Despite the recent emergence of several high-profile shows challenging the status quo, there remains a notion that women in their 50s are almost entirely sexless.
We no longer need or want to be intimate, so the idea of appearing ‘sexual’ in any way is almost laughable; women of a certain age who do challenge the stereotypes are portrayed as somehow overt or even predatory.
It has improved in recent years, as the killer cougar stereotype of Dorian Green and Eartha Kitt gradually gives way to a more nuanced view of late in life sexuality. Think Jane Fonda’s Grace in Grace and Frankie, who is enjoying discovering romance in her late 70s.
But, in many quarters, an opinion remains that the only way we can process the notion of an older woman still interested in sex is through caricature.
Making our desires seem simultaneously daunting and ridiculous minimises the threat and puts any of us considering something as unseemly as admitting to still having carnal desires thoroughly back in our beige, sexless boxes.
A perfect example of this is Strictly Come Dancing’s Shirley Ballas. Shirley is one of Britain’s top dancers with a career spanning four decades, yet when she first joined the show as head judge, the media instantly pigeonholed her as a hard-nosed vixen with an interest in stealing the male dancers for herself!
Why this vitriol? Because Shirley is glamorous and sexy and the complete antithesis of a traditional ‘stay-at-home-and-bake’ woman of a certain age.
She’s clearly attractive and takes pride in looking like a woman who knows her worth. But society would have us believe we like our older women cosy and motherly and unlikely to compete with the 20-year-old starlets Shirley judges on Strictly.
Single for four years, when asked in a recent Telegraph interview about the ‘Strictly curse’ and whether it had hit her, rather than demurely suggest that her years of romance were over, she apparently hooted and replied: “If only it would”!
She openly questions why women over 50 shouldn’t have sex. Taking this further, Ballas sees sex as part of a loving relationship for middle-aged people, something deemed anathema by a society obsessed with youth.
“I find the whole idea of the over 50s falling in love emotional because it’s about people who’ve had a life, families and marriages that haven’t worked and dates that may have been rubbish. But over 50 -they’re still hopeful and they’re certainly not dead yet …”
Interestingly, sex coach Pamela Madsen shared that most of her clients come to her at 50 plus, which she considers to be the age of sexual awakening. Contrary to the idea that our sex drive declines before the rest of our body follows, she says that turning 50 “triggers their sexuality alarm clock in a big way”.
And do they then go on to have boring, non-descript sex? Pamela vehemently believes not: “No, this emerging interest in their sex life often results in the best sex they have ever had”.
This idea challenges every notion we have about our 50s and sexuality. We’re told that the menopause will make having sex difficult for us and that since we are no longer fertile, the act of sex is pointless.
Menopause doesn’t have to mean the end of a satisfying love life though, and there’s certainly no shortage of advice on how to tackle the hormonal issues that arise surrounding sex.
With many of us entering a time of life where we’re either reconnecting with our partners after decades of child rearing or choosing to separate and find new partners, I believe our 50s can be a prime stage of life for a ‘reawakening’.
When we date (and mate) as younger, inexperienced women, sex is often disappointing. In our 20s it’s either sweaty post-club sex with someone who doesn’t know us and is rarely satisfying, or it’s in the early stages of a new relationship and we have so many emotional and physical hang-ups that telling someone what we want is almost impossible.
Our 30s can be good fun but then we have children and our sex lives are consigned to Sunday morning quickies and the occasional weekend away where all we want to do is sleep!
It’s in midlife when we’re more comfortable with who we are and what we want, that we can start to really explore what we enjoy.
If we can let go of what Pamela calls ‘movie sex ideals’ and enjoy the reality of exploring sexuality in an imperfect, but often much more satisfying way, it can transform lives in a multitude of ways.
Recent studies have suggested that in fact, the key to a healthy old age is a good sex life. Researchers at Cambridge University found that regular intimate contact improves vocabulary and visual awareness. The endorphins released can also help with overall wellbeing and mood improvement.
I say go for it! It’s free, it’s great for your wellbeing and you can finally let loose without worrying about becoming pregnant.
Be safe, be sure and be confident about getting what you want – enjoy!