The subject of older women and sex is billed as one of the last taboos. We're not talking here about middle-aged faded roses, we're talking about the over-sixties: sagging-breasted, wrinkly, yellow-toothed women, some of whom are apparently, still ready and raring to go.
With the publication of a new book, A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance (Chatto and Windus £10.99) by Jane Juska and the imminent arrival of Hanif Kureishi's new film, The Mother, this taboo subject has become hot.
As a single woman in late middle age, I was naturally riveted to see both - but not surprised to find the results more tragic than life-affirming.
After being divorced for 30 years and having only had "a few skirmishes with men that ended sadly", Juska decided to go for it, as she would no doubt put it. She placed an ad into The New York Review of Books thus: "Before I turn 67 - next March - I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me."
Well, Jane managed to get quite a few orgasms under her belt during the next year or so. But what a price she had to pay! First there was 82-year-old Jonah, who announced that he didn't desire her. "Get yourself some KY jelly. You get dry before I can get in, and I can't keep it up long enough for you to get wet," he said, brutally, before vanishing. Next comes Robert, a writer and a nightmare. His bad back precludes love-making, he has a regular girlfriend he rings every night to tell her he loves her, he's a member of AA, and he's just started drinking again. Jesus Christ! Jane falls so deeply for him and he's so dismissive of her that she's reduced to misery for months. "I feel ashamed and embarrassed and needy," writes Jane. "I feel like a beggar."
Then there's the voyeur; then a man who only likes phone and email sex and refuses to meet her; another who sucks boiled sweets throughout intercourse; and she ends up with a patronising jerk (well, I think he's a patronising jerk) called Graham. She's smitten when he utters the ancient cliché (which apparently she's never heard before): "The greatest pleasure for me in making love is giving the other person pleasure." The book ends with Jane arranging a week's country holiday with him. I can bet my bottom dollar that it ended in tears as well.
In The Mother, an elderly, dumpy Northern woman, recently widowed, ruins her relationship with her family by coming up to London, and immediately leaping into bed with her daughter's builder boyfriend. Roger Michell, the film's director, deplores society's disapproval of older women who long for sex. "One expects to see images of old men with younger women, but for some reason it's seen as undignified for old women to have sexual feelings of any sort," he says. "I suppose it's connected, in a Darwinian way, with evolution; if you're past childbearing age then why should you have sex? Why don't you just do the ironing?"
Well, I'd like to put the case for ironing.
Apart from the fact that ironing can be a deeply pleasurable experience, it must be faced that, yes, there is a biological taboo attached to older women having sex. That's usually made clear, unless you are stuffed to the gills with hormone replacement therapy, or squirt yourself with KY jelly every three minutes or so during intercourse, by sex becoming excruciatingly painful. We women are always told to "listen to our bodies". Well: listen. When older women have sex, many of their bodies scream: "Ouch! Ouch!"
And of those who still enjoy sex, does anyone really disapprove? I don't think so. What people do disapprove of is the idea of a 67-year-old woman, like Jane Juska, humiliating herself in her search for sexual satisfaction. There is something deeply unattractive about desperation of any kind in an older person, be it for sex or for cream cakes. If your sex drive hasn't calmed down, you should have learned to deal with it better than Jane, who practically has a nervous breakdown because some creep wouldn't get in touch.
Jane Juska has been portrayed as a feisty, admirable woman. But she's not. She comes across to me as just as tragic as a dirty old man, someone who tries to stroke the thighs of young girls when they're not looking, someone who's perpetually staring at womens' breasts through their sweaters. It was Kingsley Amis who, at 70, said, when his libido vanished: "It was such a relief. I realised I'd been chained to an idiot for 60 years."
Many men - and women - agree. And personally I'm incredibly glad, only a few months before reaching 60, to find sexual desire so much on the wane as to have become virtually non-existent. I've slept with enough men in my life. Sex can be like cocaine: absolutely fantastic, addictive, and in the end, so what?
I'm fed up with sex's lurching longing dominating my life, roaring in my brain when I want to do other things - and I don't mean reading great books or painting great pictures, but just pottering about mowing the lawn, having a chat to a friend. I hate that clawing feeling below my stomach, aching with want. I'm relieved at not having to clamber into bed with some slightly pissed pal or a young, naive pick-up, just to get relief. Sex is no longer my be-all and end-all and when it was it took over so completely it damaged friendships, my career, my sanity. I've been there, done that, got the T-shirt, worn it far too often and now given it to Oxfam.
Poor Jane whines that: "The eyes of the young and not-so-young slide by me. I look my age. Nobody wants to be my age." This sad lady simply hasn't grown up. She has failed to find that with age come loads of lovely things - like the confidence to wear outrageous clothes without feeling embarrassed, the ability to smile at strangers in the street, and say what you mean and not worry about it. She hasn't discovered that there is an autumnal emotional harvest far better than sex.
Just because I'm bored with sex it doesn't mean I've turned into some trouser-wearing old bag with cropped hair and not a speck of make-up. I adore looking as glam as possible; I adore flirting - with any man, whatever age, whatever he looks like. I love men - and love them even more for finding that they no longer have such terrible power over me as they used to.
In the street I don't want to get frissons when passing strangers give me twinkly looks. I don't want to find my eyes glued to the bottoms of beautiful young boys. I don't want my women friends to worry, if I see their partners when they're away, that I'm on the pull. Or, worse, on the snitch.
If I go out, I want to go out with friends. If I stay in, I don't want to find myself lying beside some 80-year-old wondering if he's going to be able to get it up, or some gorgeous young 20-year-old, panicking about whether a couple of wrinkles will put him off. No, if I stay in, I want to be lucky enough to be able to baby-sit for my grandson, simply watching television beside his sweet-smelling body, gazing at his translucent-blue skin, stroking his tender head, the shape still visible under only a down of hair.
And if I get bored, I can always do the ironing. There are, as I've discovered after seeing The Mother and reading A Round-Heeled Woman, a lot more painful and miserable ways for a single older woman to spend an evening.Reuse content