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Who wants a middle-aged Love Island? Adult sexuality is being infantilised

Does anyone want to see 50-somethings at it? (ITV)

Does anyone want to see 50-somethings at it? (ITV)


July 27, 2022   4 mins

Every year on Love Island, there is bad behaviour, misogyny, shouting matches and tears. But it seems the further we get from #MeToo, the harsher and more manipulative the male contestants have become. Unsurprisingly, there has been a backlash: the show received 3,600 Ofcom complaints in a single week about the male contestants’ “toxic” behaviour. But Love Island is also attracting a bigger audience than it did during both pandemic seasons: viewings figures are at their highest since 2019, with 5 million tuning into the premiere, and have held steady as the weeks have worn on. There is therefore no incentive for ITV to make the show nicer.

It is curious, then, to hear that ITV is planning a spin-off of Love Island for the middle-aged. Contestants in the provisionally titled Your Mum, My Dad will be between the ages of 40 and 60, and will, says one insider, “know their minds” and “be capable of intelligent conversation” — these being “ingredients regular Love Island sometimes lacks”. At first glance, this sounds like the path to a more edifying show about courtship, given the emotional advantages conferred by age and wisdom. The average age of a contestant on this season is just under 24, and most of them have been criticised for being either shallow or boring. Presumably middle-aged contestants will be not only more interesting but less nasty to each other — they’ve gone through enough in life not to lose it if a person they’ve been coupled up with for a day chooses not to “pull” them for a chat.

The Sun has also reported (under the headline “RUMPY PLUMPY”) that the contestants of the middle-aged version of Love Island will have “normal bodies”. In some ways, this makes sense: many have voiced the opinion of 2021 contestant Sharon Gaffka, who recently criticised the show for overlooking “midsize and plus size people”. Many brands have cashed in on the push to diversify in recent years. And yet this season the bodies are tauter and slimmer than in the last few.

That same insider also told The Sun: “Times change and the current generation in their forties and fifties still care about how they look, are fit and healthy, into fashion and are ready to let their hair down.” This offers a telling insight into the logic behind the new show. Just as ITV has no interest in filming emotionally mature young people, it has no interest in filming unattractive middle-aged people. If they do, those people will likely, and bleakly, become laughing stocks. From the vantage of youth, 55-year-olds fumbling in a hot tub, however sweetly, are likely to be merely mocked. Twitter will be flooded with a new wave of memes, only these will focus on being ancient and desperate. Becoming regulars on the MailOnline showbiz sidebar is inevitable — and may be worthwhile for those contestants lucky enough to be labelled Milfs and Dilfs.

Rather than older people being put on the show to introduce a new and more salutary spectacle of what finding love might look like, it is far more likely that, forced into the framework of 20-somethings, they’ll be baited to behave just as badly. After all, the principal audience of dating shows are the young, and they want to be able to relate — not learn how to do better. In fact, the show will still rest on young people’s ideas of coupledom: in a bizarre twist, the contestants’ children will work behind the scenes to get their parents matched up — in what will no doubt become a proxy game for their own youthful dramas.

The application of the Love Island format to older people smacks of a broader trend of infantilising adult sexuality. Emma Thompson’s most recent film, in which she plays a profoundly sexually anxious 55-something, who decides to hire a young rent boy to teach her the ways of the world, is a classic example. As reality TV, surgically-enhanced bodies and vast wealth become ever-more powerfully interconnected with the world of social media, concepts of beauty, attraction and love have been violently skewed towards a young audience, and public portrayals of the intimate lives of older people are being squeezed down to fit. No one wants to think about mums who fuck; they’re only interested in mums they’d like to fuck.

