- None of us has one-sided intimacy histories.
- There is great value in hearing stories of older generations. They are more than grandparents.
- Sexual desire exists in people well into old age, and this should be celebrated.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen the movie, please bookmark this article and read it after watching if you don't want the plot and details to be spoiled.
We certainly didn't get enough of them in Grace and Frankie, so seeing Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin together in Moving On was warming. Fonda and Tomlin play Claire and Evelyn, respectively, two friends who travel to the funeral of a college friend, Joyce. During the family visitation hour, Claire walks up to Howard, Joyce's husband, and tells him that she intends to kill him that weekend.
The movie takes us through the various obstacles they experience to pull off the plan. Still, the audience doesn't know the basis of Claire's animosity toward Howard. By the movie's end, after a failed homicide attempt, we learn that Howard raped Claire during a drunken night early in his marriage to Joyce. To make matters worse, Howard remembers it as a consensual encounter that he kept from Joyce during their 51-year marriage.
There's so much we can learn about intimacy through this movie, but here are the most prominent lessons about intimacy in older adults.
Lesson #1: Intimacy Is Layered
Early in the movie, we learn that Evelyn enjoyed a lesbian love affair with Joyce, the deceased, while they were in college. She is wounded when she shares this information at the wake, only for Howard and his daughter to call her a liar. This response creates anger, invisibility, and frustration in Evelyn, which propels her to join Claire in her quest to kill Howard.
The movie does an excellent job of depicting the layers of intimacy in all of us. However, it is even more layered for our older population simply because they have lived longer and have more life experience.
Often, younger generations fail to consider that older adults have an intimacy history that matters. It matters to them, and it should matter to us.
We often see older people as one-layered when it comes to intimacy. It's a disservice to view them as people born at 65 with no sexual history outside of their current (or late) spouse. While some members of the generation may hesitate to share insights about their intimate histories, others are willing to share if we show an interest in wanting to know about their B.G. (Before Grandparent) years.
Lesson #2: Sexual Intimacy Isn't Bound By Age
While Claire is in town, she visits her first husband, Ralph. He asks her about the demise of their marriage, and she’s immediately triggered. This scene depicts a mix of tenderness, breathlessness, devastation, and angst. She explains that something happened during their marriage, and he questions why she couldn’t share it.
“I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t. It made me mute. It made me deaf. It made me blind to you and to everything good in my life. Just couldn’t.”
After this emotionally-raw moment between Claire and Ralph, they decide to spend the night together. Yup, you read that correctly. Ralph and Claire, who were likely in their 70s, were sexually intimate. The following morning, Claire runs into Ralph's daughter in the kitchen, and Claire apologizes. His daughter's response was priceless. "For what? He's a grown man."
Sexual desire and intimacy don't magically end because people become grandparents or retire. Older people are sexual beings with urges and interests like everyone else. Indeed, there may be some barriers to the physical logistics of being intimate, but that doesn't mean sexual intimacy is nonexistent. Older people shouldn't be embarrassed about their sexual desire, and we shouldn't shame them about it.
Lesson #3: Healthy Sex Is Protected Sex
As they climb into bed, Claire jokingly instructs Ralph to get a condom so that she doesn’t get “knocked up.” Of course, this joke is a nod to Claire being well past childbearing age. While pregnancy may be unlikely for Claire, it’s not impossible.
The oldest woman to naturally conceive and give birth (via cesarean section) to a healthy child is Xinju Tian. In October 2019, her husband and she, a retired pediatrician, gave birth to a baby girl. Xinju was 67 years old. The couple already had two adult children and a grandchild in college.
More importantly, it is vital that older people still use protection when they are sexually intimate because STDs/STIs don’t discriminate against age. In 2019, 4 percent of 55+ year-olds living with HIV had sex with someone without protection in the last 12 months, according to the CDC. In 2021, adults over 50 years old accounted for 16 percent of the new HIV cases in the U.S. Also, when older adults (50+) find out that they are HIV positive, they are twice as likely to be in Stage 3 of the virus as compared to people who are 25-34 years old, according to Budak and Spach (2023).
It’s imperative that older adults still practice safe sex. Assuming that they are not HIV positive could be a life-changing assumption, especially considering that antiretroviral medications are helping us live longer with HIV.
Minor Intimacy Themes
If I could cover all of the minor plots in Moving On that featured intimacy themes, this would be a five-part series. As you watch the movie, take note of the following nuanced intimacy themes in older adults:
- the lack of emotional intimacy in Evelyn's life
- the impact of Evelyn's wife's death
- the relationship Claire has with her dog
- Evelyn's absence of social relationships and support in an independent-living community
- the gaslighting experience Evelyn had with Howard and his daughter
- the emotional intimacy Evelyn establishes with a younger boy who is interested in cross-dressing (or maybe questioning his gender identity)
Stay tuned for Intimacy Reels with DrC: Movie Analysis of Moving On (Pt. 2)
ABC7 NY (2019, October 29). 67-year-old woman gives birth after getting pregnant 'naturally,' Chinese media reports. https://abc7ny.com/67-year-old-gives-birth-oldest-pregnant-woman-baby-t…
Budak, J.Z. & Spach, D.H. (2023). HIV in older adults. https://www.hiv.uw.edu/go/key-populations/hiv-older-patients/core-conce…
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). Behavioral and clinical characteristics of persons with diagnosed HIV infection--Medical monitoring project, United States 2021 cycle (June 2021-May 2022). HIV Surveillance Special Report 32.