Some Thoughts About Older Women and Sex

Victoria Smith
'The Kiss' by Gustav Klimt

 

I read the most exciting article last year. It said that women become progressively more orgasmic with each decade, beginning around the age of forty and often continuing into their seventies and eighties. My first thought? I'm gonna kill a lot of old guys before I die, and a few young ones, too. My second thought was that I had to write to the authors and find out if this happened gradually -- building slowly over each ten-year period -- or if I was going to get slammed with it on my fiftieth birthday, and again on my sixtieth, and every ten years after that until I died. Either way, I could barely wait.

Being a highly organized professional writer, I put the article away in a safe place and never saw it again. I have no idea who wrote it or what it was called. I've told dozens of people about it, and how excited I was to get such wonderful news, and I've searched everywhere imaginable to find the original article or a reprint. I seem to remember reading it in Parade Magazine, but the helpful folks in their Reader Service department thought I was crazy when I called and asked for a copy. The young woman I spoke with was rather embarrassed when I told her what I was looking for, and she giggled and stammered as I suggested keywords she could feed into her computer system in hopes of finding what I wanted.

What I wanted, I suppose, was proof that I hadn't lost my mind and imagined the whole thing. I also wanted to be told that what I remembered was true, and that sex was going to keep getting better and better. What I got, instead, were a couple other articles with some great information and quotes on women's sexuality as they grow older. Here's some of the good news I discovered in my search . . .

Parade's 1994 "Sex In America Today Survey" found that most people think everyone else is having sex more often than they. The average American, according to this survey, has sex once or twice a week, and men and women aged 55 to 65 make love an average of five times per month. In other words, many older people are having sex as frequently as their younger counterparts, and with more free time and fewer pressures to perform, they're often enjoying it more.

The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior (a 1993 study by sex researchers Samuel S. Janus and Dr. Cynthia L. Janus) says that 69% of men and 74% of women 65 and over engage in sexual activity at least once a week. Half of the women 65 and over, and 95% of the men the same age, say they have frequent orgasms during lovemaking," according to Parade. Of women aged 27 to 38, 67% report frequent orgasms, according to The Janus Report. Not much of a difference at all, when it comes right down to it. A reader survey conducted by Living Fit magazine found that 50% of women said that menopause increased their desire for sex and 35% of the women said their orgasms had become more intense during and after menopause.

This is terrific news for anyone who thought that elder-sex was pretty much non-existent. Experts agree that sexuality is one of the last physical abilities to show the effects of aging, as long as one is in reasonably good health. The main reason for a woman's lack of sexual activity past the age of 60 is not having a partner: at age 65, women comprise 60% of the population, and they are 65% of the population by age 75. With a female-to-male ratio of nearly two-to-one, there just aren't enough healthy men to go around.

My stepmother, nearing 80, is still interested in sex, and misses the intimacies that go along with it: the touching and holding hands, the closeness and the romance. She's outlived four husbands, including my father, and gets upset when she hears older women complain about their husbands. She's often told me that she would gladly take one of those men, and that she would be certain he had nothing to complain about. Ann Landers' column is full of letters from women who say the same thing: they would love to have companionship in their later years.

Remember your mother telling you "where there's a will, there's a way"? Consider this: Helen Singer Kaplan, director of the Human Sexuality Clinic at New York Hospital, stated in Parade, "Some of my elderly patients are still enjoying good sex, although they can't always remember the name of their partner." That made me smile. After all, I've had lovers who temporarily forgot my name in the heat of passion -- I'll admit to having done the same myself once or twice when I was single -- and it didn't diminish the experience for me one bit.

I often wonder why so many people think sex is only for the young. Even in these supposedly enlightened times, many younger Americans think that sexuality peaks before the age of 30 and goes downhill -- towards non-existence -- at a steady pace thereafter. Growing older does not necessarily diminish desire, and many women are saying that life just keeps getting better. I took an informal survey of my acquaintances on the internet, and discovered I was not alone in my belief that many women are having more fun than ever before. (I also discovered I knew a lot of men named John who were willing to talk about sex, but we'll get to that later).

