Porn star Nina Hartley faces the camera, her blond hair swept back in a ponytail, red-framed glasses perched on her nose. She's dressed like a gym teacher in white pants and a red track jacket zipped low enough to suggest she isn't wearing much underneath. She's standing in locker room, surrounded by senior citizens adjusting their retro gym clothes.
"Contrary to what many of us think, sexual desire doesn't diminish with age," Harley says in her gentle lisp. "In fact, it's one of the last functions people lose in their golden years. That's because today, thanks to advances in medicine, like the pharmaceuticals prescribed for erectile dysfunction, what used to look like this," here she holds up a small, browning banana, "now looks a lot like this." She holds up a significantly larger, firmer banana, while smiling cheekily at the camera.
Hartley, a 58-year-old veteran performer whose IMdB acting credits include Anal Annie Just Can't Say No, Rear Action Girls 2, and Boogie Nights, has teamed with Pornhub to create Nina Hartley's Old School: A Complete Guide to Safe Sex After 65. The campaign includes the aforementioned video, made to look like a vintage sex-ed film complete with atonal muzak and a grainy FBI copyright video at the beginning. The video is also available on VHS, and hard copies can be ordered by retirement homes and educational orgs, making the information accessible to tech-averse seniors. Over the course of 15 minutes, Hartley walks her audience through STI prevention and safe-sex practices, before directing them to an accompanying website that illustrates low-impact sex positions. Much of the campaign is wry and tongue and cheek—the cringey promo vid includes an elderly woman getting a "GILF LIFE" Ed Hardy–esque tramp stamp while rap music plays—but that doesn't mean it isn't 100 percent sincere.
"It's important that seniors are shown and seen as fully sexual individuals, worthy of privacy, pleasure, safety, and play," Hartley tells me over email. She graduated from San Francisco State University's nursing school in 1985, and her videos frequently combine the erotic with the educational regarding matters of sexual health. She first became aware that STIs were on the rise among seniors after reading a newspaper article several years ago but adds, "It wasn't surprising, as people will always seek out connection, pleasure, intimacy, and good times. Age is no barrier to pleasure."
"There is a common misconception that people just stop being sexually active after a certain age, and that simply isn't the case," says Corey Price, VP of Pornhub. The adult video–streaming site had previously launched socially conscious initiatives such as awareness campaigns for domestic violence and described video for the visually impaired, but Price had long known he wanted to do something for senior citizens. "It's so easy to find sex tips for millennials, who are often the core demographic for many of today's publications. But when you try and look for any information regarding the elderly, there just isn't much."
An increase in life expectancy combined with a lack of risk for pregnancy means that more and more senior citizens are having unprotected sex. "Between 2007 and 2011, the number of chlamydia infections in people over 65 rose by 31 percent, and syphilis by 52 percent" says Hartley incredulously in the video to a sheepish looking audience. Infections that are inconvenient to a younger person can be fatal in an already weakened immune system.
"With the launch of Old School, we would like to garner more mainstream awareness about the importance of safe sex for today's seniors, particularly those in retirement communities and nursing homes," continues Price. The video is already gaining an audience since its launch [on July 17] and seems to be reaching some of the right people. As one comment on the video's Youtube page reads, "Thank you Pornhub! I'll be careful from now on. I'm 85 and I still get a lot of vagina."
Old School highlights just how vast the dearth of awareness is when it comes to the sexual practices of elderly people, especially those who require long-term assistant care. Adult children are frequently responsible for making significant life choices on behalf of aging relatives, and nobody wants to think of their sweet great aunt Beatrice getting spanked or eating ass.
"Most long-term care facilities do not have policies on sexual expression," says Dr. Melanie Davis, who launched safersex4seniors.org in 2012, a website run by health professionals that provides information on topics such as engaging in sex after prostate cancer, or coming out of the closet later in life. "Adult children will often say, 'Well if my parent is in bad enough shape to need to be in long-term care, then they certainly cannot be having sex. That's just not appropriate.'" Davis argues that a person doesn't stop being sexual just because their faculties have changed. It's often up to the daily caregivers, Davis says, to use their judgement about what's best for the patient on a case by case basis. That becomes more difficult when we treat all long-term care residents as asexual beings.
Davis recently spent the last few months field testing a sexuality education curriculum for older adults, which she plans to have available for sale early next year through a program called Our Whole Lives. It's a capstone in a series that starts in kindergarten with topics such as bodies and privacy, and runs through a lifetime of sexual experiences. "When people think of sex ed, they tend to think of body parts fitting together," she says. "When we talk about really comprehensive sexual education, it's about being in relationships and understanding yourself."
It's also about learning to live to the extent one can in one's own body. "One of my best, most enjoyable and fun sexual experiences was with a gentleman fan aged 90," Hartley emails me. "We had the best time. He's only recently deceased, at age 99, but I'll always remember that night."
You can follow Anna Fitzpatrick on Twitter.