we paid attention.
But back to erotica. I have an admission to make. What really got me thinking along these lines is wondering whether I’ve included too many stories about older people in my next anthology. Wondering about that, of course, makes me guilty of seeing erotica with old people as slightly taboo, too. Will readers complain? Will it affect sales? Well, screw it all. The book is Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year Volume 2—how I miss the days when it would have been titled simply Best Lesbian Erotica 2018!—and it just happened that among the stories I considered the best, there were more than usual with older protagonists, and fewer with young ones. Maybe this is a trend. Most of them were younger than what I consider old, but there are several over 40, and one lovely piece set in a geriatric psych ward.
Hmm, as I look again at my Table of Contents, there isn’t really as big a percentage of older-folks stories as I’ve been thinking there was. More indication of my own unexamined bias. It’s like the study that shows that if twenty percent of a group is female, the males will be sure that the females constitute an overwhelming majority. I’ll stop obsessing about it. You know, I think the reason I feel like there are too many of those stories is just that they’re so good, and stick in my mind.
So I guess I’ve been attacking a straw man. Or straw woman. Like beauty, taboo is in the eye of the beholder, and if I think growing old is taboo, that says more about me than about our youth-oriented, celebrity-obsessed, fat-phobic society.