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Sex after 60? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Old couple walking hand in hand

Old couple walking hand in hand

Published Jan 5, 2012


London - The scene was set for seduction. Nothing elaborate, just some mood music - subtly sexy, classic Brazilian bossa nova - in the background, lights dimmed and a candle to cancel out at least some of the years.

I snaked towards him across the living room floor. Well, in truth, I hobbled, on account of the dodgy foot; these things happen as you age.

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I beckoned kittenishly, or at least attempted to: “Ca’mon, let’s dance.”

Rare is the man who loves to dance, but this one does, so I knew I was on safe ground. As he swung his legs off the sofa, where they’d been propped to watch TV, he let out a thunderous: “Aaaaargh!’ And then another. And another.

I panicked. The man’s having a heart attack, I thought. He’s 57, he does no exercise - apart from dance - he doesn’t monitor his food intake and he’s having a heart attack.

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But no, he was up on his feet, or at least -on one foot, with the other leg stretched rigid in front of him, caught in a painful cramp. “It’s my thigh,” he yelped, hopping and grimacing. “It’s never happened before.”

Oh, really? In an instant, I was massaging the limb, trying to coax it out of spasm.

“Get off me!” he screamed. “You’re making it worse.”

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I began to snigger and so did he. As the cramp waned, our laughter filled the room. “Geriatric sex starts here,” I snorted, giggling helplessly.

The music played on. The candle flickered. “Shall we have another go?” he asked, determined to restore his pride.

“Oh, all right,” I replied, still breathless from laughter, wiping the tears and the mascara from my face with the back of my hand.

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“You look like a panda,” he grinned as he surveyed my two black-rimmed eyes.

“A sexy panda, I hope,” I replied. And so we began to dance.

Laughter is always an aphrodisiac. And as you get older, when it comes to sex, a sense of humour is essential.

I am divorced with a child in his 20s, and I am in a relationship. This year I also turn 60. In old-fashioned parlance, I’m an OAP; in new, a senior citizen. I’m looking forward to free prescriptions, discounts at my local cinema - and lots of sex.

I suspect that sounds slightly shocking, but when it comes to putting my head above the duvet and speaking out for older people and sex, I’m shameless.

In an age in which you can be open about virtually all your lusty persuasions, sexuality in later life - especially for women - is one of the last taboos.

If the airbrushed images of young women are harmful to the body confidence of girls, then surgically remodelled older celebrities make real older women, with their time-worn wrinkles and fleshy folds, wonder if they should batten down their sexual hatches altogether.

And in a society obsessed with youth it doesn’t help that, according to a survey by The Forster Agency earlier this year, a quarter of 18 to 30-year-olds think sex after 60 is wrong, disgusting or only for “dirty old men”.

Of course, I accept that to an adolescent, the notion of their parents having sex is always going to be a cringe-making scenario, but it angers me that it should be the view of society as a whole.

To put sex back on the agenda for what they term “older” people (in their definition anyone over 50), the Family Planning Association has felt the need to issue a mission statement to the effect that older people “have the right to sexual health and well-being, and should be acknowledged as sexual beings”.

It believes older people’s sexuality is often ignored, neglected and stigmatised, and should instead be viewed positively. Also, that there needs to be a balanced and realistic representation in the media of older people’s experiences of sexual activity, as well as in professional resources and sexual health literature.

And it does seem that things may be changing. Last week I went to see former Cagney & Lacey star Sharon Gless in The Round-Heeled Woman at the Aldwych Theatre. The play opens provocatively, with a woman in her 60s laying on a bed having phone sex.

Based on the memoir of Jane Juska, an American school teacher of English literature, the play chronicles her experiences of sexual experimentation in her late 60s after three decades of celibacy. She places an ad in the New York Review of Books stating: “Before I hit 67 next March I’d like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.”

Dozens of replies and several sexual encounters later - by turn sad, satisfying, humiliating and hilarious - Jane knows she has unlocked her body and done the right thing for her self-esteem and her sense of being a woman.

The audience - 80 percent female - were unlocked as well, cheering and whooping as Gless took her final bow. It may have less than wowed the critics, but the aged 40-plus women in the audience lapped up every self-affirming moment of witnessing a woman who, after decades of repression following various traumatic emotional episodes, gives free rein to her innermost desires.

Given that I went to work on Cosmopolitan magazine at the age of 19 and eventually became its editor, sex has always had a dual role in my life - spanning the personal and the professional. I’ve never been embarrassed to talk about it. Yet, curiously, until recently, sex and I have always been uneasy bedfellows.

