Watch the documentary ‘Senior Sex and the City’ at 9.30pm Tuesday October 4, on SBS or stream via
In her one-bedroom Hell’s Kitchen apartment in midtown Manhattan, 86-year-old Hattie “Retroage” pulls a crystal dildo from her bedside table.
She’s an octogenarian but admits to being “both cursed and blessed” with a powerful sex drive.
“It’s life, darling. It’s the most important thing in life. It’s flower gardens, it’s rainbows, it’s thunder, it’s lightning, it’s the ocean, it’s everything, to me.”
Like a number of her generation (one study by the University of Michigan 40 per cent of Americans aged 65-80 are sexually active while another STD’s rising sharply among the demographic), Hattie is used to a very active sex life.
But as a single, older-aged woman, for the past two years she says opportunities for sex and intimacy were derailed by the pandemic, as casual hook ups and engaging with multiple sexual partners became subject to new health and safety guidelines.
“Because of the pandemic everything changed… just because of illness, sickness, viruses. All of a sudden, the act of making love had so many cautions attached to it,” Hattie tells SBS Dateline.
Now, after close to two years of socially distanced meet ups and video dates in the wake of COVID-19, Hattie is hoping to make up for lost time.
“I’m bored! I want physical, I want interaction, I want to feel, I want to be felt!”
A post-vaccination dating boom
As a single senior in New York City, Hattie isn’t alone.
According to the , New York City is home to 1.8 million people aged 60 years and over, the greatest total population of older people than any other city in the United States.
And more than 800,000 of them are unmarried (either divorced, widowed or never married).
86-year-old Hattie Retroage.
After two years in which they experienced some of the harshest forms of physical isolation, many are joining younger singles in a post-vaccination dating boom.
Across the city speed dating events are returning with renewed popularity and events for older demographics can easily sell out.
Speed-dating for seniors
At one event for singles between the ages of 58-72, twenty mature-aged singletons mingle in an Irish pub, some for the first time since the city’s lockdowns.
“Everyone turned up today! Yay!”, says organiser Gail Adams, who runs the speed dating service Seven in Heaven.
Speed Dating event organiser Gail Adams greets arrivals.
She’s been running events for more than 14 years, and says the demographic was among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with those over the age of 60 facing a potentially greater risk of mortality.
“This age demographic when COVID hit was freaked out,” she tells SBS Dateline.
“They were like, oh, I’m out of here because I’m going to die, because I’m over 60 and I can’t [afford to] get COVID.
“So, I was dead in the water. Then once things opened up again, they came back.”
For many of the participants, the pandemic has made them pursue partnership in a more intentional way.
Older-aged singles are pictured at a speed dating event in New York City.
According to online dating service Match’s , 53 per cent of app daters are now “prioritizing their search for a relationship more than before the pandemic.”
The study also found that 58 per cent of app daters have shifted toward “intentional dating.” This includes people ages 80-98.
One of the event’s attendees is Mahendra Sharma. At 58, he’s among the night’s younger suitors, but he says his decision to pursue a relationship stems from a shift in priorities brought about by the pandemic.
“Truthfully, when I got sick, I really thought that I could die,” he tells SBS Dateline.
“Normally, you never deal with those things. I’m 58. You still believe that you’re immortal.
“It made me realise that, hey, you know what? You have limited time left. And I think that gave push towards meeting somebody and having a substantial relationship. It gave it importance.”
58 year-old singleton Mahendra Sharma is looking for love in New York City.
Mahendra says this realisation also stems from a prolonged experience of loneliness, which was experienced most acutely by the city’s older singles.
“People don’t realise it’s really hard, you know, especially evening times,” he said.
“You go through a depression phase where you’re alone, you’re making dinner and you’re sitting by yourself.
“Now I work from home. I have a computer at home, so it’s even more isolating.”
A recent Pew Research Centre Study are more likely to live alone in the US than elsewhere in the world. In the US, 27 per cent of adults ages 60 and older live alone, compared with 16 per cent of adults in the 130 countries and territories studied.
In New York City, this fact collided with the extreme measures of the pandemic, resulting in a recent citywide survey by New York’s health department which found 57 per cent of people said they felt lonely some or most of the time.
Even before the pandemic, the United States was experiencing an “epidemic of loneliness”.
So much so, the country’s Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy labelled it a public health crisis, saying in 2016: “As a country we have built stronger WIFI connections over time, but our personal connections have deteriorated.”
86 year-old Hattie Retroage enjoys a night out in New York City.
With so many New Yorkers living alone and living longer into their golden years, it makes sense they’re looking for love and intimacy.
“When you’re dying on your deathbed, you’re not thinking about the car you drove or the house you lived in,” says Mahendra.
“You’re going to have memories of, your kids, your friends, you know, people who have been important in your life.
“I asked myself a simple question, if you are the kind of person who wants to enjoy all the flavours of life, to me, being in love and being intimate is something that I never really had. So, before I die, I’d like to have that. This other stuff doesn’t matter. Honestly.”