How I discovered the true joy of sexComment on this story
London - Last Saturday evening, I walked into the living room, where my partner was waiting for me. He looked up from the newspaper and smiled.
“That blue really suits you,” he said, referring to my slinky new top. He stood up and walked towards me and gave me a kiss. “Mmm, you smell good, too,” he added, nuzzling into my neck and my Diptyque fragrance.
I was already glowing from two compliments in a row. Compliments, I find, are always a good start to a romantic evening.
Over dinner in a trendy London restaurant we flirted, talked about our respective children, our mothers (both still alive, but ailing), horsemeat and Chris Huhne, avoided checking our smartphones and got a little drunk.
Strap-hanging on the Tube on the way back he whispered something into my ear I couldn’t possibly repeat. Not exactly 50 Shades, but certainly not for sharing. Then we went home and, like millions of other couples on a Saturday night, we made love.
If we were a young couple this would sound pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. But we’re not. I’m no nubile 20 or 30-something, I’m 60. My partner - he thinks of himself as my younger man - is 58.
Our relationship, coming up for five years, isn’t even that new. I don’t want to sound as if I’m showing off when I say my sex life is the best it has ever been, and getting better the longer we’re together.
We’re not talking quantity here, we’re talking quality. And it’s not just between the sheets either, but all the kissing and cuddling in between when no one’s looking, the smooching to Latin music in the kitchen, the foot massaging on the sofa when we watch TV, the naughty texts when we are apart and should be concentrating on our work.
It seems we are not alone. According to a new survey on behalf of Saga Magazine, for which nearly 9,000 people aged 50 or over were questioned about their sex lives, the over-50s are more sexually active than they were when a similar survey was conducted six years ago. And a third of women say sex is more enjoyable than it was when they were in their youth.
That certainly chimes with my own experience. When I first experimented in my teens, I was more excited by the idea of sex than with sex itself. For years - until I went to work on Cosmopolitan magazine - I didn’t even know what an orgasm was, let alone what one felt like.
Even though my body wasn’t bad by anyone’s standards other than my own, body confidence was a concept quite unknown to me. My body anxiety didn’t stand in the way of my having sex, but it certainly stopped me from having great sex.
In my 20s an unhappy first marriage quickly resulted in an unhappy sex life. Things got rather better when I divorced at 26 after a six-year relationship and entered what I call my serially monogamous phase, encountering sensitive and enthusiastic lovers between my late 20s and early 30s.
By the time I met my next long-term partner, I felt I was beginning to get the hang of things.
For the next 20 years sex went through peaks and troughs as childbirth, juggling parenting and a high-powered career as a magazine editor took its toll on my energy levels and enthusiasm. While holidays always perked things up, over time it became less of a priority.
When I went through depression in my mid-40s I lost my sex drive, and by the time I was in my early 50s my second marriage was teetering on the brink, not helped by a sex life that had faded away.
Following separation at 55, I was in the middle of my menopause when I met my partner the following year.
In that short interim time there had been some so-so dates, but no one I was ready to take to my bed.
But in the company of a man I fancied and who was great company and made me laugh aloud, far from being sexually sapped by the menopause my libido, several years in the doldrums, came bouncing back.
Bearing in mind he is no more an Adonis than I am an Aphrodite, his complete lack of bodily hang-ups - and total acceptance of me just as I am, cellulite, scars and saggy bits - mean that in his company I have a better relationship with my body than ever before.
It could be old-age memory loss, but I believe I’ve only now discovered the true joy of sex, and the life-affirming properties of giving and receiving pleasure.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the over-50s are having better sex. For a start have you tried to guess a woman’s age recently? Sometimes I look at a woman and reckon 48 and she turns out to be 62.
Older women today are fitter, more fashionable and younger-looking (with or without the help of surgery) than ever. When you look good, you feel it, and that certainly can have a knock-on effect on your sex life.
But it’s not only about how women look, it’s to do with the fact that far from putting their feet up, older women are learning new skills, travelling and achieving.
If you feel vibrant out of bed, you’re likely to feel electric beneath the duvet as well.
If men and women are reporting better sex lives, then the surge in divorce among 50 and 60-somethings is partly to do with it.
No one’s going to go to the trouble of getting divorced just to play Scrabble, are they? The fun and excitement of being with someone new inevitably spills over into sex.
Some of my recently single friends are having the time of their lives sexually, but I was also touched by the revelation of a friend who has been married for 30 years.
She told me: “The sadness of empty-nest syndrome when the last of our three daughters left home quickly gave way to an intimacy we hadn’t experienced since the earliest days of our marriage.
“We’ve been making love in different rooms of the house, having candlelit suppers - which would have seemed idiotic with the children around - and staying in bed until midday at the weekend. Parental responsibility has given way to the freedom of Sunday morning cuddles with the papers strewn over the bed. Bliss!”
My generation are more sexually experienced than our parents were, and male and female 60 to 64-year-olds interviewed in the Saga survey had clocked up an average of eight sexual partners each. That’s quite a lot of experience to call on.
Relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam believes that the fact we’ve been brought up in an era of better sex education and greater sexual freedom means we expect more.
“An active sex life has become a sign of a good relationship rather than just an adjunct or something that over time becomes unimportant,” she says.
“People nowadays are willing to make more effort to keep their sex life going or seek counselling when things go wrong.”
Ms Quilliam also cites the improved health of older people, “still going to dance classes or climbing mountains”, alongside the widespread use of HRT and Viagra, as boosting sexual relationships.
As far as movies go, the portrayal of what was meanly called “wrinkly sex” used to be thin on the ground, but when I saw Hope Springs last year, starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, about a 60-ish couple who go to sex therapy to try to save their marriage, I thought an acceptance of sex in the third age - as a topic for proper discussion rather than embarrassment - had arrived.
And a slew of other movies and TV programmes from It’s Complicated and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to Last Tango In Halifax and the hit novel Thursdays In The Park have recognised the libidinal urges of our most senior citizens.
It’s refreshing and validating to see, in movies and on TV, people like us making out (just so long as we don’t have to see too much flesh).
But there’s a flip-side to all this past-prime sexual cavorting. I know plenty of long-term marrieds who never have sex any more.
It’s not sex among older people that’s taboo any more, it’s not having sex, a source of sadness and shame for some, a resigned acceptance for others.
“In the past, if you were together at 50 - even in a sexless marriage - the likelihood is that you would stay together for life,” says Quilliam.
“In an age where people will go off and seek sexual fulfilment at 50, 60 or even 70, there is a realisation there’s a danger in letting things slide.”
I know this to be true. If you are comfortable with someone in bed - and you can only be comfortable with someone you care for, know well and trust - for a brief time you forget your cellulite, indigestion and bank balance. And, most especially, your age. - Daily Mail