I started early - at 16 - and with a degree of enthusiasm. But I always felt I never -quite got the hang of it between the sheets. You can’t have great sex unless you lose yourself completely. I was too acutely aware of myself. And while you don’t have to love your body, you do have to feel comfortable with it.

Men can sometimes be cruel in bed with the things they say. And when you’re none too sure about your body to begin with, it doesn’t take much to send you down a road of self-loathing.

In my 20s, I once had sex (and it was only once) with an ear, nose and throat surgeon. “Your breasts...” he hesitated thoughtfully, as if to conjure up the perfect, poetic words to describe them as we lay in what was supposed to be a post-coital haze. “Would you like me to recommend you to someone who could make them bigger?”

And around the same time, as I undressed in front of another lover for the first time, he appraised me like a lab specimen, sighed and said: “My Charlotte, she was so slim-hipped.” Mourning your ex’s superior vital statistics during foreplay takes the heat out of things. I put my jeans back on, made my excuses and left.

Perhaps it’s a measure of my low sexual self-esteem that I can remember those criticisms with crystal clarity, while the compliments men paid me - and there were quite a few - floated away. I dismissed their comments as flattery, while I internalised the criticism as proof of my fundamental flaws.

Time and experience - including a 23-year relationship with my husband that began in my early 30s and during which time the sex was pretty good until the relationship itself began to falter - have helped me conquer those insecurities to the point where, paradoxically, though aesthetically my body is far “worse” than it used to be, I am more comfortable with it than I have ever been. And the result is that I am so much more confident in bed at 59 than at any point in my youth and middle years - the married years included.

More enthusiastic, too, now that I’m no longer suffering the exhaustion of years of juggling work and parenthood, and the more debilitating symptoms of the menopause are behind me. Of course, firm young flesh has the edge on flabby old skin; there’s no denying which is the more pleasing to behold.

When it comes to sexual fantasies, what you conjure up inside your head is unlikely to involve an elderly twosome: him with paunch and moobs, her with saggy bits and dimpled bum.

And yet, when it comes to long-standing partners of 30 or 40 years standing, if you love them and still desire them, you can forgive their flesh most things (except a lack of personal hygiene).

Sex isn’t just about the act itself, it’s about the desire to be desired, the need to be acknowledged as a woman. And that’s not something that changes as we age.

“I met this chap the day after my 60th birthday in the cafe I go to most days,” one happily married friend confessed to me recently. We became friends and he clearly wanted more, though I wasn’t going there. But I so loved that feeling of being desired.

“I found myself taking more effort with my appearance. I even realised I was walking differently, feeling really alert to my sexuality.

Wow! This guy didn’t want me for my mind, he wanted me for my body. Thirty years ago, I’d have been in a full feminist fury. But at 60, to be wanted for your body is just so flattering. It even perked things up with my husband.”

When my husband left me - I was 55 - I was surprised, despite a libido that seemed to have died as our marriage fell apart, by the stirrings of sexual longing that welled up in me.

I had the sense that sexual passion would bring me back to life, back to a vitality that had been lost. And yet, it seemed impossible. I felt too old, toougly.

There were the scars from a succession of operations, none of the cosmetic variety. What man would want me? And after 23 years with the same partner, would I even know how to behave in bed?

I enjoyed men’s company, though, and I did some dating. Sex, while filling my thoughts, was out of the question for almost a year. And then I met someone at a friend’s party who had an ease about him that made me feel instantly relaxed.

After a sporadic, three-month courtship I realised I was ready. The night he came back to my place it was all so easy.

These days I find sex more fun and less inhibited. It’s partly to do with being with someone who is tactile and sensual, and comfortable with his own body. It’s partly his acceptance of me as I am, the good, the bad and the indifferent bits.

My libido is probably greater than it’s ever been. And I say this not as a boast, but to demonstrate that sexual appetite has very little to do with age and everything to do with the person you’re with and how you feel about yourself.

As the over-60s are the only age group in which divorce rates are still climbing, the number of people seeking new relationships in later life is inevitably growing, too.

Some of my friends, newly divorced in their 50s and 60s, say they’re done with sex. But others express the view that sexual sparks would be a pre-requisite for any new partnership they might form.

For those who are married and have been so for several decades, regular sex remains key to a happy old age.

Arecent study of married couples over65 found almost 80 percent whohad sex more than once a month were “very happy” with their life in general, compared with 59 percent who reported no sexual activity in the past 12 months and 40 percent who had been celibate for more than a year.

With my 60th birthday just around the corner, I find myself asking the following question: is it just possible that sex, like youth, is wasted on the young? - Daily Mail

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