This is a shame, especially for women. Not only are many women in their forties at their sexual peak, the hard-won accrual of comfortable self-knowledge and the ability to ask for what they want, amassed over decades, puts them in pole position for satisfying eros. Older men, whose sexual prowess will in most cases be in inverse proportion to their libidos, are also capable of more empathetic behaviour. Even dating apps — whose dynamics tend to begin from an infantile or at any rate perfunctory baseline (“looking for fun tonight: whose game?”; “No drama”) — have begun to capitalise on the baroque complexities of contemporary adult sexuality: “grown-up app” Feeld, on which 35% of users are part of a couple, is the industry leader for 30-somethings and older capable of articulating a highly specific cache of desires without repelling the target audience.

But Feeld, too, begins from the simple binary of a left or right swipe, entrenching the sense that a person is indeed the sum of their kinky parts, and that, if you just list the right things, you’ll get what you want. After years of digital mediation, sexuality and its subtleties have been overpowered, made to fit the screen. And the consequences of this aren’t just affecting young people anymore: they’re creeping beyond the generations that grew up on the internet. Sticking older people in the Love Island arena is no victory for them, or for love — it’s the opposite.


Zoe Strimpel is a historian of gender and intimacy in modern Britain and a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph. Her latest book is Seeking Love in Modern Britain: Gender, Dating and the Rise of ‘the Single’ (Bloomsbury)
realzoestrimpel

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Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
1 year ago

“The contestants’ children will work behind the scenes to get their parents matched up”… fumbling in a hot tub… “your mum, my dad”… Really?? Wouldn’t most children’s reaction to the idea still be [vomit face emoji]?

Last edited 1 year ago by Jonathan Weil
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

Not sure what all the sniping in the comments is about.
You get the distinct vibe of a bunch of grumpy blokes trying desperately to give the impression that they are above love and sex – that’s all “women’s stuff”.  Grow up. 
The problem with love island is twofold: (1) it will never attract well-adjusted people.  Any normal person would run a mile to get away from a horror show like it.  (2) Very few carnal encounters have anything to do with love (apart from self-love). The boring whiny narcissists on so-called love island wouldn’t know what love was if it bit them in the unmentionables. If TV producers were honest, the show would be called “Chav Shag Island”.  
Also, if we are to have a parallel parade of middle-aged embarrassments, let’s hope that they at least pick super-buff middle-aged folks. Normal bodies, like mine, at any age, should not be paraded on TV ffs, and certainly not when you’re past it.   When I’m overweight, I welcome insults and pointed remarks about my looking “prosperous” lol. It’s a reminder to stop eating crop and to get back into shape. It’s entirely wrong to give the impression that fatness is acceptable.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Let’s not insult Chavs or you will have Julie Burchill down on you. Anyway “Shag Island” does sound appropriate from what I read here; unfortunately (fortunately?) I have never seen more than the merest glimpse of it, so I’m not really qualified to say anything else.

James Vallery
James Vallery
1 year ago

As a “old school male of 51”. I stopped reading at the comment.
“about the male contestants’ “toxic” behaviour.”
I would write more about the role of man over the millinium’s from fighting each other for the right to mate with females Where 10 precent of males mated with 80 precent of females. And nothing was built. Cave man. Finally when humanity agreed 1 man for 1 female we built something. Its our instinct to want to protect and build to protect as males. Female where important in that role AND the driving force behind it. Take that away from man and choas will ensure as if a man feels worthless with nothing to protect. Why should he care. Try looking at the bigger picture rather than focusing on a single show designed to attract views because of its drama with contestants picked to rub each other up the wrong way.
Edited: I also do not watch the show as I believe what goes into your mind comes out. “Garbage in= garbage out.” So yes I think the show is garbage as it offering nothing useful to society other than a source of gossip focus’s young minds on an untruth thar beauty and pettiness are the way forward to humans.

Last edited 1 year ago by James Vallery
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  James Vallery

“…a single show designed to attract views because of its drama with contestants picked to rub each other up the wrong way.”
Best (unwitting?) double entendre i’ve yet read on Unherd!

