Sex and the Older Woman
Two myths around sex and older women persist – either, we don’t partake, or we’re at it all the time. Although often said in jest many older women are shamed into feeling that the warmth and excitement of an active sex life is wrong, so stay schtum when the subject arises. But given we lived through the 1960s and the ‘sexual revolution’ our approach to sex is different from our mothers. And, slowly but surely another revolution is happening.
Susan Quilliam, author of The New Joy of Sex says, “There’s plenty of research that shows sex gets better for women as they get older. It’s one of the best kept secrets of women’s lives.”
Penny married young and was a stay-at-home mother to her three children. She says, “We had a good life and my husband was a good man. I would have liked more excitement and romance, but we never talked about those sorts of things. After Dan’s death I resolved to have more adventure. I joined a dating agency and met several men but none really interested me. Then I met a man purely by chance in the garden centre but apart from horticulture we had little in common. We had sex a few times but I got bored – same old, same old – so I ended it.”
A Sunday Times/YouGov survey confirmed older people have and enjoy sex and a lot of those who aren’t, would like to change things. When Penny told her friend Kath she was going to the Caribbean for fun and adventure, Kath replied, “Ooh, I’ve always wanted to do a ‘Shirley Valentine’, I’d come too, if I could afford it.” Penny has been twice to Jamaica. She is under no illusions that the men she’s dated have any long-term interest in her. But, as she says, “After 46 years of marriage, I don’t want that either. I love dancing with attractive men – and there are some great dancers, or strolling along a beach at midnight. Sometimes it leads to sex, but not always. I feel like a youngster again. Look, Jamaica is a poor country, the people are lovely and it has a free and easy atmosphere. Yes, I have to pick up the tab in a bar, but in all honesty, where would I have such fun at home? Sometimes I wonder what my children would think if they saw me riding pillion on a scooter behind a handsome black man.” To which Kath replied, “I know what I think – lucky you!” and they both laugh heartily.
Nearer to home, women looking for fun and adventure in the bedroom can go to Ann Summers’ parties. Its CEO Jacqueline Gold had the idea of taking lingerie and sex toys to women in their homes, and turned a male-dominated business into a female institution. According to a 2008 study from the University of New Hampshire, the most common age for women to have affairs is 45 (55 for men).
Avril divorced at 48. She says, “Looking back, our sex life reflected our relationship. I wanted intimacy and romance. He wanted sex and excitement. After the children left home there wasn’t enough to hold us together. It ended when I had an affair, but really we’d both left already.”
It is generally accepted in contemporary psychology and biology that our sexual orientation is on a continuum ranging from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, with bisexuality in between. However, some sexologists believe this is an oversimplified theory and point out that in other cultures and communities there is more fluidity around sexual identity. Many people identify as heterosexual yet develop a close relationship with someone of the same gender as a natural development of their friendship, which is what happened with Lucy from Grove. Lucy says, “We were colleagues. I’d always found Karen attractive, but never considered myself to be gay. We grew close after my relationship ended and then it dawned on me, I was physically attracted to her.”
Jean attended a Sunday Lunch Club for Senior Singles but says, “It was expensive with lots more women than men and the few attractive [older] men all gravitated to the youngest women in the room and the rest of us watched them flirt. There was no encouragement to circulate. I won’t go back, but I haven’t given up and hope my age (78) is not against me.”
If videos, games, sex toys or sex parties are not your thing, what about Tantra? Popularised by Sting and Trudie and trivialised by some as a ‘sex romp’ for celebs, it’s an ancient Indian approach that is accepting of who we are physically and spiritually, and teaches us to prolong the act of making love, rather than a primary focus of reaching orgasm. It works for people of all ages, physical ability and sexual orientation.
Many postmenopausal women stop considering contraception. A word of warning: age is no protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STD). A UK study in 2008 found that women aged 45-54 had the highest rates of STD and men aged 55-60 had the highest for males. If you have more than one sexual partner use a condom and if you have a new partner and plan to have unprotected sex, both have a test first.
Regarding the myth around older women not having sex. Women choose not to have sex for a variety of reasons and there are dating sites for those looking for affectionate relationships – minus the sex. So, it’s time to delete “spinster“ and “old maid” from our vocabulary and insert ‘freemales’, the term used in the US to describe women happily living sexless lives. I am reminded of a cartoon where a woman says, “Sex was OK, then I discovered chocolate”. (Some names have been changed).
© 2013 Mary Evans Young
Mary Evans Young’s book Ageing with Attitude, a guide for baby boomers not ready to hang up their boots, is available on Amazon