Talking to older women, in groups I’ve led and among friends, I’ve discovered a disconnect between what women tell me and what the popular culture reports about the sex life of older women.
A Huffington Post survey conducted last July found that 59% of the partnered women over 60 had an active sex life with a third of the women over 70 reporting similarly. By contrast, the majority of the older women I know report having little interest in sex.
Older Hollywood stars help to perpetuate the impression that older sex is on the front burner. Jane Fonda claims that sex in her 70’s is “better than ever.” Joan Collins, 82, says that the secret to her marriage to a man 32 years younger is “lots of sex.” Because both celebrities project a younger, glam image, I’m suspect. I think they are in old age denial, refusing to face the fact that sex changes as one ages. While older sex can certainly be satisfying it’s not the same because our bodies are neither as quick to respond nor as supple.
Among the married woman I know, many confess to sex disappearing due to the frustration accompanying limited lubrication and/or diminished desire. By and large they are in happy marriages where sex has simply fallen off the radar.
Single women, or those not in a relationship, often insist that sex is no longer important to them, even claiming a freedom which accompanies the lack of a sexual life.
Lynn Segal, author of Out of Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing, hypothesizes that older women who deny an interest in sex are covering up for the fact that they no longer feel sexually attractive. She chalks this up to our sexist culture, which propagates the message that older women with wrinkles and sagging body parts are undesirable.
There’s yet another category of women who would like a sexual or physical connection but lack the opportunity. An 80 plus woman I know tenderly confessed to me, “The only time I’m touched is when I go to the hairdresser’s.” Another friend who is very sensual laments the lack of opportunities to meet men where she lives. These candid confessions are the exception in my informal research on older women and sex where most women shift uncomfortably or change the subject when sex is mentioned.
If women are going to live longer, even into our ‘90’s, shouldn’t we fess up to the enhancement offered by an intimate physical connection? Touch is just as important late in life as in the earlier stages. Older sex doesn’t have to be intercourse; cuddling, exchanging massages and tender touch go a long way towards making a woman feel complete and desired.
As older women we can refuse to let the culture define us as sexually unattractive.
We can own our ongoing desire for intimacy, rather than denying it. Let’s allow ourselves to feel our sensuality. And why shouldn’t we when all those old guys unashamedly pop blue pills in pursuit of sexual satisfaction?