Emily Brown
Emily Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  James Vallery

I hesitate to consider what garbage went in before your brain processed it and came up with the garbage you’ve spouted out in your reply…

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 year ago

Some people need to get a life… and I include the author of this article.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago

Putin was right about the demise of the West

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
1 year ago

Although…. Could Love Gulag be a thing?

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 year ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Excellent! Haven’t stopped laughing!!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

I am afraid it has already been made “Love in a Clod Climate”

Oliver Wright
Oliver Wright
1 year ago

“Older men, whose sexual prowess will in most cases be in inverse proportion to their libidos” Eh? What is that meant to mean and what evidence do you have for whatever it’s meant to mean?

David Werling
David Werling
1 year ago
Reply to  Oliver Wright

As an older man, I get it, and I’m man enough to admit it. What’s more I agree with the author’s point on the subject. Older men fawning over women carries a social stigma, and rightfully so. If you are over the age of forty-five you need to be confident enough to attract as opposed to chasing. An older man chasing a woman is pathetic. A man over 45 chasing a woman will, you can be sure, become a laughing stock.

Last edited 1 year ago by David Werling
Geoffrey Hicking
Geoffrey Hicking
1 year ago

The application of the Love Island format to older people smacks of a broader trend of infantilising adult sexuality. Emma Thompson’s most recent film, in which she plays a profoundly sexually anxious 55-something, who decides to hire a young rent boy to teach her the ways of the world, is a classic example.

What exactly is so appalling about an older woman wanting a bit of passion?

David Werling
David Werling
1 year ago

I’m too proud to watch Love Island, but my partner… yeah, my partner… watches Big Brother, and I can’t help but see some (well, most) of the antics, even though, you can be sure, I’m not… NOT… intentionally viewing.
That reality show is no stranger to bullying, misogyny and, least you might forget, not a little misandry as well, in addition to both latent and blatant racism.
All of which makes me scratch my head. It would seem that what we GenXers thought we defeated, wasn’t defeated at all. We thought racism was dead as we bashed each other in a mosh pit, listening to that sweet, sweet amalgamation of rap and heavy metal blaring from the speakers at a Limp Bizkit concert. Imagine my surprise to find out that Fred Durst was appropriating, and my black bestfriend was being an Uncle Tom for having broke two of my ribs in that mosh pit. Granted, we burned down a stage the next day, but I thought we were better than racists and Uncle Toms. However, my children’s generation has schooled me definitively. Racism, misogyny, misandry, hatred, were and still are running rampant, and have never been worse, especially among us older folks.
Then I see the contestants on Big Brother, enlightened Millennials and Zoomers, exhibiting a level of racism, misogyny, and immaturity that would have made me blush when I was twenty-five. What’s more, these young people don’t seem to understand they are being bullies, misogynists, and racists, because, and this is important, the mode of expression for those things have morphed into something more acceptable to their sensibilities. You are a bully if you disagree with someone openly (no matter how trivial), but it’s totally acceptable, and easier, to “cancel” someone without having to be troubled by discussion, debate, reason or logic. If you don’t like someone, cancel him or her. If you don’t agree with someone, just cancel him or her. There’s no reason to debate, no reason to try to understand the other. Just cancel them, and move on.
It hasn’t occurred to these folks that “canceling” is just as much a method of bullying as shoving someone in the back on the playground, and, by the way, it’s just as immature.
The result of this new method of handling social disagreement has had the worst affect: it accentuates our differences and embeds xenophobic behavior. By canceling, not only do they passively bully, they isolate themselves into their various tribes. They hardly notice they are just embodying their fears of the other.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 year ago
Reply to  David Werling

“The Return of the Strong Gods” – some aspects of human nature are eternal (for better or for worse).

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

As I have said before, women now in their late 40s and their 50’s are the most attractive females on the planet… and I am now 67!

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

Well said. And when you are 80, those 60 year old’s will be hothothot!

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

“Who wants a middle-aged Love Island?”
As far as I’m aware, most of us don’t even want the one we’ve got now.