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Thread: Sex and the older woman
02-22-09, 09:06 PM #1
Sex and the older woman
AT 48, Philippa is vivacious, attractive and is having the best sex of her life. "It's quite wonderful," she says. "If you'd told me at 28 that this would be happening, I'd never have believed it."
But there's a catch. "It's great sex, but it's not with my husband. To be absolutely honest, he's the last man on the planet I'd want to have sex with."
Philippa is by no means the only 40-something having a great time in the bedroom. In a survey of 2000 women carried out in Britain by Health Plus magazine, 77 per cent said that their sex life was at its best in their 40s; 82 per cent of that age group also said that sex was as important to them as it had ever been. Other surveys echo these conclusions — one carried out in the US, for instance, found that women in their 40s want to have sex more often than younger women.
Jane Polden, a psychotherapist who specialises in working with middle-aged women, says it's a story she hears time and again, as does relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam, co-author of The New Joy of Sex. "There's plenty of research that shows sex gets better for women as they get older," says Quilliam. "It's one of the best-kept secrets of women's lives."
Though Western culture generally associates sexiness with youth, this seems to be gradually changing, with shows such as Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives portraying women over 40 as both sexy and sexual. According to the researchers, the truth seems to be that it is those of us who are approaching menopause — our hair greying, skin sagging a little — who are at our sexual peak.
Polden says there are a host of reasons for this. One is simply that, by this age, women tend to have fewer insecurities. "Younger women are much more likely to be obsessed with their appearance, their weight and so on," she says, "and worries about those things sap their self-confidence and get in the way of them enjoying themselves. Older women are more confident of who they are, and it's a deep-seated confidence, which means they're not scared of intimacy, and they're not scared of going all out for what they need to feel satisfied."
The impending menopause is also significant. As it approaches, levels of the so-called "nurturing" hormones — oestrogen and oxytocin — diminish in women, allowing testosterone to make more of an impact. The theory is that from puberty women are physically wired to be attentive to the needs of others, our bodies priming us to care for children.
In our 40s, though, when those nurturing hormones melt away, many women are led to the epiphany that they have been putting their own needs in second place for decades.
"It's an extraordinary moment of realisation for many women," says Polden. "Doris Lessing sums it up very well in her book The Summer Before the Dark. Her 40-something heroine has an affair, and she says it makes her feel herself for the first time since she was 13. She has felt overwhelmed, controlled almost, by this hormonal surge … and now it's draining away, and she can work out who she is and who she wants to be."
For many women, the light that goes on illuminates a faltering marriage. "It was almost inevitable, really, that I'd find Paul boring after 20 years," says Philippa. "But it wasn't just the boredom — he also seemed not to be the right partner for me any more. It struck me that when I was younger I was searching for an alpha male, a provider, but what I want now is a much more sensitive man."
From a practical point of view, she says, there is also more space in her life to enjoy herself now that the children are growing up. "It's wonderful to go out for lunch with someone who notices what I'm wearing and flirts with me. It spices everything up, it makes me feel energised and youthful, at precisely the moment I was beginning to feel a bit dull and over the hill."
A lot of women in their 40s seem to share this sense that they suddenly have time to indulge themselves. Having brought up their toddlers, they have more freedom to go out again and relax with their husband, their partner — or indeed, someone else entirely.
The data on extramarital affairs supports the notion that, like Philippa, many 40-something women are having great sex with someone other than their husband.
A study last year from the University of New Hampshire found that the most common age for women to have affairs is 45 (for men it's 55), and these US figures dovetail with a British study last year that found women aged 45-54 had the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections for their gender, while men aged 55-60 had the highest rates for theirs. The authors of that last study said their research suggested that "sexual risk-taking behaviour is not confined to young people".
For those who embark on them, the 40-something sexual relationship is often a way of reclaiming their youth. "It's been the most delicious, unexpected, delightful pleasure ever," says Nancy, 50, who split up with her long-term partner four years ago and, soon afterwards, met George. "I thought I'd hung up my boots, and to find myself in love again has been amazing. I don't feel 20 again — I can't claim that — but I do feel the world is full of possibilities, just as I did when I was 20."
For some it represents a second chance. "I met Stephen at 19 and married him at 22," says Harriet. "He was my only lover. But our marriage went stale, as they do, and one night at a drinks party I met someone new, and we ended up having the most amazing sex upstairs in a bedroom while the party was happening below." Harriet has since found another lover, although she still lives with her husband and their children.