My friend Joan says: "I believe that, with the right attitude, it gets better as one gets older. I'm 44, and it's getting better for me! More confidence, more experience, more comfort with myself and my body."

In praise of being long-term lovers, Joan goes on to say: "I've been with my present husband for almost ten years, married for almost six. Neither of us are the same people we were ten years ago, of course. And I think there's something nice about being able to explore with someone you know and trust, where you can make suggestions and try things you've always wondered about."

Sue, 48 and married fourteen years, agrees: "Sex, like wine, just gets better with age. I've found that real interest begins at 30 and grows with every passing year. Practice makes perfect."

We live in a society that worships youthful perfection and discounts the advantages of experience. John A., 46, put a lot of thought into why this is:

"Like most men, I've been programmed by society to find the look of young women attractive. I really do believe that society comes by this idea partly through evolution of culture: that a society which encourages its men to form relationships with healthy fertile women will be a more fertile society. But culture doesn't stop there: a society tends to modify and exaggerate the physical characteristics that cultural evolution deems desirable until the standard for fashion as well as the standard for sexual attraction become at most, a caricature of healthful fertility.

However, that doesn't mean that I don't find older women attractive. It only means that if you were to ask me whether I find Cindy Crawford attractive, an honest answer would be 'no one has the right to look that good.' As I've grown older, I have noticed that some women who are promoted as attractive (Playboy centerfolds, etc.) look impossibly young to me and that people in their 50's don't look old to me at all."

At 42, I think I look better than I did ten or twenty years ago, despite a few extra pounds. John M., 35, sums it up nicely when he says:

"Older women have generally learned to love their bodies. I'm not perfect and I don't expect my partner to be. Aside from both of us sitting there moaning about how we ought to lose some weight, we're both pretty content. We know that if we really cared about those love handles, we'd be out at the gym tomorrow morning."

Love handles don't much matter to me, either. I like the way I look. I get a lot of compliments from men my own age and older, I feel desirable, and I've been told that I radiate sensuality (erotica writers get told these kinds of things). On the other hand, I figured out a while back that I'm virtually invisible to hunky college-aged men: I could walk through the mall stark naked, and most of the younger guys wouldn't even notice. Give me a group of men in their late twenties to mid-thirties, however, and chances are the majority of them will tell you that older women make better lovers.

John M. thinks it's true: "Older women know what they want. In bed and out. In bed, older women are usually willing to help you help them. Their expectations are realistic. Out of bed, they don't put up with bullshit. I like that."

Charles, a 23-year-old college student, adds: "I had always thought that older women were somehow sexier and that they would be better at sex because they would be more experienced and maybe less inhibited." About his lover Carol, ten years older than he, Charles says: "She wasn't afraid to tell me exactly what she wanted, and was very open about what turned her on, and she was very sensitive and attentive to what turned me on. I found this aspect of her sexuality very arousing."

Brian, at the ripe old age of 29, agreed in his own way that older women make better lovers. "For the life of me, I couldn't come up with a decent correlation between age and success as a lover. Maturity, yes. An interest in what pleases a woman and her partner -- along with the willingness to explore these two -- definitely. But sheer age doesn't necessarily mean a good lover. For the record, my 40-year-old lover was much (I hesitate to use the word "better") more compatible than my 30-year-old one, but that has more to do with my second point -- interest in sex and the willingness to try."

Men and women seem to agree that women's sexuality often blossoms as we get older. Women themselves -- as well as sexuality experts -- know that there is a long list of reasons why this happens to women in their middle years.

