How Netflix's Grace and Frankie got me talking to my mum about vibrators
Older women are often thought of and depicted as sexless beings - sweet old ladies, women that are 'past it' who have no interest in sexual pleasure of any kind, mums who have had their fill. Begin to utter the words 'older women' and 'sex' in the same sentence and you'll be met with faces of disgust - no one wants to hear about that.
Enter Grace and Frankie, a Netflix original, that, although not always overt, is a show that centres on the sexual relationships of women in their 70's and the subsequent sexual relationship's of their children and between their ex-husbands.
It is a truly fantastic show that, simply by centring on older women and the subject of their lives, explores many topics that are completely neglected by mainstream TV: the messy but poignant coming out stories of older men, dementia, vaginal dryness, arthritis, hair pieces, hip operations, masturbation, adoption and back pain.
Storylines aside, we're also given beautiful visuals that aren't necessarily deemed sexy or even acceptable in our day to day: old men kissing each other, old women having sex, old women dancing on the bar, old women as beautiful, sexy beings (though it's worth noting both are thin, white, 'typically attractive' and 'well-off' here).
As a show, Grace and Frankie does a great service for older women by giving an insight into their lives with no ulterior motive. The realities of life as an older woman are not the butt of the joke here, they are simply the way things are. And the way things are is as full of fun, sex, confusion and heartbreak as any twenty-something, just much more frank and with a rather large serving of ageism to garnish the monotonous sexism of womanhood.
It's a show that I've enjoyed as a twenty-something, giving me an insight into what lies ahead, and a show that's brought me closer to my mum. As we've shared the up and downs of Grace and Frankie, we've broached subjects that are often avoided due to awkwardness.
I'm incredibly close to both of my parents, and though I've never talked about sex with my dad (just don't go there...), there's nothing off-limits with my mum. She loves Grace and Frankie, for all of the same reasons that I do, and the third season (let's call it the 'Vibrator season') presented a new opportunity to talk about something we wouldn't have necessarily brought up ourselves.
After an episode or two of the 'Vibrator season', I was curious: "Mum, have you ever used a vibrator?"
She explained that no, she hadn't actually used a vibrator or any other sex toy, but she had bought one. At an Ann Summer's party (they were all the rage for a while) many moons ago, goaded by friends, she'd bought a rampant rabbit. My mum, who'd never used a sex toy, went straight for a rampant rabbit. "No wonder you've never used it", I told her, "That's pretty much one of the most intimidating-looking pieces of equipment you could buy". She still had it - it lived in a sock under the bed and was practically vintage, a world away from today's rabbits.
Without that party or the encouragement (and drink, I imagine), I'm sure she never would have even considered a sex toy. Just like Grace at first and the prayer group they try to entice, the narrative of sexless old women is so pervasive that it tells older women that they shouldn't talk about sex and masturbation, let alone have it or enjoy it.
It's the cherry on top of an otherwise underwhelming sundae of "you're just too old" that women are fed much, much more than men both in general and definitely in old age. As men supposedly ripen, women are expected to prune. And when society-at-large consistently feeds you this bullshit, it can creep in.
This is exactly why the narrative Grace and Frankie presents is so important. Older women deserve to have mind-blowing sex, with others and with themselves. They deserve the room and acceptance to learn their bodies and know exactly how to get themselves off.
To sexy older women, awkward chats and vibrators! I can cheers to that.