ARC Project profile: Age of Love

Sharron Hinchliff is a reader in Psychology and Health at the University of Sheffield and we chat with her about her social enterprise, Age of Love which is helping to destigmatize sexual wellbeing and health for over 50s.

This project profile is part of the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator, Class of 2021. ARC (formerly SUCCESS) is now on to it’s second cohort of university-based ventures seeking to change the world through their innovative, creative and disruptive ideas.

Q: What’s your academic background and how did it lead to starting your venture?

As a psychologist, I use insight and theory from social science to understand the ways that psychosocial factors (including social stereotypes) can influence health and healthcare in the sexual health and sexual well-being fields. I’ve worked in this area for over 20 years as a researcher, lecturer, and manager of various Public Engagement and Knowledge Exchange projects.

During that time I’ve heard many stories from adults aged 50 and older about the barriers they have faced getting help for a sexual difficulty, and from practitioners who feel under-prepared to provide such help. So we decided to do something about it, and the Age of Love was born. 

Q: What does your venture aim to achieve and how does it tackle the issue?

The Age of Love is a social venture that addresses the prejudice and discrimination that those over 50 can experience around intimate relationships and sex. We know from scientific research that sex is often a meaningful part of life at midlife and beyond. However, many of these adults face barriers to talking about intimacy with partners, friends, and health or social care professionals. 

This is not only because the topic is sensitive and private. It also connects with the stereotypes about being older and about being sexual that we hold in society, which render sex and ageing forbidden topics. So, the assumption is that we are not sexually active when we’re older, or if we are, we won’t want to let anyone know because it’s too private. This type of thinking reinforces the stereotypes, and does nothing to help ease the misunderstandings or remove the misinformation about sex as we age.

Our aim is to tackle the taboo, break down barriers, and improve access to high quality advice and support. We want to make it easier for ‘older’ adults, and professionals who work with them, to have a conversation about sexual issues. This is imperative: currently, over 24 million people aged 50+ live in the UK, many of whom have a health condition that could affect their sex lives.

The Age of Love involves two levels of intervention: bespoke education for professionals to develop competence and confidence in this area; and safe spaces for adults to talk about all things intimate. Feedback so far has been really positive.

“It’s about normalising those conversations so that people are getting support that is non-discriminatory. It’s about eradicating ageism too, at both a structural and individual level. ”

Sharron Hinchliff, Age of Love

Q: Have there been any challenges along the way in developing your venture?

There has been a lot of interest in the Age of Love already, which is great. The challenge now is how best to implement the venture given the extreme disruption caused by the covid-19 pandemic. Like everyone, we had to pause the activities we had planned for 2020, but this has enabled us to regroup and rethink, and consider new ways of working.  

Q: How is the ARC Accelerator program supporting you in bringing your venture to life?

As an academic, you have a busy schedule and the work can be intense. So the ARC program gives you that space to focus specifically on your venture. There’s a lot of support from within the program, all of which helps us to make that shift to a business mindset. And it’s especially good to get to know the organizers and other participants, and hear from external experts. We’ve been paired with an excellent mentor who is patiently and expertly guiding us through this. And our TTO is a fantastic support; she has been integral to the venture from the start.

Photo credit: Tristan Le via Pexels

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