For starters, we have more experience and we're more comfortable with our bodies. Marriage or long-term relationships may make us more open to trying new things in bed (and out), as does not having to worry so much about birth control. Single women have a better sense of who they are. Our childbearing years, and the physical and mental rigors of raising small children, are often behind us, leaving us with more time and energy for making love. I was surprised to learn that women initiate sex more during pregnancy than at any other time in their lives, and that many women, according to Masters and Johnson, experience multiple orgasms for the first time ever while pregnant. "One reason is that there's an increase in the blood supply to the pelvic area, which can hasten and intensify arousal and response," says William Masters, M.D.

As a group, we have additional biological advantages that twenty-somethings don't have: our hormonal balance has changed and we're reaching our sexual peak, which I had often heard -- but didn't believe until it happened to me -- begins at forty. I can't speak for anyone else, but for me sex got so good after I turned forty that I was ready to go on Oprah and tell the whole world just how great it was. And I'd had the kind of sex life that had led me to believe it really couldn't get much better. A lot of mid-life women are just plain horny, if not downright insatiable, along with the added bonus for many of being multi-orgasmic.

Nina says: "I don't know about the orgasmic part (that's always been pretty good), but I can certainly say that things got a lot more adventurous after 40. This is true for several of my friends, too." For women who are pre-orgasmic (a very polite way of saying they've never had one), there are books and magazines filled with how-to advice. And on the scientific front, there is new hope. A recent Los Angeles Times article states:

"Two Rutgers University researchers believe they have isolated a chemical that produces orgasms in women, even some who have suffered spinal cord injuries. The finding could have use in the treatment of pain and one day could lead to a pill that would give the same sensation as orgasm."

A pill? Really? Someone's going to get rich on this one . . . just imagine the possibilities.

What are older men saying about women over forty? Mike, who at 41 barely qualifies as an older man, says: "The key reason that older women make better lovers is that they are truly women. Younger women are, for the most part, still too much girl to be skillful lovers. It takes at least a decade or more of sexual experience to gain the skill, confidence, and lack of inhibitions that make someone a very good lover."

Mike goes on to say: "I think the same concept applies to men. While some older women may prefer younger men for their physique or stamina, most will probably tell you that their finest lovers have been at least 30 years old, perhaps older."

Frank, in his mid-50's, says: "They know more of what they want sexually. They want passion in their lovemaking, and they demand more of their lovers. They seem to be more aggressive in seeking lovers, and are connoisseurs of men."

His thoughts are echoed in the remarks of a 50-year-old divorced woman, as seen in Chapter 23 of the updated edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves: "I was shocked by being so horny after I was divorced, because it's not only sexual. It's aggressive. Certainly not what my mother taught me. It took me a long time to understand that I could lust."

A divorced woman in her sixties adds: "I have a great interest in sex, still, and a great desire for it. But what makes it most poignant that I don't have the right partner is that I am capable of giving now to a degree that I never achieved when I was young."

John L., a 54-year-old Briton, says: "Women of 45 and above do make better lovers. First, because they're more practised. Second, because a woman's level of desire seems to increase as she passes 40. Third, because they're more aware of the control they can have over their bodies, and less afraid of what might happen. And, fourth, because they've lost many of the inhibitions that younger women have."

I asked John if he'd like to comment on the differences between younger and older men, and got the following response: "What's good about desire in someone approaching his prime (like me) is that it has lost that terrible overriding urgency. In your teens, you're in thrall to your dick. You also lack assurance that you really are both desirable and competent. As the blinding tide of testosterone starts to roll back, desire becomes more complex. It gets better when you begin to think of what you're doing as 'making love' instead of giving someone 'a bloody good rodding'."

Finally, I asked John how long he expected to remain sexually active. He told me about a couple he knows who got married during WWII -- he's 79, and she's not far behind. They stopped making love last year, not because the desire had gone (it hadn't), but because the amount of effort it took had become prohibitive. "My generation," John added, "is fitter and better fed. I confidently expect to be enjoying some kind of lovemaking in my eighties."

I'm certain he will.


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