6 Jan 2024

Sexologist Morgan Penn: How to swipe right over 50

From The Weekend , 10:06 am on 6 January 2024
Sexologist and sex educator Morgan Penn

Sexologist and sex educator Morgan Penn Photo:

It takes courage to take your first step into the world of online dating over the age of 50, says sexologist Morgan Penn.

Morgan hosts the award-winning podcast Sex Life with Hayley Sproull

Morgan recently helped her 60-something mum join Tinder because she thought that app would be a good place to meet people around her own age.

"I just thought let's throw her in the deep end … there's Bumble, there's Hinge, there's Grindr if you're gay… there's a vast range of apps, but I just thought, this is one I know, I've been working a bit with Tinder, it seems safe and I can guide her on it."

On Tinder, users are given six "intent options" to confirm what they are looking for - Long-term partner, Long-term, open to short, Short-term, open to long, Short-term fun, New friends and Still figuring it out.

"Mum is not swiping on anyone who's saying Still figuring it out. She's like 'Well, you should, at this age, know what you want so absolutely not."

What if I don't feel safe?

"Apps are a great place to build your confidence around safety and connecting with somebody because it does give you a real good chance and opportunity to ask questions and get a felt sense of a person if you can talk to them for long enough.

"It's good practice as well, if you've come out of a long-term marriage or relationship and you want to get back on the horse, you've got to practice these things. If you haven't dated for 20 years or 30 years, this is a whole new ballgame.

"What I really like about these apps is they can expose you to a whole range of people that you wouldn't normally see in your waking life - different ethnicities, people working in different sectors. It's a great way to taste the world differently.

"It's when you move into the actual 'in the flesh' time that the dangers really come out unless you are giving away personal information like where you live or really defining things about yourself, where you work, things like that because yes, you can be susceptible to stalking or unsolicited pictures."

Do I need a Facebook profile to join a dating app?

"You don't have to be for all of them ... it's just one way to do it easily because then they can access your information and they know that it's you. Because that's one of the biggest things about dating apps is they want to verify this is, in fact, you and you're not a scammer. So with something like Facebook, you're already authenticated so that just makes that transition easy. 

"There are other ways to do it. Most apps, you don't need Facebook, you've actually got options, you could do a Gmail account, so that would just be your email, or you can just authenticate yourself with a cell phone number."

Which profile photos are best?

Good clear photos that show your face, full body and personality, Morgan says.

"I have to say the men, they are way worse than women, unfortunately. Their pictures are just outrageous. One guy [my mum saw] had a picture of himself looking drunk and out of it on the couch. This is not really going to show your best side, is it?

"What I see on profiles [of people in this age bracket] is that people take a lot of selfies and they're not good. And they're from underneath the chin or in the bathroom and you see a wharepaku, a toilet, in the background. You think oh, that doesn't really incite a bit of sexiness, does it?

"We want to be authentic but also this is almost like a CV that you're putting out to the world. Date me, hire me - it's the same thing. So you want to really pay attention to what you are putting out there."

Think about how you present yourself when you're going out at night or for a special occasion, Morgan says.

"We've just had Christmas, right? There are normally some really good photo ops around that time, around the family or doing something quite fun and festive. We're looking summery and happy so that's always good.

"We do want to be careful about who else we're putting in our photos. You can blank out the faces if you've got your grandchildren or your children in it - that's really important. You don't want to have their faces, without consent, on a dating app.

"You might need help with that as well. I tried to do that the other day. I was like 'Oh, I don't know how to blur a face. But there's lots of technology out there that helps you do that. Or you just ask someone 'Can you take a photo of me by this beautiful bush? or doing something that you love.

"What we want to convey in these photos is a piece of yourself that you want the other person to receive and understand about you."

Why do so many people lie about their age on dating apps?

"This is huge! Unfortunately, and I do hate to kind of put it on the men, but I think there is this belief system that I' could get younger' or 'I look better than my age so I want to be able to go into a different age bracket' if someone's searching.

"Say if someone is 68 and they think 'Oh well, people are maybe putting their age limit up to 65. I'm gonna whip my age down to 64 and then I'm in that age bracket. This means that we're lying from day dot and then a conversation needs to be had about that.

"This is a conversation Mum and I have had together. She goes 'Bullshit, this guy is not 68!' when he clearly looks 78. We can have a bit of grace for what people look like but lying, you're not off to a good start. Honesty is key in this realm I think.

"Sexy is how you feel and you get to decide that ... I've got clients in their 60s and 70s and it's all about being a juicy alive person and you choose that.

"You can be having sex and physical intimacy right up until the day you die. We've come so far with technology around sexual aids that it never stops."

Be playful with communication

"Unfortunately, the skill set of a lot of people with communication is not that great. And it is something that could be worked on.

"Mum will be like 'I replied to this and then I asked him a lovely question. And he came back with bullet points that didn't offer much of himself and then didn't ask me anything!'

"I said, well just play with it. You don't have to be serious, you can bring in a touch of flirt and play and it doesn't commit you to anything. So I think that's a really important piece, as well. You are having a connection online, there is a bit of safety there, there's a bit of a buffer, it gives you an opportunity to bring in a bit of fun and flirt and it doesn't mean that anything more is going to happen. You can stop it at any point."

How do you know if you have a connection with someone?

"Yeah, it's such a funny one, because we've kind of been sold this dream about chemistry and spark and that's what we should be looking for.

"I would really invite people to put a bit more emphasis on the slow burn, because the spark - it can be pheromones, it can be hormonal, it can be the sort of lusty, driven thing - whereas this connection of having something build together [can be deeper].

"You've got something, obviously, that you feel as a connection but then you want to build a connection together where you're both feeding into it. So you need to be doing things that you feel good doing, dates where you feel like you're showing your best side. And afterwards, you want to check in with yourself - how do I feel? what did they bring out in me?

"This is very individual. And in terms of my work, I work with the body where everything comes back to the 'felt sense'. How do you feel connecting with this person? Do you feel like you want more? I think that's when you [further explore a connection]. If you've got hesitancies or you're unsure, stay on the app. Keep asking questions. Find out what you want to know, if there are things like deal breakers, get that out of the way on the app first.

"Moving to a phone call early on in the piece, if there's a little bit of a connection, gives you those answers straightaway. A lot of people don't want to stick around on the apps for long because it can become quite stale, it's kind of this matter-of-fact talking. You want to get more of a 3D understanding of a person."

What do I do if people keep telling me they don't feel a connection after we meet?

"It's so individual but this is a good question to pose to [the other person]. You are gathering information about yourself, how you date. If someone comes back and says there's no connection could you be a bit more curious and ask 'Could you tell me what would have given you that connection? Or what did you feel was lacking for you?'

"There are things that you can build on from there, as well. If you've gotten to the point of liking each other enough to meet up and spend two hours together there's obviously something, so [asking those questions will help you better understand where they're coming from]."

When you meet up, remember vulnerability is a bridge to closeness

"We are quite guarded just as humans, but especially if you are in the later years trying to navigate this space and you are connecting with strangers, it feels really counterintuitive to actually share vulnerable things. But actually, this is going to cut through [to the truth] fast. This is going to show you if someone can meet you there.

"You don't want to be showing up like you're a perfect person and got it all sorted. That's intimidating because actually nobody does. And you know, when we've lived a life, we've all got baggage. So it's like 'here's my baggage, why don't you show me yours?' And let's just be loving and open and brave and communicate and just see what happens."