Women's enjoyment of sex in their 40s can also be chalked up at least partly to feminist advances, which have made us much less likely to settle for second best. In the past, many women simply tolerated their husbands' affairs — now they're getting out there themselves.
"My marriage wasn't working," says Sian, 49, who has had an on-off affair with an old university friend for the past two years. "And my feminist instinct is that if things aren't right for you as a woman, you change them. Women of my generation know we can change the world — we've done it before."
The fact that most women in their 40s are employed also means that they have many more opportunities to meet men — and to pursue affairs — than their stay-at-home predecessors.
These midlife affairs don't necessarily spell the end of a marriage. Quilliam believes that a sexual relationship with a life partner, especially one with whom you have children, leaves an attachment even once the sex is over, which can potentially carry a couple through a few crisis years.
For some women, though, finding a lover in their 40s is a prequel to leaving their marriage (in seven out of 10 cases, divorce is instigated by women). "Many of those who have affairs at this time in their life are having what we'd call transition relationships," says Quilliam. "Their main purpose is to reaffirm these women sexually and to help them believe that they could have another long-term relationship with someone new — even if it isn't this particular one. So they boost your self-belief, and they give you the confidence to get back on the market sexually."
For Quilliam, another key factor in the 40s sexual peak is that this is the age at which we really start railing against the inevitability of death.
"The menopause rehearses our mortality," she says. "We have to face the fact that we're no longer able to have babies, no longer able to pass on life. We're losing our looks: it's a wake-up call to the fact that we won't go on forever, that one day in the no longer impossibly distant future, we're going to die.
And sex and death are very closely related. Put crudely, we f--- to prove we're alive."
02-23-09, 08:53 AM #2
Advice on the Choice of a Mistress
Philadelphia, June 25, 1745
My dear Friend:
I know of no medicine fit to diminish the violent natural inclinations you mention; and if I did, I think I should not communicate it to you. Marriage is the proper remedy. It is the most natural state of man, and therefore the state in which you are most likely to find solid happiness. Your reasons against entering into it at present, appear to me not well founded. The circumstantial advantages you have in View by postponing it, are not only uncertain, but they are small in comparison with that of the thing itself, the being married and settled. It is the man and woman united that make the complete human being. Separate, she wants his force of body and strength of reason; he, her fitness, sensibility, and acute discernment. Together they are more likely to succeed in the world. A single man has not nearly the Value he would have in the state of union. He is an incomplete animal. He resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors. If you get a prudent healthy wife, your industry in your profession, with her good economy, will be a fortune sufficient.
But if you will not take this counsel and persist in thinking a commerce with the sex inevitable, then I repeat my former advice, that in all your amours you should prefer old women to young ones. You call this a paradox, and demand my reasons. They are these:
1. Because as they have more knowledge of the world and their minds are better stored with observations, their conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreeable.
2. Because when women cease to be handsome they study to be good. To maintain their influence over men, they supply the diminution of beauty by an augmentation of utility. They learn to do a thousand services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an old woman who is not a good woman.
3. Because there is no hazard of children, which irregularly produc'd may be attended with much inconvenience.
4. Because through more experience they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an intrigue to prevent suspicion. The commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your reputation. And with regard to theirs, if the affair should happen to be known, considerate people might be rather inclin'd to excuse an old woman, who would kindly take care of a young man, form his manners by her good counsels, and prevent his ruining his health and fortune among mercenary prostitutes.
5. Because in every animal that walks upright, the deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part: The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the neck; then the breast and arms; the lower parts continuing to the last as plump as ever; so that covering all above with a basket, and regarding only what is below the girdle, it is impossible of two women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all cats are gray, the pleasure of corporal enjoyment with an old woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every knack being by practice capable of improvement.
6. Because the sin is less. The debauching a virgin may be her ruin, and make her for life unhappy.
7. Because the compunction is less. The having made a young girl miserable may give you frequent bitter reflection; none of which can attend the making an old woman happy.
8thly and lastly. They are so grateful!!
Thus much for my paradox. But still I advise you to marry directly; being sincerely
Your affectionate friend,
Originally Posted by William Pitt (the Younger), Speech in the House of Commons (18 November, 1783)
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