Are we giving up on sex too soon?

It seems women in their 50s are giving up on sex... so how do we get back in touch with our erotic side?

By Deborah Hill Cone
Ladies. Ladies. Ladies. Your attention please. We need to talk about stats. Nah, that’s not gonna work. Sex! That’s what I meant. Sex. We need to talk about sex. You listening now, hoochie mamas? Good. We are not getting enough sex. Or doing enough sex on our own. Or staying sexual. How do I know this? Good question.
Forget those raunchy studies done by lube companies and lads’ magazines.
“New survey finds 22 per cent of Australian men and women have more than 11 sex toys each.”
Seriously, that was a real headline in the Daily Mail. No, me neither. Does a Cuisinart and an electric toothbrush count?
The New Zealand Herald: “A lot of people report an improvement in their sex lives when their children leave home; it’s a time when marriages get the va-va-voom back.”
Oh, really? If your husband hasn’t left you for a younger model, I guess. No one tells the truth on those bollocky things, obviously.
But voilà! Here is a real peer-reviewed academic study, published in a proper fusty medical journal. And it is desperately sad.
Half of women in their 50s said they hadn’t masturbated in the past year, and half of the women in the same cohort (not sure if the same ones, but regardless, no one’s getting much) hadn’t had sexual intercourse in the past year.
No shagging and no strumming. For half the women in their 50s. In a whole year. Half! Oh, and only one third said they’d received oral sex in the past year. (Sorry, I’m not sure where gay women fit into this research. I hope you gals are feeling a bit foxier.) These pitiful statistics made me feel weepy for us older hetero chicks.
Oh, I’m not saying we’re all love-starved and lonely. If you hit menopause and don’t want to have sex anymore; if you feel more uplifted by a sweaty boxing class or blowing glass vases or lectures on Foucault instead, or whatever your jam is, that’s tickety boo; you shouldn’t feel any shame whatsoever about that. Germaine Greer said after a certain age she found gardening more zingy than sex. Whatever floats your boat. (If you saw my garden you would know at a glance what I think about that.)
But I can’t help wondering whether some of those 50 per cent of women who are not getting any action would really like to still be sexually active? Maybe they just don’t know how, or don’t feel like they should, or think just because they’re past the ‘bleeding age’ they have to actually put men-on-pause. And not just men, but themselves.
Maybe those women don’t feel desired, but even more importantly, they have stopped feeling desirable. And that has to start with feeling desirable to yourself.
So I’m just going to say it: I think the social norms about sex for women like me, past the age of 50, really need to change. Honey, we’re simply giving up on ourselves too soon.
It’s not like in generations past, when you might be lucky to live past 50 and in what time you had left you had to go all whiskery and matronly. We’re all living longer, listening to Nick Cave and rocking out, and we should be loving longer too.
You know that hoary – whorey? – old saying ‘use it or lose it’? Well it applies here. (An article: ‘My clitoris is shrinking’ made sombre reading. You’re welcome. And yes, I have to confess I’ve enjoyed doing the more steamy research for this article.)
Mostly, I find it poignant that so many women see the change of life as a marker for the onset of old age which causes some, understandably, to become depressed. What I suspect – and it’s bloody angry-making – is women feel unless they’re young and conventionally ‘hot’ they can’t be sexual.
That is simply rot. Sex is for everyone, not just those who look like Kendall Jenner. So maybe we need to get over our reluctance to talk about sex for the un-young and un-hot.
Personally, I’d like to be more like PhD, erotic artist and feminist sex coach (yes, it’s a real thing) Betty Dodson, aged 87. Dodson, once dubbed the ‘godmother of masturbation’ wants to help the post-Sex and the City, post-Girls generation of women who she believes are not nearly as liberated as they think they are.
“Most of them haven’t even seen their genitals in a mirror. You show ‘em and they go ‘eek!’ Or ‘ugh!’”
She’s been named one of the 100 “most important people in sex” by Playboy. And honestly, you should visit her website, dodsonandross.com: “Better orgasms, better world.”
Not often you see 79 mentions of labia on a single page, and right now, you might be interested to know clitoral hoods are trending.
Dodson is a great proponent of what anthropologist Margaret Mead called ‘postmenopausal zest’. Dodson says the “best sex of my lifetime” was in her 70s when she was “training” a twentysomething called Eric. After 10 years she decided to let him go.
“You have to let the young ones go. You don’t want to be Hugh Hefner.”
She’s an inspiration, but for the rest of us we don’t have to take our hand mirror to an encounter group or sign up for an orgy to start to feel sexy. You can just choose to nurture that part of yourself, however it pleases you. That’s the whole point. Feeling sexy makes you feel good about yourself and your body. It makes you feel healthy.
Just to give you a happy ending – like what I did there? – I’ll leave you with an uplifting statistic. Four percent of over 80-year-old women declared they’d had oral sex in the past year. Hooray for them! So ladies, let’s get going on those stats, STAT.
  • undefined: Deborah Hill Cone

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